'Frequent flyers' in DOJ told to explain P6M in travel expenses

Adrian Ayalin, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jun 20 2019 07:04 PM | Updated as of Jun 20 2019 07:53 PM

MANILA (UPDATE) - The Commission on Audit (COA) has identified 14 frequent flyers in the Department of Justice who spent a total of P6.192 million to attend international meetings, fora, and dialogue ranging from 2 to 12 times last year.

In the 2018 annual audit report on the DOJ, government auditors identified the officials with "multiple foreign meetings" as Analiza Ite-Manito, Bernadette Ongoco, George Ortha II, Grace Estrada, Jomarlli Ustarez, Ma. Pamelyn Omalin, Marlyn Angeles, Mary Grace Quintana, Mary Grace Pulido Sadian, Mildred Bernadette Alvor, Nancy Lozano, Rosario Elena Laborte-Cuevas, Mark Perete, Maria Laureen Suan.

Among the events attended by the officials were those of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, United Nations and Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership in various countries such Vietnam, Singapore, Myanmar, Thailand, Indonesia, New Zealand, Japan, China, South Korea.

Auditors noted that several meetings were attended by the same participants, some events were frequently attended by the same participants, similar meetings attended by the same set of participants and airline tickets were procured through a travel agency.

“There were 23 types of meetings/fora/dialogues wherein two to five participants were sent by DOJ to attend, resulting in huge amounts of traveling expenses being spent by DOJ totaling P5,550,149.44. We also noted that, majority of those who were sent to attend such events, were the same officials/personnel of DOJ,” the COA report said.

The audit team also noted that disbursement vouchers and liquidation reports totaling P771,643 were not supported with complete documents such as flight itinerary, program and logistics information, invitation from sponsor, exchange rate, certificate of attendance, boarding pass, post-event report.

There was also no showing that the DOJ entered into the Government Fares Agreement with the Department of Budget and Management to save time, money and energy when processing transportation needs of government personnel.

“Any procurement of airline tickets outside GFA may be subject to COA findings or disallowances,” the COA report said.

The audit team recommended the submission of “advantages, justifications, benefits” derived from the attendance to the identified meetings as well as the necessary documents.

The DOJ was also told to stop the practice of procuring airline tickets through travel agencies.

The DOJ management, however, told the audit team that the travels of the officials do not fall within the definition of “unnecessary expenditures.”

The attendance to the meetings were pursuant to the commitments of the country to international organizations “to which the Philippines is a state party, a stage of negotiation of treaties, trade and investment, or executive agreements to which the Philippines will become a party or signatory.”

The DOJ also reiterated that the travels are governed by policy guidelines and procedures under its Department Circular No. 074 dated November 18, 2013 as well as the internal guidelines of the office of the secretary and “such other existing pertinent policies, rules and regulation and the policy on conscientious spending of government funds.”

The COA report said that the DOJ management has already submitted the documentary requirements cited after the initial audit.

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said the travels were official but he would try to reduce the number of officials participating in government trips.

"Participation in those international events is useful to our government and to the DOJ in particular. Be that as it may, I will try to reduce the number of DOJ officials participating in any given delegation," he said.

The full audit report on the DOJ can be downloaded from the COA website.