6 times COA reported on key Duterte concerns, advocacies

MANILA, Philippines – On Sunday, September 16, in a room full of public officials, President Rodrigo Duterte claimed the Commission on Audit (COA) "has not contributed to national development."

This is apart from his threat to throw an Ilocos Norte auditor down the stairs and his assertion that COA circulars can be ignored by government officials. (READ: 'COA deserves respect,' former commissioner tells Duterte)

On Monday, he followed this up by saying officials should make procurements and purchases even if they violate COA rules.

"Forget COA, just do it. Sunod-sunod ka ng COA may vioation ka, wala ka pang magawa. Eh di mas mabuti pa gawain mo, tutal may violation ka lang rin (You follow COA but you get a violation, plus you can't take do anything. Better to do it since you'll get a violation no matter what)," said the President.

But Duterte seems to forget the many times COA reports actually boosted his own advocacy to fight corruption, crack down on extravagant spending, and get to the bottom of key issues his administration was grappling with – such as the rice shortage.

The COA was created by the 1987 Constitution itself, the country's foundational law which Duterte, in taking his oath as president, swore to protect.

The commission's role, according to the charter, is to "examine, audit, and settle all accounts pertaining to the revenue and receipts of, and expenditures or uses of funds and property" owned or managed by the government.

Their role is key to ensuring taxpayers' money are spent properly and making it harder for public officials to spirit such funds into their pockets.

Here are some key COA reports issued during the Duterte presidency that specifically tackled the concerns and anti-corruption advocacy of Duterte himself:

1) DOT-PTV ad placements

Perhaps the most high-profile COA report during the Duterte presidency, the 2017 audit report on People’s Television Network, Incorporated (PTNI) revealed that the Department of Tourism paid P60 million to the media outfit of Ben Tulfo, brother of then tourism secretary Wanda Teo. The report led to Congress hearings and an Ombudsman probe. A little over a week after the report, Teo resigned. Duterte, who accepted Teo's resignation, frequently says he does not tolerate even a "whiff" of corruption by his appointees.

COA also reported on how Teo used P4 million of DOT's share of Duty Free funds to buy branded bags, luxury cosmetics, chocolates, and appliances.

2) Excessive travels by Philhealth OIC, Cesar Montano

COA flagged the extravagant spending on travels by former Philippine Health Insurance Corporation’s (PhilHealth's) interim president Celestina de la Serna  and former Tourism Promotions Board (TPB) chief Cesar Montano. The commission reported that Montano was abroad 14 times in 2017 or a fourth of the year and that he spent P2.76 million during his travels to Asia, Europe, Australia, and North America. De la Serna, meanwhile, spent over P600,000 in 2017 on hotel stays and flights to and from her hometown even as PhilHealth reported a loss of P9 billion that year. Malacañang announced a probe into De la Serna's travel expenses as revealed by COA.

Duterte has frequently said he is allergic to officials who travel excessively, even setting limits for his appointees.

3) NFA and rice shortage

As Duterte and his Cabinet grappled with reports of rice shortage and soaring prices of rice, the COA reported on factors that likely contributed to the situation – how the National Food Administration (NFA) used P3 billion out of a P5 billion fund specifically meant to ensure food security to pay for debts. COA said the NFA should have used the money to buy rice from Filipino farmers to ensure sufficient stocks of rice. Duterte has now decided to replace NFA administrator Jason Aquino, after the official supposedly asked to be relieved.

4) Housing for military, police

Duterte is determined to provide quality housing for soldiers and police whom he has often recognized for their frontline role in protecting the country from terror groups and other threats.

The COA recently proved it is keeping an eye on such housing projects. It reported on anomalies in 28 housing projects worth P10.6-billion meant for the Armed Forces of the Philippines and Philippine National Police.

According to COA, the National Housing Authority failed to properly evaluate contractors, thus awarding contracts to companies with limited capacity to handle big-ticket projects.

5) Excessive bonuses, allowances for gov't officials

Duterte has frequently railed against officials of government-owned and -controlled corporations (GOCCs) who receive excessive allowances and bonuses. COA reported on a specific situation of this happening. It flagged the release of P346 million worth of bonuses and allowances released to Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (Pagcor) officials and employees. According to COA, these were either excessive or they violated rules. 

6) Government project delays

Duterte has time and again emphasized that he won't stand for delays in the implementation of government projects, especially when they stem from suspicious contracts or inefficiencies.

COA has reported on such cases numerous times. For example, it reported in 2017 that the Yolanda Permanent Housing Program (YPHP) in Eastern Samar suffered delays partly because of the lack of manpower of contractors tapped by the National Housing Authority, splitting of contracts, and extension of contracts. 

COA also informed the public about the non-completion of P12-billion worth of irrigation projects due to "inadequate planning and inefficient execution of surveys and engineering designs."

The two reports also gave NHA and the National Irrigation Administration the chance to explain the delays and identify how they can be avoided in the future.

It was also through a COA report that the public got wind of how 860,682 grade school books worth P25.214 million were put to waste because the warehouse they were stored in got flooded due to defective facilities. 

COA auditors also discovered more than 2.7 million copies of undistributed books, a majority of which had been delivered way back in 2013. These undistributed books were worth between P56.75 million and P105 million, said COA. – 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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