MANILA - President Rodrigo Duterte's verbal attacks against the Commission of Audit (COA) over its recent report on the Department of Health were "baseless and misplaced," a former COA official said Tuesday.
Duterte earlier defended the DOH after the report drew questions on how it used over P67 billion in COVID-19 funds, saying state auditors should stop flagging deficiencies in government projects.
Former commissioner Heidi Mendoza, however, emphasized that under the Philippine Constitution, COA has independent authority to scrutinize and report how government agencies have spent public funds.
"Leaders of the world, they respect and recognize the powers of the supreme audit institution. And when you talk of COA, ito po 'yung tinatawag na supreme audit institution. And it is the Constitution that gave us this power ... sa Article 11, nandoon po 'yun, pati po 'yung mandato na sinasabing exclusive po 'yung kapangyarihan ng COA na i-determine 'yung audit procedures," Mendoza told ABS-CBN's TeleRadyo.
(And it is in Article 11 of the Constitution that gave us this power and mandate to determine audit procedures.)
The report said DOH's purchases worth P5.038 billion lacked proper documentation and had procedural deficiencies, which violated the Government Procurement Reform Act.
The deficiencies noted were purchases found to be disadvantageous to the government amounting to P194.403 million, as well as defects in the sworn statements in contracts, non-posting of procurement information on government website and non-provision of technical specifications in contracts.
Duterte, in his taped briefing on Monday, fumed at the state auditors for supposedly implying that the DOH stole or misused the public funds.
But Mendoza explained that the deficiencies flagged in COA's report don't necessarily mean the public funds were stolen, but that the DOH may have not submitted some required documents or did not follow some audit processes, which she said should be strictly observed by government agencies.
COA also said earlier its report did not indicate that the DOH had lost the funds to corruption.
"Ang dapat lang po natin i-remind, doon sa mga nasasaktan o tinatamaan, nasa public service po tayo. Ang pera po natin, tinatawag natin 'public resources.' Kung kaya po kailangan meron po controls or merong linaw na pamantayan kung paano ginastos ang pera."
(We should remind officials, especially those who feel accused, that we are in public service. Our funds are what we call 'public resources.' That's why we need controls or clear rules on how to spend them.)
Mendoza, who served as COA commissioner from 2011 to 2015, said that if DOH cooperated properly with the state auditors in the first place, the report could have turned out different.
"Wala na tayong paliwanagan ngayon (There could've been no need for explanation today)," she said.
The DOH, meanwhile, was also criticized after a public document went viral showing that the department was seeking to spend P700,000 for only four laptops. Health Undersecretary Leopoldo Vega said they have shelved the deal "pending the result of further market study and prevailing market price."
The DOH, led by Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, has denied corruption allegations, and said the amount is fully accounted for. 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, he said.
'KEEP DOING YOUR JOB COA'
Despite Duterte's tirades, state auditors should not be intimidated in doing their job, Mendoza said.
"Hindi po dapat matakot, and I know hindi po data natatakot 'yung mga taga-COA. At the end of the day, ito nga po ang sinasabi ko: who holds the power of the pen? Kung meron silang 'power of the purse', ang COA may 'power of the pen'," she said.
(They should not be afraid and I know those in COA are not afraid. At the end of the day, this is what I say: who holds the power of the pen? If they have the 'power of the purse', COA has the 'power of the pen.')
"Hindi ho dapat matakot ang mga taga-COA dahil trabaho lang at ginagawa lang po ninyo ang inyong mandato na napapaloob sa ating Constitution," she added.
(Those in COA should not be afraid because they're only doing their duty under the Constitution.)
Lawmakers, meanwhile, defended the importance of COA's role as watchdog of state coffers, slamming Duterte for his rhetoric against the agency.
"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," Sen. Risa Hontiveros said in vernacular.
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 Sen. Panfilo "Ping" Lacson.
"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," he said.
Deputy Speaker Rufus Rodriguez reminded government agencies should not ignore findings despite the President telling them to do so.
"Otherwise if they are not able to explain the deficiencies as found by COA, they will be responsible criminally because this will lead to malversation of funds and corruption," he told TeleRadyo.