COA told to file case vs Budget dept over withholding P173-M fund

Katrina Domingo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Sep 14 2020 03:49 PM | Updated as of Sep 14 2020 05:09 PM

MANILA - (UPDATE) Ombudsman Samuel Martires on Monday urged the Commission on Audit (COA) to file a case against the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) after the latter withheld the release of the state auditor's P173 million funding for capital outlay.

Under the Constitution, the executive department is not allowed to withhold funding from COA and other constitutional bodies as these entities are entitled to fiscal autonomy.

"I don't want to say some bad words against the Department of Budget and Management, but I think it has gravely abused its discretion amounting to what we always say lack of jurisdiction," Martires said as the Senate tackled the budget proposals of COA and the Office of the Ombudsman.

"It created an undue injury not only to the agency but to the Filipino people... If it will affect the work of the Commission on Audit, the DBM is liable for that," he said.

"If I were in the place of COA chair [Michael] Aguinaldo, I would have filed a case against the DBM secretary or any personnel involved in the non-release of P173 million," he said.

The COA chief earlier conceded that the non-release of a portion of their budget was "a violation of fiscal autonomy under the Constitution," but noted that the agency does not plan to urge the DBM to reinstate their funding.

"Ginive up na natin considering the difficulties the government has in the funding of the pandemic," Aguinaldo said.

"We're okay with that decision because we understand the difficulties but we agree with you, it is a violation of the constitution," he told Sen. Panfilo Lacson, who first raised the issue during the budget hearing.

According to data from the DBM, the COA fund in question was supposed to finance the following programs:

- Provincial Satellite Auditing Offices: P90 million
- Land Improvements for 2 Regional Offices: P20 million
- Purchase of 4 Motor Vehicles: P13 million
- Traveling Expenses: P50 million.

Under the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act, the president is authorized to realign funds from various agencies as the national government scrambled for additional funding to respond to the global crisis.

DBM EXPLAINS SIDE

But Budget Secretary Wendel Avisado said that the P173 million was "not included as part of the pooled savings under Bayanihan 1."

The amount was a Congress-introduced adjustment and is classified for later release because such budget changes are "subject to approval of the President," Avisado told ABS-CBN News in a text message.

"It is still available and not included as part of the pooled savings under Bayanihan 1," he said.

"As of now, there is yet no Special Budget Request (SBR) received by DBM for the following projects... As soon as we receive the SBR, we will immediately forward the same to Office of the President for approval," he said.

But the Ombudsman said that it would not be wise for COA to let the alleged Constitutional violation slip.

""I think we have to put a stop on this to avoid any abuse in the future. We always keep on begging Congress to, 'Please reinstate our budget' when we should not be doing that annually,'" Martires said.

"We have to teach these people a lesson that not because they are close to the gods, they should be acting like gods," he said.

The DBM also slashed the Office of the Ombudsman's proposed 2021 budget by about P1 billion.

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon urged COA to still urge the DBM to release the fund, and just return it to the Treasury should they wish to aid the government's COVID-19 response spending.

"While the [COA] chair is magnanimous, your magnanimity has no place here because it involves not just the power of COA but of all the autonomous bodies," Drilon said.

"My suggestion is, you get it as part of the principle of authority
and return it... They can return it to the Treasury," he said.

"But you must assert that you are entitled to this... If we just let it go in this manner, magkakaproblema tayo... We will have problems with the independence of our constitutional bodies," he said.