For Commission on Audit Chairperson Michael Aguinaldo, the agency he represents should not be pegged solely as a fault-finder, a group dedicated only to spot irregularities in government spending.
“Gusto namin na makita ng mamamayan na may nagbabantay din sa mga buwis at nagagamit ito ng tama,” he says in an interview for “FYI,” a Presidential Communications Operations Office television program. “Hindi po kami kalaban o kaaway ng mga nasa gobyerno. Hindi lang po kami tagahanap ng mali, anomalya o katiwalian. Nakikita namin ang aming mga sarili bilang partners in nation building.”
Ensuring transparency and accountability is one of the mandates of Aguinaldo’s office. He explains why it is essential for his agency to review the spending of government offices and departments thus: “Para malaman kung tama ba ang paggamit ng budget, naaayon ba ito sa program na nasa budget, talaga bang ginastos ito, talaga bang may kapalit bang gamit o serbisyo ang pinaggastusan, ayon ba sa batas ang paggastos. Lahat iyon titingnan ko—for accountability,” he says.
According to the constitution the COA “shall have the power, authority, and duty to examine, audit, and settle all accounts pertaining to the revenue and receipts of, and expenditures or uses of funds and property, owned or held in trust by, or pertaining to, the Government, or any of its subdivisions, agencies, or instrumentalities, including government-owned or controlled corporations with original charters, and on a post-audit basis.”
Recently, however, the COA has come under attack just by performing two of its primary roles—releasing its audit reports and red-flagging deficiencies in the use of public funds.
Who is Michael Aguinaldo?
Aguinaldo is a well-respected figure in his field. The guy obtained his juris doctor degree from the Ateneo de Manila University in 1992 and holds a Masters Degree with special concentration in International Economic Law from the University of Michigan. He placed 7th in the 1992 Philippine Bar Exams.
An experienced lawyer, he has “extensive legal, governance and administration expertise,” according to the COA website. For 17 years, he was with the Romulo Mabanta Buenaventura Sayoc & De Los Angeles Law Firm, serving as partner and executive committee member. As educator, he taught at the De La Salle University, the Ateneo de Manila University School of Law and the FEU.
He joined government after his exit from Romulo Mabanta in 2011 and assumed the post of President Benigno Aquino III’s Deputy Executive Secretary for Legal Affairs, also heading the Investigation and Adjudication Office, previously the Presidential Anti-Graft Commission.
He took on his current position as COA chief in 2015, following his appointment by PNoy and the approval of the Commission on Appointments (CA) on June the same year. Then CA Committee on Constitutional Commissions and Offices Chair Senator Teofisto Guingona III, in his sponsorship speech, described Aguinaldo as possessing “the qualities of competence, fitness and integrity.”
Today, Aguinaldo also serves as External Auditor of the World Health Organization, the Food and Agriculture Organization, and the International Labour Organization of the United Nations.
What he stands for
At the COA, Aguinaldo espouses transparency and citizen participation in his office’s fight against corruption. “It can really be a government by the people for the people,” the man told GovInsider in a 2020 interview.
In Rappler’s Social Good Summit in 2016, he shared how ordinary citizens—farmers or civil society organizations, for instance—had helped the agency check projects under the farm-to-market roads program. “They check if the construction is right. They use a stick and walk the entire length of the road and it actually measures the road,” he said.
COA’s website actually has a Citizens’ Desk Reporting System (CDRS), an arm that receives, records and monitors complaints, questions, and reports on fraud, waste or mismanagement of public funds. As of this writing, CDRS has received a total of 626 complaints, 1,470 queries, 280 assistance, and 22 commendations.
Apart from citizen participation, the Commission also makes use of drones and geo-tagging technology to monitor the progress of public projects, Aguinaldo told GovInsider.
Has COA taken actions to ensure the proper use of government funds, apart from releasing audit reports? Aguinaldo tells “FYI” that in the past couple of years, the commission has issued Notices of Disallowance (ND), Suspension (NS) and Charges (NC). It has issued 1,524 NDs amounting to P383.38 million, of which 485 were settled amounting to P90.72 million in 2020; and NS amounting to P19.78 billion. In 2019, COA issued 2,092 NDs valued at P662.56 million, of which 1,171 were settled amounting to P329.12 million.
Under the COA Chair’s leadership are 9,000 employees “who are dedicated and are professional in doing their job,” says Aguinaldo. “There is no concerted effort whatsoever to criticize (agencies).”
The COA Chairman’s seven-year term expires on February 2, 2022. In the meantime, he seems determined to just keep doing his job and abiding by his office’s mandate. Apart from the aforementioned duties, the agency also also conducts general seminars and workshops on new regulations, and providing targeted consultations when officials have doubts about how funds can be used.
The COA is there “not only to catch, but also to teach,” Aguinaldo told GovInsider. “It’s not enough to tell them that what they’re doing is wrong. You have to tell them how to do it right.”