As the Commission on Audit vowed to pursue its mandate to audit government funds amid criticisms, the hashtag “#ProtectCOA” gained traction as an indication of the online community’s support to its stance.
COA Chairperson Michael Aguinaldo said the agency is “committed” to its constitutional duty of ensuring accountability of public resources and preventing unconscionable expenditures of government funds and properties.
“We understand the concern of the President, but of course, to begin with, you know we do not flag; we observe and recommend. The flagging is actually a term used by media, pero kami, hindi nag-flag. Because some of our observations are actually positive, hindi naman pina-flash ‘yung positive,” he was quoted as saying in a congressional hearing on Tuesday.
“So ayon, pero so far as the work of the Commission on Audit, tuloy pa rin kami, we have a constitutional mandate, we have to comply with that. You know, I do have a force of about 9,000 people in COA who are very dedicated, very professional, and you know, who are committed to do the work that they do,” Aguinaldo added.
He also assured the public that their reports are published on its website as required by law.
The 1987 Philippine Constitution and the General Appropriations Act released every year notes that COA should publish its reports.
“So every year, it’s continually reproduced, we are required to publish reports on the website with very, very few exceptions, and as you mention, hindi po kami nagpre-press release ng findings namin,” Aguinaldo said.
In the past days, reports of COA flagging certain agencies due to its fund management last year have surfaced.
Some of those were the Department of Health (DOH), the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) and the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA).
The one that alarmed the public the most was DOH’s reported unutilized funds for the COVID-19 pandemic, procurement deficiencies and unauthorized grant of meal allowances.
The deficiencies stood at P66.28 billion but further auditing reveals “P1.036 billion more of that,” making it a total of P67.32 billion, according to a Philstar.com report.
The funds were supposed to boost the country’s healthcare system and address the ongoing public health crisis which has been continuously upending lives.
Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said that COA should consider that they are “not operating under normal circumstances,” citing the prevailing pandemic.
OWWA was placed under the spotlight for allegedly purchasing hygiene products from a supposed construction company that amounted to P1.269 million.
OWWA Administrator Hans Leo Cacdac tweeted that it is “still subject to liquidation and explanation to COA by the concerned official.”
COA also flagged TESDA for its “highly questionable” fund transfers to the regional offices of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict which amounted to P160.08 million.
Among those that received the heftiest allocation was its office in Davao which received P41 million, followed by the one in Soccsksargen at P23 million and Caraga at P13 million.
TESDA said that P146 million was taken out of its scholarship fund for distribution to regional offices as subject to TESDA scholarship rules.
However, COA said that this is also questionable.
Following the recent reports, some Filipinos praised COA for holding government agencies accountable and aired their support to the independent body, especially amid the criticisms.
President Rodrigo Duterte previously cursed at the state auditors in his weekly address and told them to refrain from publishing reports. He also told government agencies to ignore it and said that no one has been jailed due to the findings.
Aguinaldo stood by COA’s mandate and said they will continue to do their job as stated in the fundamental law of the land.
“Praying for these 9,000 people. We salute you and may the Lord protect you from all of the evil forces who wish you ill or dead. #ProtectCOA,” a Twitter user said in response to Aguinaldo’s remarks.
“I hope COA will just continue to audit our funds honestly because if this sector in our [government] stops doing its job, then there’s really no hope in our country. #ProtectCOA,” wrote another online user.
“My late aunt worked in COA most of her life and their job wasn’t easy. She even gained enemies just for exposing some existing corruption but she didn’t stop doing it until she retired. People should be grateful for COA especially during these challenging times. #ProtectCOA,” a different user wrote.
“Lezzgo COA!!! #ProtectCOA, ilabas lahat ng baho and hold them accountable!!!!” another Twitter user said.
An independent body
COA, like other constitutional commissions like the Civil Service Commission and the Commission on Elections, is independent of the executive branch of the government.
It is constitutionally authorized to “promulgate accounting and auditing rules and regulations, including those for the prevention and disallowance of irregular, unnecessary, excessive, extravagant, or unconscionable expenditures, or uses of government funds and properties.”
The state auditing body is likewise authorized to audit other constitutional commissions, autonomous state colleges and universities, subsidiaries of government-owned corporations, and legally subsidized non-governmental entities.
Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri also said that COA plays “a very important role in good governance” since it does the “check and balance of government expenditure.”