Jinggoy, COA chief face off in budget hearing
MANILA - Sen. Jinggoy Estrada on Monday again grilled the chairwoman of the Commission on Audit, this time on the increase in the agency's travel budget as well as the purchase of cars using the controversial disbursement acceleration program (DAP).
Estrada first questioned COA chairwoman Grace Pulido Tan on why the agency is asking for a P10 million increase in COA's travel budget, from P78 million in 2013 to P88 million next year.
Tan, however, said the fund is used for the field work of COA auditors all over the country.
"We audit at least half of the embassies per year. We do not have the funds to audit them every year...as well as the other foreign offices like the POLO," she said during Monday's budget hearing.
The senator also questioned COA's use of DAP funds, which comes from savings and unprogrammed funds of several government agencies.
Estrada said DAP funds were used to purchase service vehicles for COA Commissioner Heidi Mendoza and two COA directors.
He said the DAP was also used to buy computers as well as the hiring of an information technology consultant.
The senator questioned why the Philippine government used DAP to buy cars for COA officials, considering that the fund is used to fast-track the socioeconomic development projects of the Aquino administration.
"[The DAP] is to ramp up spending and help accelerate economic expansion so isa pala sa mga project nito ay pagbili ng kotse. Is my interpretation correct?" he asked.
"If you ask my opinion, Madam Chair, the agency COA cannot be objective in its audit on the propriety and legality of the DAP when the agency itself is a recipient and beneficiary," he added.
The COA official, however, said the agency asked for the budget for the vehicles in 2011 but got the funds only in 2012.
Tan said she did not know that the fund came from the DAP until she saw the source of the funds in the special allotment release order (SARO). She said the constitutionality of the DAP is a matter for the Supreme Court to decide.
"What we are auditing, sir, is the utilization of the DAP," she said.
In a separate interview, Mendoza said she has not been issued a service vehicle since she rejoined COA in 2011.
Estrada also questioned why the COA chairperson hired her daughter, Faith Valeria Pulido Tan, as executive assistant. He said an earlier COA resolution states that hiring of relatives within the 3rd degree of consanguinity or affinity of either the appointing authority, recommending authority, chief of bureau or office, or persons exercising immediate supervision is prohibited under the Administrative Code of 1987.
Tan, however, said the COA resolution does not cover positions that are considered confidential.
Estrada earlier criticized COA for allegedly focusing on him and two other opposition senators, Juan Ponce Enrile and Bong Revilla, in its audit of pork barrel funds from 2007-2009.
Tan, however, said at least 15 lawmakers were named in the COA report but not all of the non-government organizations that allegedly received pork barrel funds are spurious.
She also said someone from Estrada's camp asked that the senator not be named when COA called for a press conference to issue the report.