Cabinet Men In Senate Probes Need Rody’s OK
President Duterte claimed the Senate hearings on alleged irregularities in the procurement of COVID-19 supplies amid the pandemic are a waste of time and have “branched out” to other issues.
President Duterte has instructed his Cabinet secretaries to get clearance from him before attending Senate hearings on the government’s purchase of allegedly overpriced COVID-19 supplies.
Duterte said he would not allow Cabinet members to appear before congressional hearings if they have “no other purpose except really to ramble on” and “to stretch the hearings because that is good for the elections.”
He noted some resource persons from the executive department have been repeatedly summoned and spent hours at the hearings without being given the chance to give testimonies.
“This is my proposal, I will require that the Cabinet members invited to your hearings, that he will clear the invitation with me,” Duterte said in a taped public address aired on Tuesday morning, Sept. 14, apparently directed at senators.
“If I think that he will be called for no purpose except to harass, to be berated in front of the republic, I will stop and ban that,” the President said.
“We do not question the authority and the power of the Senate to investigate in aid of legislation. But you know, I noticed that you call almost so many persons and yet you only able to put the resource person for five, six, seven hours, some of them are just waiting and doing nothing,” he added.
He clarified the senators have the option to cite a person in contempt. “But I will say, I was the one who ordered them not to attend,” Duterte said.
“Well, I think I can do it as President really, if there is an abuse of authority there or exceeding the authority of the reasonable time that Congress conducts a hearing, I will limit you to what you can do with the executive department of the government,” he stressed.
He cited Health Secretary Francisco Duque III whose testimony – Duterte claimed – was not utilized despite long hours spent at the hearings.
“It’s a waste of time. And I am ordering Secretary Duque that the next time that he is invited, he should clear the invitation to appear with me and I will decide,” Duterte said.
The President also said the Senate hearings have already “branched out” to non-COVID issues.
“With due respect to the Senate this time, how many times did you summon Cabinet members, especially Secretary Duque. And you have reached from the purchase, the procurement, then down to this Pharmally. Now, you are branching out to not COVID, drugs issues,” he said.
Pharmally Pharmaceutical Corp., a small company with paid-up capital of just P625,000 bagged P8.68 billion in contracts with the government for the supply of personal protective equipment and testing kits last year.
Pharmally chairman Huang Tzu Yen, during a Senate Blue Ribbon committee hearing, said Michael Yang, Duterte’s former economic adviser, had assisted the firm by acting as its financier and guarantor to Chinese suppliers.
‘We don’t care’
Duterte maintained Pharmally delivered the pandemic-related supplies according to specifications.
“We did not shell out anything before delivery. To me we’re done with (Pharmally),” he said.
“You can crumple Pharmally, we don’t care,” he added.
Duterte claimed senators allowed hearings to drag on, as it would be “good for the election.”
He vowed to “campaign against” Sen. Richard Gordon, chairman of the Senate Blue Ribbon committee.
“I would just like also to remind Senator Gordon that I will campaign against you for being unfit to be a senator of this republic,” the President said.
“Others are trying to be a Chinese when they are not and you are trying to be an American when you are not,” he said.
This was not the first time that a president barred officials from attending Senate hearings.
On Sept. 28, 2005, then president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo issued Executive Order No. 464 barring Cabinet members and other officials from attending congressional probes unless given per-mission by the president.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said Duterte’s order requiring Cabinet executives to secure clearance from him has “legal basis.”
In a statement issued from detention, Sen. Leila de Lima said President Duterte’s gag order on Cabinet members is only one of the questionable moves he is expected to make to prevent the unraveling of the truth.
She said his basis for the gag order is not even an executive privilege, but a demonstration of hubris.
“What Duterte does not know is that nobody listens to him anymore, except his fanatics, while the whole nation is glued to the Senate hearings as anomaly after anomaly is revealed by resource persons,” De Lima added.
“Michael Yang, the Chinese BFF (best friend forever) of Duterte and the Davao Mafia, has been unmasked. It is just a matter of time before he brings down everybody with him, including his patron and benefactor Duterte,” De Lima added.
