Grace Pulido Tan talks about reforming COA, her rift with Sen. Jinggoy Estrada and why she appointed her daughter as her executive assistant
MANILA - Embattled Commission on Audit (COA) Chairperson Grace Pulido Tan has a few words of advice for Sen. Jinggoy Estrada: Know your law.
This, after the opposition senator continued to lambast her for including him in a COA report that showed lawmakers funneling billions of pesos of their Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) to non-government organizations linked to businesswoman Janet Lim Napoles.
Speaking to [email protected], Tan said she is unfazed by Estrada's criticisms of her recent trips abroad and her decision to appoint her daughter as her executive assistant.
"My inner compass is wala akong ginawang masama so I'll just have to defend it...I accepted this job, I took an oath of office that I was going to do the best I could and that is exactly what I am doing," she said.
"Whether kung sino man ang nakalagay don, kasama sa trabaho ko yun," she added.
Estrada, along with Senators Juan Ponce Enrile and Bong Revilla Jr., are currently facing plunder, bribery and malversation raps for their alleged links to the scam.
The COA report, which showed 10 fake NGOs linked to Janet Lim Napoles getting P2.157 billion in PDAF, is just one of the pieces of the evidence submitted by the Department of Justice to support the complaints.
In the interview, the COA chief said she did not conduct the audit with an eye to running for public office someday. She noted that the audit was authorized in June 2010, even before she was appointed COA chairperson.
"Wala naman akong intensyon gagawin ko ito para sumikat o gusto kong tumakbo, to run for an office. Somebody even asked me that. Do you plan to run? No, not at all," she said.
She also added that she did not need to take the COA position since she could live comfortably without joining government.
"Hindi ako pumasok ng gobyerno para mandugas or to use government resources to make my life easy and comfortable. I think even before I came to government, I was comfortable. I didn't need any of these trappings especially the aggravation that came along. My daughter doesn't need that job. It's me who needs her to be with me," she said.
"It is within my authority, within the law, for me to be able to take her in. So what's the problem?" she added.
According to the COA website, Tan first served the Philippine government as commissioner of the Presidential Commission on Good Government in 2002 in charge of the management of sequestered assets and the financial affairs of PCGG.
She also served as undersecretary of finance and supervised the Bureau of Internal Revenue, Bureau of Customs and the One Stop Shop Duty Drawback Center.
She also served as consultant of the Senate ways and means committee and various governance projects of the Asian Development Bank.
Tan took over as COA chief in February 2011 after the expiration of the term of her predecessor. Her term as COA chair expires in February 2015.
In the hot seat
The release of the COA report last August came at the height of the controversy linking several lawmakers to a scam involving Napoles.
Several lawmakers have called for Tan's resignation after a clerical error in the COA report showed that former congressman Manuel "Way Kurat" Zamora allegedly got P3 billion in PDAF.
Tan said the criticisms are part of the territory.
"Sala sa init, sala sa lamig. You do something right, people will say you are politicized. You don't do your job and people will say you are lazy. You are never right," she said.
The COA chief said an audit is generally carried out on a test basis, meaning not all 100% of transactions are audited.
In the case of the special audit of the 2007-2009 PDAF, the COA found at least 300 legislators - congressmen and senators - who funneled their pork barrel funds to questionable transactions.
"In the audit, what we reported is what we saw. That is why it is incumbent for the Department of Justice and the Ombudsman to determine if the transactions that we found and so reported would constitute some violation of the criminal law," she said.
She said the pork scam also had the unintended consequence of having some state auditors being included in the second batch of complaints filed by DOJ.
"It is unfortunate and the auditors involved are very distraught. They have been crying," she said.
She said the names of the state auditors were not included in the special COA audit of pork barrel funds from 2007-2009. "It is not us who included them, it is the DOJ. It was not in our report. In our report, wala kaming minention tungkol sa aming auditors," she said.
"Isa sa kinasasama ng loob ng auditors they are the ones who raised the red flag. They knew something was going on around there - katakot-takot na unliquidated cash advances and it turns out those cash advances were given to NGOs that did not liquidate. According to auditors who have been charged, sila nga yung nakakita nun at naglabas nun kaya masama ang loob nila," she added.
Jinggoy and Co.
In the interview, Tan also addressed Sen. Estrada's accusations that she is spending too much on travel. The COA chairperson earlier told the senator the added budget of P10 million will be used for the field work of COA auditors.
The COA chairperson said all her trips are official business including meetings, workshops and trainings.
"I don't go on a junket. I barely even see the place where I am going because after that I have to come home again. I bring work with me and there is always email, they send me this even in the middle of...Sometimes, mga kasama ko sa biyahe na taga-COA, sinasabi: 'Mam, pwede ba matulog na tayo?' I am not kidding."
She said Estrada should ask the people that she travels with to find out if the COA travels are pleasure trips.
"Maybe he should go and ask the people that I travel with. I don't think they are happy when they are traveling with me. It is not a treat at all. They are official functions," she said.
Tan also said a former COA auditor tipped off Estrada to ask why she had hired her daughter, Faith Valeria Pulido Tan, as her executive assistant. She said the former auditor asked for a copy of her daughter's appointment papers and also told Estrada of a COA resolution that alleged barred the hiring of relatives in the agency.
Tan pointed out that the prohibition does not cover confidential positions. She said the same resolution is used in various government offices including the Senate.
"Hindi lang COA ang meron resolution na yun, Civil Service Commission has it. Yun ang batas ever since. Confidential and co-terminus pwede kaya nga ang dami kang makikita yung anak nila ang kanilang confidential secretary o asawa nga kung minsan. So many in the Senate as well and everywhere in government," she said.
The COA chairperson believes some people are focusing on these issues just to get back at her. However, she also has a piece of advice for her critics: know your facts and know your law.
"I think kung minsan sa kagustuhan mo na manlait ng tao or to put someone down, to get even, talagang kukutkutin mo maski yung maliliit na bagay bagay na ganyan," she said.
"Sa akin, OK lang din yan. Pero parang awa mo na in fairness to yourself know your facts and your law very well before you even come out with it." dcd