Irregular spending on meals, questions on retirement hound police commission

Jairo Bolledo

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Irregular spending on meals, questions on retirement hound police commission
EXCLUSIVE: Napolcom records close to a million worth of meals without supporting documents, the COA finds

The National Police Commission (Napolcom), led by vice chairperson and executive officer (VCEO) Alberto Bernardo, has spent hundreds of thousands on meals without supporting documents, Rappler has learned. 

Based on an audit observation memorandum (AOM) obtained by Rappler, the Commission on Audit (COA) found deficiencies when it audited the liquidation of the petty cash fund (PCF) of the Napolcom’s office of the secretariat. Out of the 341 audited transactions, more than half or 292 were not supported by complete documentation. The 292 transactions amounted to P830,698.66. 

“…The absence of required supporting documents attached to the liquidation reports based on the foregoing table cast doubt on the propriety and validity of transactions,” the AOM read. 

Except for September, October, and November 2023, all transactions were not supported with complete documentation. Only transactions made in January and April 2023 listed “attendance to meeting” as among the bases of the expenses but had no official receipts, just like all other transactions.

COA Circular No. 2023-004 lays down the updated documentary requirements for common government transactions. For meals charged to the PCF, the COA rules state that the notice of meeting with agenda/meeting’s purpose, minutes of meeting, and attendance sheet should be attached as additional documentary support requirements. 

Napolcom, an office attached to the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), has the duty to “exercise administrative control and operational supervision over the PNP, with the end in view of ensuring a highly capable, effective and credible police service.” The commission advises the chief executive on all matters involving matters related to the police and “recommends to the president a crime prevention program.”

In an interview with Rappler on Friday, May 3, Bernardo explained that the spending flagged by the COA was used by Napolcom lawyers from the provinces investigating the P6.7-billion worth of shabu bust in 2022. Last year, DILG chief Benhur Abalos said high-ranking police officers were involved in the “massive attempt” to cover up the arrest of Rodolfo Mayo Jr., the anti-drug cop arrested in the operation.

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Bernardo explained that they tapped Napolcom lawyers from the provinces because their counsels from the central office are still working on the commission’s backlogs.

Ang sinasabi ko lang, ‘wag ‘nyo pabayaan ‘yong lawyers na taga-probinsiya kasi out of station sila (What I am saying, don’t neglect our lawyers from the provinces just because they’re out of station),” the Napolcom VCEO told Rappler.

Although AOMs are not conclusive, these documents are important in flagging questionable government transactions. COA Circular No. 2009-006 states that an AOM is “a written notification to the agency head and concerned officer/s informing of the deficiencies noted in the audit of accounts, operations or transactions.”

The memorandum requires the government agencies to comment on the COA’s observations and submit necessary documents to address the concerns raised in the audit. The issuance of an AOM does not equate to corruption, but shows there could be issues in accounting or documentation that need to be addressed or rectified.

Meetings with only one attendee

Aside from transactions lacking proper documentation, the COA also took note of meals charged to Napolcom’s PCF amounting to P96,156.74. The said meals and snacks were served during meetings, where only one person was in attendance, according to the AOM. The COA said such activity cannot be considered as meetings, but rather “a performance of the day-to-day work of an officer as part of their regular agency operations.” 

Out of 74 transactions, only two transactions in the P96,000-worth of meals had complete supporting documents. Ten were not supported by minutes of meetings, while 62 transactions lacked notices and minutes of meetings. Bernardo explained the amount in question was used for their confidential witnesses in the P6.7-billion shabu mess.

But based on the AOM, Rappler learned that only the transactions made on August 29 to 30, 2023 were labeled as “confidential meeting.”

COA Circular No. 2012-003 defines unnecessary expenses as those “which could not pass the test of prudence or the diligence of a good father of a family, thereby denoting non-responsiveness to the exigencies of the service,” and expenditures “not supportive of the implementation of the objectives and mission of the agency relative to the nature of its operation.”

Bernardo told Rappler that their commission already sent their explanation to the COA.

The Napolcom official, meanwhile, claimed that some of the cops involved in their investigation into the multi-billion shabu haul were behind the attacks against him in relation to the meals flagged by the COA. The Napolcom VCEO said he was told that cops implicated in the issue will “make a way to distract them from the investigation.”

Bernardo also provided a copy of letter addressed to him by one of the investigators in the case. In the letter, Bernardo was told about several things, including the claim that “two generals wanted to hurt or ‘umbagin‘ the VCEO.” The Napolcom official also said he was not surprised by all the allegations hurled against him, since he said he faces death threats in relation to his job.

Retired or not?

