Let Senate do its job, senators tell Malacañang

Senators have taken exception to statements from Cabinet members about their ongoing investigation on the government's allegedly overpriced purchases amid the COVID-19 pandemic, maintaining that the Senate has the responsibility of making sure that public funds are spent properly and efficiently.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III bangs the gavel to resume their hybrid plenary session on May 17, 2021. (Joseph Vidal/Senate PRIB)

Senate President Vicente Sotto III reminded anew officials in the executive department that the Senate is a co-equal branch of government, and is well within its authority to conduct the legislative investigation.

"The Committee on Public Accountability and Investigations, we just like to rub that in, to remind some people that there are three branches of government: The executive, the judiciary and the legislative," Sotto said at the resumption of the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee's sixth hearing on the issue Monday, September 13.

"It just so happens that the Constitution says that the legislature has the power of the purse, so we are doing our committee work. We are looking how the people's money is being spent...Big or small, the public have the right to know how their money is being spent," the Senate chief also pointed out.

Senator Richard Gordon said the executive department should not be blaming the Senate for the surge of COVID-19 cases for supposedly taking the time from resource persons involved in the administration's pandemic response.

"We're being accused that we're taking time from the business at hand and we're being blamed for the sudden increase of . Tumaas daw dahil sa pagiimbita namin sa mga tao rito, hindi na raw makagalaw ang gobyerno (That cases increased because we were inviting people here that the government cannot do its job anymore)," Gordon said in opening the hearing.

Gordon addressed Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea, who claimed that senators were busy "bullying" officials despite the surge of coronavirus infections in the country.

"Mr. Medialdea, kilala ko po kayo, magkaibigan po tayo. Pero alam naman na po ninyo na matindi ang tama talaga rito at huwag niyo naman isisi (Mr. Medialdea, I know you, we are friends. But you know that we are talking about pressing issues here, and don't go blaming us)," he told the Malacañang official.

Gordon also pointed out that they only invited heads of agencies to the hearing, like Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, who decided to bring people who can answer respond better at senators' queries.

The Senate inquiries are also virtual and resource persons are attending from their offices, he said, so "there's no stopping the pace at work."

"It’s our responsibility to hold the agencies accountable," Senator Joel Villanueva also said in a text message when asked about the Cabinet officials' tirades against them.

"To the agency bosses, do your job, we will do ours. And maybe if we try harder, we can be more efficient and effective in using people’s money and responding to the pandemic," he added.

Senator Panfilo Lacson, on Twitter, also lamented: "I never imagined Malacañang and the Senate would be in a deadlock over an issue of corruption when we are supposed to be on the same side."

Senator Risa Hontiveros, in a separate statement, questioned Malacañang for defending the alleged corruption of COVID-19 funds.

"Instead of making the most of our resources at a crucial time during the pandemic, the President himself seems to be fraternizing with fugitives who by all indications, were favored to corner billions in pesos of government contracts at the expense of local manufacturers offering more advantageous terms," Hontiveros said.

"Nasaan ang 'tapang at malasakit'? Bakit ngayong malapit na naming makita ang mga koneksyon at ang mga totoong nangyari ay saka tila hindi sila mapakali dyan sa Palasyo (Where is the 'courage and compassion' promised by the Duterte administration? Why is it that when we are close to finding out the connections and what really happened, those in the Palace seemed uneasy)?" she raised.

"The Senate will recommend the filing of appropriate charges after we’re done with our investigation at the Blue Ribbon Committee. We are a co-equal branch of government and this investigation is part of our duty under the Constitution, kaya hayaan na lang kami sa aming tungkulin na siguraduhing nagagamit nang tama ang pera ng taumbayan (so they should let us do our job of making sure that the people's money are being used properly)," the opposition senator said.

Like Gordon, Hontiveros also addressed Medialdea: "Don’t put the blame on the Senate for some of the administration’s failures during this pandemic.

She said the Senate has been quick in providing the executive department the legislative support needed to respond the health crisis.

"Kung may nagkulang man, sigurado akong hindi kami 'yon (If anyone had shortcomings, that is not us)," she said.

In support of the Senate Blue Ribbon Commiittee's probe, detained Senator Leila de Lima has also filed a resolution urging his colleagues to express the upper chamber's sense that Duterte "should show courtesy to a co-equal institution" and "refrain from making statements intended to diminish the respect due to the Senate or any of its members".