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COA rejects reimbursement of P5-M meals, snacks in Puerto Princesa

MANILA, Philippines – The Commission on Audit (COA) rejected a request for reimbursement of P5.894 million worth of "meals and snacks" filed by the city government of Puerto Princesa, saying the expense was not allowed under the Philippine Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act.

In a 3-page decision dated May 21 and released Friday, June 14, state auditors denied the appeal of former acting city treasurer Maria Corazon Abayari. COA said it "affirmed with finality" the notice of disallowance issued in 2013 against the reimbursements of the "meals and snacks" from the City Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Fund.

COA asserted that the expenditures violated Republic Act No. 10121, or the Philippine Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act of 2010, as they were not related to disaster mitigation, prevention, preparedness, response, rehabilitation, and recovery.

State auditors also questioned the lack of public bidding for the meals and snacks.

The meals and snacks amounting to P5,894,245.80 were supposedly given out during events including the birthday of former Puerto Princesa mayor Edward Hagedorn, meetings of barangay officials, medical mission, recollections, and the city's tourism office.

Hagedorn, former city administrator Agustin Rocamora, accountant Naneth Dario, and Abayari were held liable for the offenses.

But in a motion filed on March 5, 2018, Abayari requested the COA Commission Proper to reopen her case to admit new evidence, which would supposedly prove she objected to the spending of over P5 million for snacks and meals.

Abayri said the new evidence – a letter addressed to Hagedorn and dated December 28, 2011 – would also show she warned of possible legal repercussions and that she insisted the city government follow rules.

Abayari said she certified the availability of funds despite this because of the "influence and insistence" of Hagedorn.

COA rejected her appeal, noting it failed to be presented in earlier pleadings. State auditors added that even if it were to accept the letter as new evidence, it would not remove liability assumed by Abayari. – Rappler.com