MANILA - Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon on Friday criticized Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez over his alleged inaction on senators' push to return to national coffers some P33 billion "parked" in the Philippine International Trading Corportation (PITC).
The Department of Finance (DOF) earlier said that they have written to the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) to recommend to President Rodrigo Duterte to direct the PITC to return the funds, but the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) seems to have a "negligent attitude" over the issue, Drilon said in a statement.
"In the face of the recommendation of the Department of Finance and the Department of Budget and Management secretaries, the continued defense of Secretary Lopez of PITC reminds us of the saying 'see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil'," he said.
"Sec. Lopez turns a blind eye and a deaf ear to a practice that is legally and morally wrong. It is willful ignorance," he said.
The PITC, an attached agency of the DTI, is tasked to help businesses and agencies benefit from international trade and "ensure the most efficient and cost-effective procurement services" and "contribute to the price/supply stabilization of goods and services."
Lopez sits as chair of the PITC board.
"It is sad that in the face of COA findings, amid calls of the Senate, and in light of the DBM and DOF secretaries' recommendations, here we have a DTI secretary who continuously refuses to do the right thing," Drilon said.
"The PITC management may be held liable for technical malversation for using the funds of the agencies for a different purpose from which these were originally appropriated by law," he said.
Earlier this week, Lopez denied that funds were being "parked" in the state's lone trading firm, but noted that he is open to a Senate review should lawmakers want to scrutinize PITC's operations.
"Wala hong kontrobersiya dito dahil tagabili lang ang PITC at kapag naging successful [ang bidding], then magkakaroon na ng payment," Lopez said in a televised press briefing.
(There is nothing controversial here because the PITC just procures and when that is successful, then payments would be made.)
"Kung hindi maging successful, binabalik naman iyong pera sa National Treasury," he said.
(If it is not successful, the funds are reverted to the National Treasury.)
Senators earlier found that the PITC has yet to roll out projects from as far back as 2017. Under the law, all unspent funds must be returned to the National Treasury after the national budget expires at the end of every year.
Lawmakers have also questioned why the state trading firm has doubled as a procurement agency for government departments instead of helping private traders.
"Agencies are using PITC to skirt the end of the year validity of appropriations," Drilon said during budget deliberations in the Senate.
"PITC is used to hide inefficiencies in the national government," he said.