President Rodrigo Duterte and Cabinet members (Presidential Photo)

MANILA – President Rodrigo Duterte is requiring all Cabinet secretaries to first get his approval before attending Senate hearings on the deficiencies in the government’s use of Covid-19 pandemic funds.

Duterte expressed frustration over how a series of hearings “wasted” officials’ time by letting them sit for long hours to listen to “rambling” that was meant to give exposure to lawmakers running for office in 2022.

“I will require every Cabinet member to clear with me every invitation and if I think he will be called for walang silbi (nothing) except to [be] harass[ed], to be berated in front of the Republic, hintuin ko na ‘yan at pagbawalan ko na (I’ll stop it and prevent them from attending),” he said in a prerecorded public address aired Tuesday morning.

He warned senators that citing his Cabinet members in contempt for their absence would lead to a “ruckus” between the executive and legislative departments.

“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 said.

Duterte clarified that he was not questioning the authority of the Senate to conduct investigations, stressing that investigations “pursuant to the truth” were always welcome.

“Kung gusto ko, nakita kong reasonable (If I agree, if I think it’s reasonable), go. Especially if it is really pursuant to the truth na hinahanap ninyo (you’re looking for). Maganda ‘yan (That’s good) and I would suggest that you do it,” he added.

Amid questions over alleged overpriced medical supplies bought by the government, he reminded senators of the existing Republic Act (RA) 11469 or Bayanihan to Heal as One Act (Bayanihan 1) that empowers the government to undertake procurements as exemptions from the provisions of RA 9184 or the Government Procurement Reform Act and other relevant laws.

“Sa Bayanihan 1, kayo ang nagbigay ng (you gave the) authority sa (to the) Executive Department to disregard the procurement law. Tapos sabi niyo (And you say) you can take whatever measures for the fastest delivery of the things that we need. So ‘yun ang ginagawa namin tapos ngayon (that’s what we’re doing and now) you are dwelling on the procurement law and asking the officials to explain their actuations?” Duterte said.

The Senate Blue Ribbon committee, led by Senator Richard Gordon, is currently looking into supposed deficiencies of the Department of Health (DOH) in spending Covid-19 response funds, including the purchase of allegedly overpriced personal protective equipment (PPE) from a foreign firm.

Late last month, Duterte also threatened to bar Cabinet executives from attending congressional probes because of "disrespectful" treatment from senators.

He also challenged senators to send officials to jail over alleged anomalies in government purchases.

No credibility

Meanwhile, Duterte also hit Gordon anew for allegedly being associated with dismissed police officer Eduardo Acierto, whom he accused of helping communist rebels get hold of AK-47 rifles.

He vowed to campaign against Gordon for being “unfit to be a senator of this republic” and having “no credibility”.

“I will say it publicly, Gordon has forever lost his credibility in cahoots with criminals and fabricated stories,” he said.

Acierto earlier linked Duterte’s former economic adviser, Michael Yang to the illegal drug trade.

Yang reportedly has ties with local firm Pharmally Pharmaceutical Corp, which bagged some PHP8.68 billion worth of deals for pandemic response last year.

Malacañang has repeatedly maintained that Yang was not involved in illegal drugs. (PNA)