COA mulls replacing auditors in gov't agencies

By Ron Gagalac, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Feb 14 2011 09:47 PM | Updated as of Feb 16 2011 01:40 AM


MANILA, Philippines - The Commission on Audit (COA) is now seriously considering removing resident auditors in all national government agencies and replacing them with audit teams that will be based in the COA central office in Commonwealth Avenue, Quezon City.
COA Chairman Reynaldo Villar said in light of the recent revelations on how auditors conducted their duty, the plan might help remove the notion that COA auditors are part of the massive corruption happening in various government agencies. 
"Pag matagal kasi, may development of relationship. Malapit na sa isa’t-isa, nagkakamabutihan na. We should preserve the independence of our auditors," he explained.
Villar added that the agency will now strictly implement the 3-year tenure rule for each auditor serving in national government agencies. 
The rule was created in 1987 through Resolution No. 87, which limited each auditor to serve a maximum of 3 years per agency and be transferred later. 
Villar, however, clarified that the resolution also states that heads of agencies may be able to request the commission to extend the tenure of the assigned auditor based on his or her performance. 
He said the leeway in the resolution was abused, taking note of the recent exposé against Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines resident auditor Divina Cabrera, who served the agency for 13 straight years. 
Villar described her length of stay as highly irregular. 
He said his office is now investigating Cabrera on her extended stay, and other auditors nationwide to check on how long they have been staying in their respective assigned agencies. 
"Nire-review ko na lahat ang assignment history ng mga auditors,” he said.
Villar also welcomed the proposal of Rep. Joseph Abaya to audit around 6,000 auditors nationwide and subject them to a lifestyle check to verify whether their incomes justify their assets and other acquired wealth. 
Villar said, "Hindi kami tutol dyan, but I just hope it will not be confined to COA alone." 
He echoed auditors' sentiments that the lifestyle checks might be used to harass them. "Nababahala din sila, whoever is authorize to do the lifestyle check, we hope they will not resort to harassment."
In 2009, 26 auditors were either dismissed or suspended due to administrative cases, mostly on irregularities in performing their duties, while 37 auditors still have pending cases before the COA chairman's office. 
In 2010, 21 auditors were either dismissed or suspended, while 46 more have pending cases. 
This year, the case of Cabrera is one the first cases of irregularities that is now pending before the chairman's office.
Tax records, lifestyle checks
Meanwhile, the Bureau of Internal Revenue BIR) is investigating the tax records of the Armed Forces officials who have been implicated in the Senate hearings on corruption in the military. 
A lifestyle check will also be part of its investigation, according to BIR Commissioner Kim Henares.
"We are requesting for transcripts of hearing… statements of assets and liabilities, income tax returns. We are gathering evidence on lifestyle checks, and properties here and abroad," she said. 
From the results of the investigation, the BIR will determine if there is a probable cause to file tax evasion charges against the military generals who allegedly took "pasalubong” and “pabaon," as well as their wives who also allegedly benefited from the Armed Forces funds. 
The BIR has already filed tax evasion charges against former Armed Forces comptroller Carlos Garcia.   
UP National College of Public Administration and Governance dean Edna Co, however, said the lifestyle checks are “reactionary.”  
She said the lifestyle checks occur every time reports on corruption surface. 
She said the government must show concrete results on the lifestyle checks that have been implemented. 
"Pagkatapos, di naman makikita ng bayan ang resulta ng lifestyle check. People found guilty must be convicted, punished and penalized,” Co added.
The lifestyle checks must not be limited to either COA auditors or generals who have been implicated in the scandal, she said. 
"It must be done by the concerned government agencies at all times,” Co said.