DOJ to ‘take cue’ from Ombudsman in probe on COA findings

Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Aug 30 2021 05:50 PM

MANILA — The justice department will defer to the Office of the Ombudsman to decide whether or not to launch its own probe on the Commission on Audit’s findings in its annual audit reports.

“We will take the cue from the Ombudsman. For now, we'll let the government agencies called out by the COA to comply with the latter's recommendations, rectify any deficiencies found in their accounting records, and explain other audit observations made by the COA on the use of government funds,” Guevarra told reporters in a message exchange Monday.

The DOJ has, in the past, swiftly acted on probes involving alleged corruption in agencies like state insurer PhilHealth, initially through the help of the NBI, and later through the DOJ-led Task Force Against Corruption.

This week, the DOJ is set to sign a memorandum of agreement with the Ombudsman and the Commission on Audit which will deploy prosecutors and auditors as “deputy ombudsmen” or “resident ombudsmen” starting September.

No copy of the MOA has yet been released to the media but Guevarra said this arrangement means “the prosecutors and auditors are deputized by the Ombudsman.”

"Out of courtesy to him (Ombudsman Samuel Martires), we shall take the cue from him," Guevarra said.

The justice chief however acknowledged that should there be any probe, the COA annual audit reports will be a good starting point.

Among COA’s findings are the deficiencies in the Health department’s handling of P67 billion in COVID-19 funds, including some P11.89 billion in unobligated funds and some P42 billion transferred to other agencies, mainly the Department of Budget and Management Procurement Service, for the purchase of allegedly overpriced medical supplies without supporting documents.

Ombudsman Samuel Martires had previously said he prefers his office to “work quietly and away from the limelight, particularly when the reputation of people in the government are concerned.”

"After all, we still operate under the constitutional presumption of innocence and the statutory presumption that official functions are regularly performed," he added.

Martires however pointed out that his office has investigated some DOH transactions and has preventively suspended five DOH officials last year.

He added that government agencies still have a chance to comply with auditors' recommendations.

Former COA commissioner Heidi Mendoza earlier explained that while COA’s annual audit reports are final, it will take a longer process to conclude that corruption has taken place.

“Iba ang audit, iba po ang fact-finding at iba po ang investigation. Ang pinaka-swak po na ka-partner ng investigation ay ‘yung tinatawag nating fraud audit. However, ang financial and compliance audit report, sila po ay parang mga tinatawag nating gabay po ba, pagtingin, pag-evaluate ng internal control at ng mga lapses na makakatulong po sa atin pag-establish kapag gumagawa na po tayo ng fact-finding,” she said.

“Nothing should preempt the Office of the Ombudsman to conduct their own, ang tinatawag po natin doon ay fact-finding,” she added.

Due to health and safety reasons, the Ombudsman, COA and DOJ will dispense with the planned signing ceremony of their MOA this week, and will circulate instead the document for individual signing by the principal parties, said Guevarra.

The DOJ-led Task Force Against Corruption reported last month that it has so far endorsed 20 complaints to the Ombudsman. Ten of these were for appropriate action or investigation, while the remaining 10 was for follow-up.

In all, DOJ Usec Emmeline Aglipay-Villar said, the TFAC has reviewed 240 complaints while the Ombudsman is now evaluating complaints against local government officials including mayors and registrar of deeds.

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