Lawmakers, groups remind Duterte of COA's constitutional mandate


Posted at Aug 17 2021 03:52 PM

MANILA - The Commission on Audit (COA) is an independent constitutional body mandated to check on government for the public's benefit, lawmakers, groups, and a former COA official reminded President Rodrigo Duterte on Tuesday after the latter told the agency to stop flagging government offices and publishing their reports.

"Dapat alam ng Pangulo na independent at Constitutional body ang Commission on Audit at hindi dapat hinahadlangan ninuman sa paggawa ng kanilang tungkulin," Senator Risa Hontiveros said.

(The President should know that the Commission on Audit is an independent and Constitutional body, and it must not be prevented by anymore from performing its tasks.)

The COA is "independent of the executive or legislative branches of government, and certainly not under the Office of the President of the Republic," added Senator Panfilo "Ping" Lacson.

"It has a mandate to perform, and no one can dictate on them," he said. "The President is out of line in publicly castigating the COA, which is just performing its mandate and responsibility to the people and the Constitution."


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COA's findings are public records that are important for transparency so that everyone knows "how public monies are spent," said Lacson.

The former national police chief said "the COA should not be cowed by intimidating statements, even those coming from the Chief Executive" and "should proceed with more vigor, courage and independence."

House lawmaker Edcel Lagman said "the right of the people to information cannot be negated and quashed by invoking that officials should be shielded from 'corruption by perception'."

The COA's documents and reports, Lagman said, were "thoroughly reviewed and documented" which is why Duterte should instead prosecute the officials it flagged.

"When major government departments and agencies are found to have unspent and/or misspent their respective budgets, then it is COA’s obligation to disclose the sanctionable negligence to utilize public funds and the culpable misuse of the people’s money," he said.

In a speech taped Monday evening, Duterte, a lawyer whose campaign promises in 2016 include solving corruption, told members of his Cabinet to ignore the COA reports, saying its documents were "really insufficient and deficient."

He also said state auditors should stop flagging deficiencies in government projects, especially those connected to pandemic response.

"Stop that flagging, God damn it. You make a report, do not flag. Do not publish it, because it will condemn the agency or the person that you are flagging," he said.

He also announced his refusal to accept Health Secretary Francisco Duque III's resignation should he offer it again. 

Duterte's remarks came amid mounting criticism against the Department of Health (DOH) for its supposed mismanagement of P67 billion in COVID-19 funds, as reported by COA.


Labor group Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) is in disbelief that Duterte had "the audacity" to question COA for doing its duty to the public. 

This, according to the labor group, raises questions on the President's real intent or whether he "ever kept the people's best interest in mind."

"Don't shoot the messenger, Mr Duterte," KMU chairperson Elmer Labog said in a statement.

"Instead of threatening the COA, why not order the involved agencies to shape up and live to their mandates? You and your cabinet must ensure sufficient aid and better services in these trying times," he added. 

Akbayan Spokesperson RJ Naguit said they were no longer surprised by the President's tirades, adding that he "opened the season of corruption." 

The COA should ignore Duterte, he said.

"The President just declared open season for corruption. By ordering the COA to stop performing its mandate and cabinet secretaries to ignore its reports, Mr. Duterte just gave presidential approval for government misspending, technical malversation and outright corruption," said Naguit.

In 2016, Duterte promised voters that he would crush corruption, crime, and drugs in 3 to 6 months within taking office. 

But his administration has been dogged by scandals and allegations of graft and cover-ups in state agencies ranging from prisons, the state insurer, immigration, airports and customs, to police and the drugs enforcement agency, few of which led to convictions or high-profile resignations.

"Lab nga po kayo ng COA kaya inaalagaan nila ang inyong pamamahala at ginagawa nila ang trabaho nila," former COA Commissioner Heidi Mendoza said in a Facebook post in reaction to Duterte's statement.

(COA loves you that is why they are trying to take care of your government and they keep on doing their job.)

"Hindi po ito cheering squad, kampihan lang at palakasan ng sigaw ang peg at wisk ko wag namang mauwi sa lalong hindi pagkakaunawaan!" she added.

(This is not a cheering squad where you can take sides. I just wish this will not end up in further misunderstanding.)

The former COA official, who became an Under-Secretary-General at the United Nations Office of Internal Oversight Services, praised state auditors for their efforts in making sure that government funds are spent according to pertinent laws and regulations.

“Saludo sa Audit Teams na naghahanap ng kandungan kung napapagod, lakas kung binabatikos at pag-asa kung pinanghihinaan ng loob sa dami ng kailangang gawin subalit kakaunti ang ipinadalang manggagawa!"

(Praising all audit teams who seek refuge when they get tired, strength when criticized, and hope when they get discouraged amid the overwhelming tasks where only a few are sent to do.)

In a statement on Tuesday, the COA said it "publishes the Annual and other Audit Reports only in our website for transparency purposes."

Duterte's spokesman, Harry Roque, said, "Siguro ang gustong mangyari ni Presidente, ‘wag muna isapubliko ang preliminary observations na hindi pa naman nasasagot ng mga ahensya."

(Perhaps what the President wants is for the preliminary observations not to get publicized, while agencies have yet to answer.)

"I don’t think he made any threats. He expressed frustration," Roque added.

- With reports from Adrian Ayalin, Job Manahan, and Jamaine Punzalan, ABS-CBN News