'COA deserves respect,' former commissioner tells Duterte

FORMER COA EXEC. Heidi Mendoza says Commission on Audit rules for spending during times of calamities are there for a reason.

File photo from Malacau00f1ang Photo Bureau

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Former Commission on Audit (COA) commissioner Heidi Mendoza called out President Rodrigo Duterte for belittling the government body and even threatening to throw one of its auditors down the stairs.

In a Facebook post on Monday, September 17, Mendoza said employees and officials of COA work hard every day to fulfill the essential role of holding public officials accountable for how they spend taxpayers' money.

"We are a long-standing, dignified institution whose men and women spent long hours working for its flag and our people. Some of our own even laid their lives defending and protecting public coffers," she said.

"Give us respect for we deserve it," she added.

Duterte, in Laoag City on Sunday, September 16, said the city's COA auditor should be thrown down the stairs so he or she wouldn't be able to report on the city's spending. The President also claimed that COA "has not contributed to national development."

He appeared to take the side of Ilocos Norte Governor Imee Marcos who, in the briefing with Duterte, complained about a COA order that supposedly made it "difficult" for the local government to get cash advances for items needed during calamities, save for food.

Mendoza, who had served COA for two decades, said Duterte is the only Philippine president to tell government officials to ignore or defy COA circulars.

"We are a constitutional commission and not one of the past honorable presidents of our land has called on another institution subject under our authority to defy our rules," she said.

Last Sunday, Duterte had said: "Maniwala ka diyan [sa] COA na 'yan. You know, they just do it by circular and they expect everybody to obey. Circular, ano'ng pakialam ko? Inyo 'yan!"

(Don't believe in COA's circulars. You know, they just do it by circular and they expect everybody to obey. Why would I care about your circular? That's yours!)

Balance of flexibility, accountability

Mendoza acknowledged that some COA guidelines may be seen as "impractical" or "outdated," but she pointed out that such rules were put in place for a reason.

"Yes, some might be outdated, others might be impractical to some, but it is actually in balancing flexibility and accountability where the real challenge lies!" she said.

Mendoza also explained the auditing requirements during times of calamity and how they have been adjusted in consideration of the urgency to purchase items.

She advised the public to read the Disaster Audit Guide. A COA circular dated April 15, 2014 also spells out guidelines in how to account for and use the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Fund as well as cash and in-kind donations from both local and foreign sources.

To show that COA adjusts when the situation calls for it, she said that during times of calamities, the commission has agreed to increase the ceiling of the value of goods that could be purchased without public bidding to P500,000.

"During the time of Ondoy, the different agencies including GPPB (Government Procurement Policy Board), COA, and DSWD (Department of Social Welfare and Development) decided to increase the limit of spending without public bidding to P500,000," she said in Filipino.

Mendoza later corrected her statement and told Rappler she was referring to adjustments made during Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan), not Tropical Storm Ondoy (Ketsana).

In the aftermath of Yolanda, a rule had also been introduced that requires such transactions need to be audited immediately to avoid a situation where years would pass before an auditor would find the relevant document.

The DSWD and COA had also agreed on some "revisions" to ensure speedier purchasing of much-needed items.

During the Duterte administration, COA has been instrumental in informing the public about controversies such as the Department of Tourism's millions of pesos worth of advertisements that aired during the PTV show of then-tourism secretary Wanda Teo's brother. A COA report also revealed the extravagant travel expenses  of former Philippine Health Insurance Corporation interim president Celestina de la Serna.

COA also flagged anomalous contracts entered into by the Presidential Communications Operations Office for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Summit hosting. – Rappler.com

Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at pia.ranada@rappler.com.

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