BY ASHZEL HACHERO and JOCELYN MONTEMAYOR
SEN. Panfilo Lacson yesterday told President Duterte there is no need for him to resign if he is frustrated over rampant corruption in government.
Lacson said the President “only needs to be consistent in applying the anti-graft and corruption laws to both friends and foes.”
“Strong words and warnings may work, but only when backed by political will and followed by concrete actions. There is no better way,” he said.
Lacson did not name names but he was at the forefront of Senate investigations into alleged anomalies at the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth). He was also among several senators calling for the sacking of Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, who is PhilHealth board chairman, for alleged incompetence.
The President has been defending Duque from various allegations.
Duterte, in a late Monday night public address, reiterated he has offered to resign because of the severity of the corruption problem in government.
He first talked about his offer to resign due to corruption during a joint police and military command conference in Malacañang.
His spokesman, Harry Roque, yesterday said the President will unlikely step down as he has vowed to devote the remainder of his term cleaning government and defeating the corruption problem.
Senate President Vicente Sotto III said it should be the corrupt officials who should resign and not Duterte.
“He was elected by the country, he cannot turn his back on the task by the Filipinos,” Sotto said.
The Senate Committee of the Whole earlier recommended the filing of charges against Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, who is PhilHealth board chairman, and other PhilHealth officials. However, a task force led by the Department of Justice indicted only resigned PhilHealth president Ricardo Morales and other officials of the state health insurer and spared Duque.
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra, though, said Duque is not yet off the hook in the PhilHealth mess investigations are ongoing.
Lacson, during a Senate inquiry on the alleged anomalies at PhilHealth, asked why Duterte was not keeping his promise to fire officials over “just a whiff” of corruption.
He also said the Senate is already proposing in a bill to give Duterte “Bayanihan-like powers to address red tape in the government.”
The lawmaker was referring to the bill he recently filed to expedite the issuance of national and local permits and licenses in times of national emergencies.
Duterte, on Monday night, said even if he has issued warnings, like shaking up an agency and ordering a reorganization and an investigation, corruption persists. He said he has had enough.
“I offered to resign as President… kasi nagsasawa na ako. In my years of government, wala ng katapusan itong itong corruption. Mahirap talaga pigilin (I offered to resign as President… I have had enough. In my years of government, there is no end to corruption. It’s difficult to stop),” he said,.
The President reiterated he plans to reorganize PhilHealth and to ask Congress to pass a bill abolishing the agency because he cannot easily remove officials who have security of tenure.
He said he also does not believe that any private entity would be interested in if he offered the state insurer for privatization because of the massive corruption as well as funds needed by the agency.
He said the government had been forced to consider the sale of Philippine properties in Japan just to raise funds for PhilHealth.
“Wala kayong pondo… That is the reason why we are selling properties, real estate properties in Japan because we have to raise money. Wala nang pambayad iyang sa PhilHealth na iyan (You have no funds… That is the reason why we are selling properties, real estate properties in Japan because we have to raise money. There are no more funds to pay for PhilHealth),” he said.
Roque said there is nothing final yet, adding that apart from the approval of the President, the approval of Congress is also needed.
A bill has been filed at the House seeking the sale the properties given by the Japanese to the Philippine government, located in Roponggi, Nampeidai, and Fujimi in Tokyo and Naniwa-Cho and Obanoyama in Kobe but the expected proceeds were meant to fund pension and other benefits of veterans and military retirees.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. reiterated his opposition to the sale.
Of the four properties,the most prized is the 3,179-square meter Roponggi property. In 1989, the then Corazon Aquino administration tried to sell the property for $225 million but the sale did not push through due to opposition, including from then Vice President Salvador Laurel.
Laurel even petitioned the Supreme Court which affirmed his opposition to the sale, as it recognized the symbolic value of the property to all Filipinos as war reparation of Japan.
Locsin said there are enough properties in line departments, many of them idle, that could be sold to help fund the anti-COVID efforts.