She also renewed calls to investigate possible criminal links of Yang to Duterte.
“Now that Michael Yang is facing the Senate, his true identity and the extent or scope of his relationship, connection and influence with Duterte must be ascertained,” De Lima said.
In 2019, dismissed police officer Eduardo Acierto linked Yang to the illegal drug trade, along with his business partners Allan Lim (aka Huen Li Gen or Ayong) and Johnson Chua (aka Chung Nga Way or Greg Sia) who is based in Macau.
“Acierto said that the intelligence report about this was ignored by the concerned officials, including Duterte, who instead defended Michael Yang,” De Lima recalled.
But in his televised address, Duterte defended Yang against accusations of possible drug connections and debunked the credibility of Acierto.
It was Gordon who brought up Acierto’s linking Yang and Lim to the narcotics trade.
“I do not understand why the Senate is listening to a witness or the person of Acierto,” Duterte said.
Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) director General Wilkins Villanueva was said to have told Duterte at a meeting that Yang was not among those implicated in the operation of a Davao City drug laboratory raided by PDEA in 2004.
“Even if you go through all that, Sir, there’s no Michael Yang there,” Villanueva told Duterte.
The President said Acierto was dismissed by the ombudsman for the importation and sale of some 1,000 firearms to rebels.
Duterte also alleged Acierto “has so many kidnappings in his record.” Acierto led the defunct Anti-Illegal Drugs Special Operations Task Force.
Duterte said Acierto and former PDEA deputy chief Ismael Fajardo “have no credibility.”
In 2019, the Department of Justice filed charges against Acierto and Fajardo for illegal importation of 355 kilos of shabu hidden in a shipment of magnetic lifters.
“Gordon now is in a bind, how will he get out of this? Because I will say it publicly, Gordon has forever lost his credibility in cahoots with criminals and fabricated stories,” Duterte said.
Inciting to sedition
Gordon warned Duterte may be accused of inciting to sedition by ordering his Cabinet to seek permission from him first before attending any legislative investigation.
Gordon said Duterte appears to be using as “cover” the Supreme Court (SC) decision on EO 464 issued by then president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in 2005 that gave a similar directive to ap-pointees. The SC upheld some sections of the EO and nullified other portions the following year.
“He (Duterte)’s skirting sedition, although I think that (EO 464)’s the cover so they can say it’s not sedition for the Cabinet not to attend. Because you are restraining legislative, co-equal branch of government from performing its work and telling them don’t attend, that’s sedition, I mean, incitement to sedition,” the senator said.
“On the other hand, he is fouling up the atmosphere of free debate, he’s been trying so hard to distract the committee,” he added.
Gordon pointed out the SC ruling delineated what can be considered confidential, like diplomatic secrets, and matters of national security.
He said the scope of the committee’s inquiry into the procurement of P42 billion in COVID-19 and other medical supplies by the Procurement Service of the Department of Budget and Management (PS-DBM) cannot be covered by the standards set by the SC.
The senator declined to say what his next move will be if Duterte indeed bars his appointees from attending the next hearing on Friday, but said any lawyer would know that the next recourse would be bringing the issue to the SC.
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra, meanwhile, said they have issued immigration lookout bulletin orders (ILBO) on former DBM Undersecretary Lloyd Christopher Lao, Overall Deputy Ombudsman Warren Rex Liong and six officials of Pharmally.
The Pharmally executives were Twinkle Dargani, Huang Tzu Yen, Krizle Grace Mago, Justine Garado, Linconn Ong and Mohit Dargani. Huang is a Singaporean national and is reportedly in his home country.
Guevarra said the Bureau of Immigration (BI) would take charge of making proper arrangements to monitor the movements of those placed under ILBO but are outside the Philippines.
The ILBOs were issued upon the request of Senate President Vicente Sotto III.
Guevarra also signed a separate ILBO against Yang, based on Gordon’s request. “I received Senator Gordon’s letter (Tuesday). As requested, the DOJ will issue an ILBO on the person of Mi-chael Yang, also known as Yang Hong Ming,” he said. – With Cecille Suerte-Felipe, Evelyn Macairan, Emmanuel Tupas