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GOP chickens out... for now

By Nancy I. Maanao

The Republican members of the House Special Committee investigating the executive expenditures of Gov. Ralph Torres side swiped a motion made by Rep. Tina Sablan to subpoena the governor before the committee.

At the heart of the matter is getting to the truth of whether the 17 different credit cards that appear on receipts for reimbursements paid to Mr. Torres from taxpayers actually belong to the governor.

Ms. Sablan made the motion after more than an hour of grilling Secretary of Finance David Atalig, Jr., about the governor's reimbursements, which he, former secretary Larissa Larson, and DOF Finance and Accounting chief Bernadita Palacios approved.

"What we are trying to ascertain is whether those are, in fact, the governor's credit cards," Ms. Sablan said. "Finance can't tell us. His staff can't tell us. The only person who can tell us this, really, is the governor."

She made the motion following Mr. Atalig, finance assistant Bertha Torres, and governor's legal counsel Gil Birnbrich's inability to identify the 17 cardholders of the receipts submitted by the governor for reimbursement. The stalemate results from the DOF's doctoring of the original receipts in their custody, which included the last four digits of the 17 credit card numbers.

The Legislature has in its possession copies of the non-doctored receipts entered into the official record on December 11, 2019 by the minority bloc. Those receipts contain the last four digits of the 17 different credit card numbers. Republicans wanted to verify the official copies against a disclosure of the same records from the DOF, so the minority bloc made an Open Government Act request for the documents in January.

"When we went to inspect the records, we asked Finance staff not to redact the last four digits," Ms. Sablan said to Mr. Atalig. "Were you aware that they had done this after we asked them not to do this?"

He said he found out later, "and that's when we decided to issue that statement."

While the Republican members did acknowledge that, due to the doctoring of the records, the governor may be the only person who can provide the truth of the matter, they preferred to continue the investigation by calling Ms. Palacios to appear before the committee.

The committee will issue subpoenas and prepare a subpoena duces tecum for the governor's credit card records for its hearing next week.

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