Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte has ordered that members of his cabinet are required to get his consent to appear at Senate investigations, with some critics calling the move an attempt to avert scrutiny.

Duterte issued the orders in a recorded televised address on Tuesday, declaring: “I will require every cabinet member to clear with me any invitation, and if I think he will be called… to be harassed, berated… I will not allow (them to attend)”.

The fiery leader went on, remarking to the Senators that “I will limit you to what you can do with the executive department.” Only if Duterte deemed the court appearance to be “in pursuant of the truth” would he give his seal of approval, he said.

The order comes after Duterte slammed Senators for probing his government’s spending of more than $1 billion on Covid pandemic funds, with the Philippines’ auditor flagging “deficiencies” in the transactions. Health Secretary Francisco Duque in August vowed that no money was “stolen” or “went into corruption”.

Duterte has also previously denied claims that medical supplies, such as personal protective equipment and facemasks, were overpriced. Opposition officials questioned the cabinet’s decision to make deals with a company linked to the government. The Philippines president instructed the Senate to not investigate programs currently in force, stating that “the incessant penchant for investigating government offices” could “derail” such schemes.

A critic of the government, Renato Reyes, warned that the country may be moving “towards a constitutional crisis” so that Duterte can “cover up the truth and the corruption”.

Since the outbreak of the pandemic, the Southeast Asian nation has recorded over 2 million Covid cases and more than 35,500 deaths from the disease.

Duterte has held office since 2016 and formally accepted his nomination to run for the role of vice president in 2022 last week, which opponents dubbed as Duterte’s attempt to retain a tight grip on power.

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