Budget Watch

Malacañang on COA reports: ‘Cool po muna tayo’

Mara Cepeda
Malacañang on COA reports:  ‘Cool po muna tayo’

DUTERTE'S MOUTHPIECE. Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque holds a press conference on August 19, 2021.

RTVM Malacañang

The Palace spokesperson claims President Rodrigo Duterte does not want COA to stop publishing its annual audit reports

President Rodrigo Duterte’s spokesperson downplayed the state auditors’ findings that several agencies, among them the embattled Department of Health (DOH), have unspent funds that could have boosted the government’s pandemic response. 

In an online briefing on Thursday, August 19, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque claimed the Commission on Audit (COA) annual audit reports (AARs) on various government agencies in 2020 were supposedly not final and should not be a cause of concern.

COA annual reports, however, are the summation of a year-long audit by resident auditors deployed to government agencies. Before these are published, COA main office goes over the year-end reports of these resident auditors. These AARs are the same documents that COA uploads on its website and submits to the Office of the President and Congress.

Government agencies are first given the confidential audit observation memorandum, which they can answer or explain. The public annual report, as published in COA’s website, contain the following: the auditor’s findings of the different government agencies; the explanation of concerned government agencies; and in some cases, the auditors’ rejoinder.

“So sa ngayon po, ang aking advice: Cool po muna tayo dahil sa itong puntong ito, pupuwede pa pong sagutin at antayin po natin ang final reports,” Roque claimed.

(So for now, this is my advice: Let’s just be cool about this because at this point, they can still answer the issues and we should wait for the final reports.)

“Sa ngayon po, preliminary pa lang po ‘yan. Magsu-sumite ng komento, pagkatapos po, magkakaroon ng final report ang COA. Doon sa final report po, ‘yan ang puwedeng gamiting ebidensiya sa hukuman,” Duterte’s spokesperson added. 

(So for now, that’s just preliminary. They would submit their comments then the COA would have a final report. The final report is the one that can be used as evidence before the court.)

COA again drew the ire of the President after its annual audit report showed the DOH had P67.3-billion worth of misused and unused funds in 2020 that led to “missed opportunities” in pandemic response. 

Instead of blaming DOH Secretary Francisco Duque III for negligence, Duterte attacked COA and told it to stop publishing its audit reports since they put government officials in a bad light. 

On Thursday, Roque insisted Duterte did not order state auditors to stop publishing AARs – even if the President made no distinction whatsoever as he ranted against COA. 

“Hindi naman po ‘nya pine-prevent ‘yung annual audit report; ‘yung preliminary reports pa lang po ang ayaw nya sanang ma-publish,” said Roque. 

(He isn’t preventing the annual audit reports; it’s only the preliminary reports that he doesn’t want to be published yet,” said Roque.

Senators already called out Duterte for castigating COA, arguing state auditors were only doing their jobs. Senator Grace Poe even went as far as saying the Office of Ombudsman should have already suspended Duque as DOH chief, even just preventively.

COA chairman Michael Aguinaldo also told the House of Representatives they would carry on despite the attacks from the President himself.

The Duterte government has long been criticized for mismanaging the COVID-19 menace, which has infected 1.79 million people and killed 30,881 in the Philippines as of Thursday. – Rappler.com

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Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda specializes in stories about politics and local governance. She covers the Office of the Vice President, the Senate, and the Philippine opposition. She is a 2021 fellow of the Asia Journalism Fellowship and the Reham al-Farra Memorial Journalism Fellowship of the UN. Got tips? Email her at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or tweet @maracepeda.