"Nag-react na naman yung mga senador. Sabi nila, hindi raw sila natatakot sa pagbabanta ni Presidente. Teka muna, wala namang binabanta si Presidente. Kayo naman oh, bakit ba kayo overreacting (The senators reacted anew. They said they are not afraid of the President's threat. The President never made a threat. Why are you overreacting)?" Panelo said.
Panelo made the remarks, after Duterte on Monday required all Cabinet secretaries to get his consent before attending Senate hearings.
Duterte's directive came, as he expressed dismay over the conduct of lengthy hearings that merely "wasted" the government officials' time by letting them sit for long hours just to listen to the "rambling" of senators who want public exposure ahead of next year's elections.
Duterte, Panelo said, only gave the fresh directive because his Cabinet could not focus on the fight against Covid-19 because they have to face the senators.
"Ang sinabi lang naman ni Presidente, kasi nga napapansin niya, sinu-subpoena niyo 'yung mga Cabinet member pagkatapos naka-tengga sila doon, mga pitong oras silang naka-standby doon, hindi rin sila nakakapagtrabaho, naghihintay kasi nga hindi pa sila natatawag (The President merely noticed that senators are issuing subpoenas to compel Cabinet members' attendance, and yet, they could not do their job because they are attending the hearings that usually last for seven hours, waiting for their turn to be called)," Panelo said.
Panelo said Duterte is not stopping the senators from conducting an inquiry into the use of public funds.
He added that they remain "independent" and can continue fulfilling their mandate sans Duterte's interference.
"Wala namang nagpipigil sa inyo (No one is stopping you)," Panelo said. "Sabi nila, 'Kami, nananatiling malaya, independent. Wala naman siyang sinasabing hindi kayo independent. Kayo naman oh. 'Itutuloy namin ang aming mandato.' Wala namang nagsabing ihinto ninyo ang mandato niyo (They said, 'We will remain independent. No one is saying you are not independent. They said, 'We will continue fulfilling our mandate.' No one is telling you to stop fulfilling your mandate)."
Earlier on Friday, Senator Richard Gordon, who chairs the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee, called Duterte a "cheap" politician.
Gordon also earned support from the Senate minority bloc, including Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, for his "courage" to conduct the Senate hearings.
On Tuesday, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said Duterte has a "legal basis" to mandate government officials to seek his clearance first before attending congressional inquiries.
Three days after his pronouncement, Duterte told Cabinet officials, including Health Secretary Francisco Duque III who leads the Covid-19 response efforts, to keep attending Senate probes to "just tell the plain truth".
Duterte also expressed confidence on Thursday that the senators would find any irregularities because his Cabinet members were all "clean". (PNA)