Thu. May 19th, 2022

By Charlie Manalo

“He who comes into equity must come with clean hands.” – The Clean Hands Doctrine

Senator Richard Gordon came with his guns blazing. He was really pissed off. And who wouldn’t be? With all those billions of pesos intended for the government’s COVID-19 response supposedly lost due to questionable transactions by Health Secretary Francisco Duque, former DBM-PS Undersecretary Lloyd Christopher Lao, and whoever is allegedly backing them up, everyone has the right to curse and cuss.

However, one thing Gordon might have overlooked is that he’s shooting from a glass house – he was so vulnerable. With his façade ready to collapse anytime, he was an easier target than an already downed hunting prey.

And that is exactly what happened to him: His cover as head of the country’s chapter of one of the world’s biggest humanitarian organizations has been ripped.

Yesterday, lawyer Larry Gadon questioned not only Gordon’s right to sit as chair of the Philippine Red Cross, but also the financial transactions of the non-governmental organization, not only for being a recipient of financial assistance from the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office, but also for being mandated by the law as well.

According to Gadon, if the PRC website has been furnishing the correct information that the current board of nine officers and 20 members have a two year term that would have ended in 2020.

Six of the members of the board are presidential appointees, and Gadon said he believes Gordon, current chairman of PRC, is among the appointees that President Rodrigo Duterte named to the board. Aside from Gadon, the other presidential appointees are Senators Juan Miguel Zubiri and Sherwin Gatchalian, Chairperson Rachel Arenas of the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board; Quirino Gov. Dax Cua and University of the Philippines President Danilo Concepcion.

With no less than the appointing officer – the President – expressing doubt on the use of PRC funds, Gadon said Duterte can easily replace Gordon, even more now that his term as PRC chair has supposedly expired.

Under Republic Act 11072 or the Philippine Red Cross Act of 2019, which Gordon incidentally authored, the president of the country acts as the honorary President of the PRC. While RA 11072 acknowledges that the PRC is autonomous and independent from the government, it should include as members of the board six appointees of the incumbent chief executive of the country.

“Being the appointing authority, President Duterte has the authority to revoke and recall Gordon’s appointment to the PRC board on the basis of loss of trust and confidence,” Gadon averred.

Aside from batting for his replacement, Gadon explained the president has the right to demand the auditing of PRC financial transactions, including the overall health of its finances, considering the huge amount of public funds being given by government to the organization to support its humanitarian and charitable programs, saying RA 11072 also tasks the PRC to submit an annual report of its accomplishments and financial status to the President.

The PRC receives a portion of the 30% charity fund the PCSO raises from its lottery games.

Actually, I have long raised questions regarding PRC’s use of funds and its handling of charity works.

I personally know someone who told me that the PRC asks for free blood donation from the people and extends no compensation to their donors and yet, they charge anyone who wants to avail of blood from their stocks. He experienced it himself.

Another person known to me experienced being charged for the RT-PCR test that the PRC conducted — and yet they sought reimbursement from PhilHealth.

These need not only to be audited but also warrants an investigation. If these allegations are true, I don’t think they could qualify anymore as an NGO, but a business entity, but with funding from the government.

If the sources are to be believed, then this is how PRC works. Get their inventory (i.e. blood donations) for free, charging the supposed beneficiary for the services or used stock, reimbursing the same amount they charged their beneficiaries from Philhealth and then getting additional funds from the government.

This could be a lot worse from the power and utility supply contracts former President Fidel Ramos entered during his tour of duty, not only ensuring the oligarchs won’t lose a single centavo in their investments, but also give them a fixed profit margin.

Gordon should have known better. Of course, I support the investigation on the supposed misuse of funds intended for the government’s COVID-19 response, but he should have come with clean hands.

Now, his probe has been tainted.

How true are these allegations against Joy Belmonte?

As supporters of Quezon City Mayor Joy Belmonte continue to defend the embattled mayor against allegations of corruption in relation to the city government’s procurement of supplies for its COVID-19 response, Anakalusugan Rep. Michael “Idol Mike” Defensor aired a challenge which could ultimately break the seemingly impenetrable fortress they have built around the local chief executive.

Defensor said he would not only quit politics permanently if the P690-million worth of pandemic food packs procured by the Quezon City government were not overpriced, but will also support Belmonte’s reelection bid in the May 2022 elections.

To date, Belmonte has yet to answer the issues involved in the two batches of procurement and has instead resorted to questioning Defensor’s motive in exposing the irregularities.

“How much did they purchase the goods included in the food packages, and how much were the prevailing prices of these items? What was the process of award to the suppliers? Why did Mayor Belmonte split the procurements in violation of auditing rules? These are some of the questions she is evading to answer,” Idol Mike stressed.

Based on documents Defensor presented to the media which he said was given to him by city hall insiders, the lawmaker said Belmonte signed two purchase orders for the procurement of a total of 600,000 food packs intended for poor city residents reeling from the COVID-19 pandemic.

One PO, dated Nov. 23, 2020, was issued to LXS Trading, with address at 1210 Suntrust Capital Plaza, Matalino St., Central, Quezon City for the supply of 250,000 food packages at P1,149.98 each, for a total price of P287,475,000.

The other PO, which does not indicate a date, was issued to Thyme General Merchandise of 32 Batay St., Cubao, for 350,000 packs also at P1,149.98 each, for a total of P402.5 million.

But based on a price canvass made by his staff, Defensor said he found out that each food bag cost only P636, or an excess of P513.98. He estimated that the total overprice for the two procurements amounted to P308 million.

He said the priciest item in the package in the two separate procurements was rice, consisting of five kilos worth P200.

He said the other items included small cans of meat products, spaghetti noodles and sauce, cheese, and milk.

Aside from the excessive price, Defensor raised the issue of splitting of the two batches of purchases.

According to Defensor, the Commission on Audit prohibits this kind of procurement because it does not obtain the best price for the government.

“The COA auditor assigned in Quezon City should not have allowed the splitting,” Defensor pointed out.

The odd thing, Defensor said, is that despite being bought in two separate batches, they both were priced the same at P1,149.98 per food pack which seems highly irregular.

“Who were these suppliers and who were behind them? Was it just a coincidence that they offered the same price? Or was the price dictated to them?” the solon asked.

Well, maybe if Belmonte really believes there is no irregularity in the procurement of the food packs and the face shield and disinfectant sprays which Defensor also bared, maybe she should reciprocate the lawmaker’s dare by offering to quit if ever the allegations against her are proven to be valid.


Related stories:

How Napoles slipped through the Senate’s net in 2006, 2008

There is fire in Quezon City too!

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