COA to sue 100 over P5B cash advance
MANILA, Philippines – The Commission on Audit (COA) is in the process of filing malversation charges against about 100 government officials for unliquidated cash advances that reached P5 billion in 2011.
COA Chairperson Grace Pulido-Tan said that the amount is on top of the funds involved in the multi-billion peso pork barrel scam but likely covers similar transactions. She said the amount was cumulative, spanning about 20 to 40 years.
Tan said “millions” of people did not liquidate cash advances but the COA and the Ombudsman decided to focus on amounts worth P1 million and above.
“We doubt we will be able to trace everyone but we did have a discussion with the Ombudsman on the matter and it will be a nightmare for the Ombudsman if you sue all of them so we agreed on a threshold amount. If the amount not liquidated is P1 million and above, we will include the case with the Ombudsman,” Tan told reporters on the sidelines of a Senate finance committee hearing on Monday, March 17.
She added, “We hope with what we’re doing, we’re sending the clear message to everyone that you cannot get away with this forever. Some may be able to get away pero kailangan ding managot." (Someone has to be held accountable.)
Tan said the COA and the Ombudsman set the P1 million-threshold to ensure they go after people “with hopes of recovery” of the money.
For government officials with cash advances less than P1 million, Tan said the COA will “work it out” with the Civil Service Commission (CSC).
“There is a mechanism. We can do it through salary deduction but you know government employees only have small salaries so we wonder when they will be able to pay; how much. But if they won’t be cleared, they won't be able to retire.”
Tan noted that these “mechanisms” have long been in place but the COA is now using them as part of its anti-corruption campaign.
“These tools, they’ve long been there but now, we are trying to use them. Maybe with their force, they will pay,” Tan said.
Tan though could not say how COA will run after officials who already retired or resigned from government.
“We don’t know, these are millions of people. How will I know if they form the majority? We don’t even know where they live. We just go by the record.”
COA is focusing on unliquidated cash advances, another widespread anomaly in government, after releasing its special audit report on the pork barrel fund.
In 2013, the agency’s audit of lawmakers’ Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) confirmed that legislators funneled their pork barrel funds to questionable non-governmental organizations (NGOs). In the case of the pork barrel scam, top lawmakers endorsed bogus NGOs and allegedly got millions in kickbacks.
‘Start with PDAF players’
Tan first made the announcement that COA intended to sue agencies and officials for unliquidated cash advances during a Senate blue ribbon committee hearing in January. Yet this is the first time she gave details on the amounts and number of people involved.
Asked if those involved in the pork barrel scam also have unliquidated cash advances, Tan said, “Read our PDAF [report]. That’s all unliquidated. You just start there. That’s how many thousands or hundreds already.”
She refused to say though if lawmakers were included in the list of 100 officials.
Tan said the COA issued a “final demand” in 2012 for the officials to liquidate their cash advances, and P1.6 billion was then liquidated.
Those who did not liquidate the remaining P3.4 billion will now be sued.
“Because in law, there is a presumption that if you are entrusted with money, you’re accountable for some money, then if you don’t liquidate or account for it after the period and when you still don’t liquidate when asked, there is a presumption that money was malversed,” Tan said.
The COA chief said those involved ran “the whole gamut” and cut across various players including government officials, government agencies, NGOs and civil society organizations.
Tan said it will take time for the COA to file all charges.
“It’s not as easy as sit down and make a complaint. You’re talking of so many millions of names and documents we have to prepare. You cannot just go to court. You have to make a pleading, complaint and attach all the documents so it’s not really easy,” she said.
‘NABCOR report same story’
Tan also said the COA is looking into a report of the Philippine Daily Inquirer that 4 senators and 79 congressmen coursed P1.7 billion in PDAF through the state-run National Agribusiness Corp (NABCOR).
NABCOR is among the implementing agencies that cornered the bulk of the PDAF funneled to NGOs of alleged scam mastermind Janet Lim Napoles.
Tan said the records in the report came from former NABCOR official Rhodora Mendoza, and her agency will check this against the COA report.
“We’ll have to compare it with what we came up with, if it matches, but it’s practically the same story. What Rhodora said in the report, it’s what we found in our report.” – Rappler.com