No one can stop a constitutional body like the Commission on Audit from performing its mandate, at least three senators said on Tuesday after President Rodrigo Duterte slammed the COA in his latest public address.
In a statement, Senator Panfilo Lacson said Duterte was “out of line in publicly castigating” COA, which is just “performing its mandate and responsibility to the people and the Constitution.”
“For its part, the COA should not be cowed by intimidating statements, even those coming from the Chief Executive. In fact, those in the COA should proceed with more vigor, courage, and independence,” he said.
Lacson explained that COA, a constitutional body, is independent of the other branches of the government and it is “certainly not” under the Office of the President.
“It has a mandate to perform, and no one can dictate on them,” Lacson said.
The lawmaker further pointed out that the audit findings and recommendations made by COA are public documents.
“Transparency dictates that the public must be informed of how public monies are spent,” he added
In a virtual interview with reporters, Senator Risa Hontiveros pointed out that lawyers like Duterte should know that COA is an independent body.
“Well, dapat alam ni President dahil abogado sila na ang COA ay isang independiyente…dahil constitutional body at hinding-hindi dapat pinipigilan or hinahadlangan ninumang ahensya ng gobyerno, Executive man, kami sa Legislature, lalo na ang Judiciary,” she said.
(The president should know that COA is an independent body because he is a lawyer… It is a constitutional body and it should not be stopped by any government agencies, be it the executive, legislature, or even the judiciary.)
She said it is “improper” for Duterte to hinder COA from doing its mandate.
The lawmaker then questioned Duterte’s anti-corruption drive after the President told state auditors not to release the annual audit reports on various government agencies.
“Akala ko ba e talagang kontra-corruption si Presidente so bakit nila pipigilan ang Commission on Audit na i-release ‘yung kanilang mga ulat?” Hontiveros asked.
(I thought the President was against corruption. Then why is the Commission on Audit being stopped from releasing their reports?)
Similar to Lacson’s statement, she reiterated that annual audit reports are public documents that are not considered a “state secret” or a document that should be kept confidential by the Office of the President.
Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri said that COA observations should be respected as it helps in ensuring checks and balances in the government.
“They’re the state auditors, the check and balance of government expenditure, so we have to respect what they say,” he said.
Zubiri noted that COA is “a tool and a guide for government” and the implementors of the law to see if the agencies are performing well or not.
“COA plays a very important role in good governance within any administration…When COA reports come out, it guides us particularly the budget deliberations on how we can wisely spend the funds on these particular agencies,” he said.
In his weekly address, Duterte told the COA to stop “flagging” government agencies, saying it was tantamount to “flogging.”
“Stop that flagging goddamnit. You make a report, do not flag. Do not publish it because it would condemn the agency or person that you are flagging,” Duterte said.
The President also said that when COA flags an agency “there is already a taint of corruption by perception.”
Last week, the Department of Health drew flak after the COA reported deficiencies in the agency’s utilization of funds intended for the COVID-19 response.
COA explained that deficiencies flagged in their annual audit report do not necessarily mean that funds were lost to corruption.
“The report itself does not mention any findings by the auditors of funds lost to corruption,” COA said in a statement.
The DOH earlier said they were given until September 27 to provide the documents being sought by the state auditors. — DVM, GMA News