Just months before his term ended, former president Rodrigo Duterte appointed Bernardo in March 2022 as Napolcom vice chair and commissioner, replacing former justice secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II. Bernardo served as deputy executive secretary for internal audit, under the Duterte-time Malacañang, prior to his appointment in Napolcom. Under Republic Act No. 8551, Napolcom commissioners have six-year terms, with no extension or reappointment.

Rappler learned that Bernardo filed for retirement at age 64, which was already approved by the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS). The Napolcom official’s retirement supposedly took effect on November 1, 2023, but as of writing, he remains with the Napolcom and his name remains on the agency’s website.

Page, Text, File
Screenshot taken from the Napolcom’s website

Bernardo confirmed his retirement. He said he availed of optional retirement under the GSIS law, since he already met the required years in government service. Under Republic Act No. 8291, or GSIS Act of 1997 and Presidential Decree No. 1146, retirement “may be availed [of] by those who have rendered at least 15 years of service in government and must be at least 60 years of age upon retirement.”

The Napolcom VCEO said he was hospitalized in September and October 2023 due to shingles, a condition similar to chicken pox. But unlike chicken pox, shingles “can lead to serious complications like severe and long-lasting rash, long-term nerve pain or postherpetic neuralgia, hearing problems, blindness, pneumonia, and brain inflammation (encephalitis).” He availed of the optional retirement so he would have medical funds for his hospitalization, Bernardo explained.

Bernardo also told Rappler that retired government officials may be reappointed to another government office.

Other government officials, like former Supreme Court justices Conchita Carpio Morales and Samuel Martires, were already retirees from the High Court before they were appointed to the Office of the Ombudsman. The difference with Bernardo’s case, however, is that the Napolcom official retired in the middle of his term but has continued serving in the same position after his retirement.

Consulted by Rappler, a human resources (HR) lawyer, who currently serves as HR head of a government agency, said Bernardo could already be considered separated from service with the Napolcom.

“Technically, for you…to be granted your retirement benefits, particularly from the GSIS, there must be a separation from service…. It is a precondition or condition precedent that for you to be able to claim your GSIS or GSIS retirement benefits, you must be separated from service,” the lawyer, who requested anonymity, said.

Soured relationship?

Napolcom employees also have concerns about how Bernardo treats his subordinates. One employee said they filed several complaints in various bodies to report Bernardo’s alleged untoward treatment of employees. 

An anonymous group of Napolcom employees, including Alexis (not her real name), filed two separate letter-complaints with the Office of the Ombudsman and Office of the President in 2023. 

Kaya kami gumawa ng white paper para may makinig sa amin kasi grabe ‘yong mga nararanasan namin (The reason why we wrote white papers because we want someone to listen to us because of what we are experiencing),” Alexis told Rappler. 

The employees said in their complaint that Bernardo adopts an “authoritarian and micromanagement approach” in running Napolcom, “treating everyone as if he owns every employee.”

In the paper, the employees complained that Bernardo allegedly resorted to name-calling and insulting employees. He called them “timawa,” (destitute), “lapastangan” (blasphemous), “demonyo” (demon/ devil), and “criminal.” The employees said Bernardo also called some of them “drug lord,” “gambling lord,” and “kumikita sa promotion” (profits from promotion). 

The employees also claimed that their boss has a temper and easily gets mad. When angry, Bernardo would allegedly say things like, “Nilalapastangan mo ba ako (Are you disrespecting me)?”

“We, the employees of the National Police Commission earnestly request the removal of Commissioner Alberto A. Bernardo from office, if not, be stripped off of his designation as Vice Chairperson and Executive Officer effective immediately,” the complaint read. 

Bernardo said he was aware of the complaints against him. He said he knew some Napolcom employees were allegedly being used by drug lords because some of them allegedly leak confidential information to them (drug lords). This was where his “drug lord” remarks came from, Bernardo said.

On issues about his temper, Bernardo said he was only being true to himself and he speaks his mind. He said he was not pretentious and does not sugarcoat the things he says. He said his transparency “is being mistaken as temper.”

Amid these complaints against him, Bernardo said he believes he still functions well as a Napolcom official: “Kung alam kong nakakabigat ako, ako magmu-move on. Pero naniniwala akong may ambag ako.” (If I know I already am a liability, I will move on myself. But I believe I am still useful.) – Rappler.com

1 comment

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  1. ET

    I appreciate the Commission on Audit’s effort. I agree that “the issuance of an AOM does not equate to corruption but shows there could be issues in accounting or documentation that need to be addressed or rectified.” But if it is not addressed or addressed inadequately, then it is like smoke, which signals that there is a fire. This issue is exciting to monitor and a work cut out for investigative journalism.

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Jairo Bolledo

Jairo Bolledo is a multimedia reporter at Rappler covering justice, police, and crime.