MANILA - The Commission on Audit is an important part of good governance and its statements must be respected, a senator said Tuesday after President Rodrigo Duterte told his Cabinet to ignore the state auditors' reports.
Duterte, in a late night public address on Monday, said COA should stop flagging deficiencies in government projects, especially those connected to pandemic response.
But for Sen. Juan Miguel Zubiri, policymakers turn to these audit report to evaluate whether there were deficiencies in the implementation of state-funded programs and probe if there was corruption being done. It is also essential during budget deliberations for legislators who hold the power of the purse.
"With due respect, the COA is a tool, is a guide for government and the implementers of the law to see if the government agencies are doing well or not. They are the state auditors, the check and balance of government expenditure. We have to respect what they say," he told ANC's Headstart.
"COA plays a very important role in good governance in any administration…When COA reports come out, it guides us, particularly on budget deliberations, on how we can wisely spend the funds on these particular agencies on their deficiencies of expenditure of their programs, the spending of the money of the programs," he said.
Duterte's statement came after COA came out with a report flagging deficiencies in the Department of Health's management of funds for COVID-19 pandemic response.
Zubiri said he was also a bit skeptical about the COA's report on DOH's lack of documentation when it first came out because Bayanihan 1 expressly stated exemptions from the Procurement Law to quickly purchase necessary materials for the fight against the pandemic.
However, he said what frustrated him more was the billions of funds that had to be returned to the national treasury. The COA report noted that some P11.89 billion were unobligated despite an urgent need to strengthen the capacity of the DOH during a state of national emergency.
"Kung babalik sa national treasury yan, napaka-sayang naman ng expenditure na ‘yan. Kaya kami naiinis bilang policymaker dahil gawa kami nang gawa ng batas, gaya ng Bayanihan 1 and Bayanihan 2, at nung nalalaman namin na hindi nailalabas yung pondo para sa desired function it was supposed to do…di bakit pa kami gagawa ng batas?" he said.
(If it is returned to the national treasury, that would such a waste of expenditure. That's what bugs us as policymakers because we create laws, like Bayanihan 1 and Bayanihan 2, then we would find out that funds were not released for the desired function...Why then should we create laws?)
"'Yan ang frustration namin (That's our frustration). That’s why when it is returned to the national government, that means it was inefficiently utilized, the funds were inefficiently utilized and in a way, we’re talking about inefficiency of government service," he added.
Health Sec. Francisco Duque III has denied there was corruption in the P67 billion worth of COVID-19 funds flagged by COA and insisted that it is accounted for.
Duterte, in the same public address on Monday evening, said it is "impossible" to steal that much money and that thinking that there could be corruption in the DOH "pure bullshit."
The DOH said on Saturday that it is nearing completion of documents in response to state auditors, but there are still units in the agency that have yet to complete required papers.