Duque: Cabinet officials should not be barred from attending Senate Pharmally probe

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, October 13) — Health Secretary Francisco Duque agrees that Cabinet officials should not be barred from participating in the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee's probe into the government's use of pandemic response funds.

Duque made his position public on Wednesday after Senator Franklin Drilon asked if he supports the calls of hundreds of medical professionals for President Rodrigo Duterte to stop "obstructing" the ongoing investigation.

"Yes, we are all one in the pursuit of truth and accountability," Duque said during the Senate Committee on Finance's deliberation on the Department of Health's proposed budget for 2022.

Duque pointed out that his department had a perfect attendance in congressional hearings on the use of COVID-19 funds — which had largely looked into the government's purchase of "overpriced" face masks and face shields from Pharmally Pharmaceutical Corporation.

But this was before the President signed a memorandum last week ordering Cabinet members to ignore the summons of the Senate panel headed by Senator Richard Gordon.

Duque said he believes the probe could help "ferret out the truth" on pandemic spending. But he also suggested that certain adjustments be made to ensure officials summoned by lawmakers have time to address the health crisis.

For instance, he said, the number of hearings held in a week's time could be reduced.

"Maybe the frequency may be looked into," he told the Finance committee. "Like for example, in one week, how many times, maybe once? It's just a suggestion."

Before this, Drilon was first to mention that the hearings could be subject to a "reasonable setup," particularly as regards the number of officials in attendance.

"We note that it is upon your initiative that almost all the directors of the Department of Health would attend the hearings," the senator told Duque. "We do not require that many, but maybe as resource person, you ask them to be present... But we do not want to be pictured as paralyzing the COVID efforts of this government."

Duque said he is willing to raise the issue with Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea for a possible compromise with the Blue Ribbon Committee.