Smoke rises following Duterte order to centralize COVID-19 donations to Office of Civil Defense

Hours after Malacanang released Administrative Order No. 27 consolidating under the Office of Civil Defense (OCD) all donations of medical equipment and supplies to the national government or the Department of Health (DOH) in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic, social media platforms were swamped with photos of relief goods with the name of Sen. Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go on the boxes.

Then, rumors flew thick that the OCD was conducting raids and confiscating donated materials for redistribution under the name of Go, Duterte’s former aide.

On his Facebook account on Thursday, Go immediately belied the rumors, saying he had nothing to do with the mandate and operations of the OCD and neither was his office involved in the distribution of government resources.

At the same, however, he said several private donors have asked him to facilitate donations of food packs, personal protective equipment, medical supplies and other donations to the health frontliners, hospitals and communities.

The Medical City also denied “that a raid of PPEs occurred in our premises on the evening of April 1.”

AO 27, dated March 31, intended to course through the OCD all donations to the national government or the DOH of medicines, medical equipment and supplies, and other health products aimed to address the coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

While the presidential directive does not prohibit direct donations to departments, bureaus, offices, state colleges or universities, government-owned or -controlled corporations or government hospitals, those were, however, mandated to report the donations to the OCD upon receipt.

The OCD was tasked to inventory the donations and allocate those to health facilities and other beneficiary groups or establishments, in coordination with the DOH, Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), Interagency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF), and other related agencies. The Department of National Defense (DND) was assigned to provide logistical support to the OCD for the efficient distribution and delivery of health-related donations. Retired Gen. Carlito Galvez, the presidential adviser on peace, reconciliation and unity, was assigned to oversee the process.

The AO authorizes the OCD to reallocate the donations to other agencies, health facilities or establishments, public or private, that it deems in greater need.

Salvador Panelo, Duterte’s spokesperson, also denied allegations that Go was taking advantage of the situation to have his name pasted on the relief boxes.

“There is a false information being circulated that Administrative Order No. 27 was issued to provide Senator Christopher Lawrence T. Go an avenue where he can manage the donations and be given credit for the same. There is also an untrue news that the importation of medical and health items into the country meant for donation are being put on hold at the Bureau of Customs (BOC) until the good senator places his name to the packages prior to their release and distribution,” Panelo said in a statement on Thursday.

Further, Panelo lengthily said: “Senator Go has no access to OCD. And even if he has, by reason of his position, he will not interfere with the task of the OCD, such interference being out of his character. Nor will Department of National Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana allow an intrusion from the outside regarding the work of the Office of the Civil Defense. Senator Go has his own group of friends who are giving and receiving donations, and delivering them straight to their intended beneficiaries.”

Later in the day, the Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission (PACC) urged the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) to investigate Vice President Leni Robredo, leader of the opposition Liberal Party, for actions that allegedly “compete with or undermine national government efforts” in addressing the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Office of the Vice President delivers personal protective equipment (PPE) sets and extraction kits to the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM), the country’s primary testing center for COVID-19. Photo from Vice President Leni Robredo’s Facebook page.

PACC Commissioner Manuelito Luna flagged her projects providing free shuttle service and dormitories to health workers and facilitating donations of personal protective equipment (PPEs) as among those that purportedly compete with those of DOH, DSWD, and the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC).

Hours later, PACC Commissioner Greco Belgica said Luna was speaking on his own, not on behalf of the agency.

Robredo’s Spokesperson Barry Gutierrez described Luna’s call for probe as “ridiculous,” adding that the vice president would continue to do what she can to help health workers cope with the pandemic.

“She has done all this without requesting additional public funds or seeking expanded powers. She did this because she saw a need, and she took action to meet it. She did this because it was the right and responsible thing to do. And now, unbelievably, the PACC wants to ‘investigate’ her for it. And for what reason? Because she was “competing” with other agencies,“ Gutierrez pointed out.