Will CoA report give Duterte reason to fire Duque?

The Department of Health's deficiencies in spending P67.32 billion of COVID-19 response funds, as flagged by the Commission on Audit, bring to mind incidents when President Rodrigo Duterte aired his displeasure with the CoA's stringent auditing measures.

In January 2019, Duterte said CoA, an independent constitutional body in charge of scrutinizing expenditures of all government agencies, "always makes things difficult." He accused its auditors of hampering the work of his administration and went further, suggesting that they be kidnapped and tortured.

"Ah, p***i*** CoA 'yan, letse. 'Yung CoA, every time, may mali talaga. Ano ba itong CoA na ito? Mag kidnap tayo ng taga CoA, lagay natin dito, torture natin dito. Tang*** (Ah, that s*** of a b*** CoA. That CoA, every time, there is something wrong. What is this CoA? Let's kidnap those from CoA, put them here, let's torture them here)," the President said before local government officials during a Barangay Summit on Peace and Order in Pasay City.

In September 2018, Duterte dismissed CoA's powers and ridiculed its regulations as mere "shit of a circular."

When then-Ilocos Norte governor Maria Imelda Josefa "Imee" Marcos complained about the P15,000-limit imposed by the CoA on requests for cash advance for food, Duterte said: "Sino taga-CoA dito? Ihulog muna sa hagdanan para hindi maka-report (Who's from CoA here? Push him down the stairs so he won't be able to file a report)."

Further, he said: "Maniwala ka niyang CoA na iyan. You know, you just do it by circular and then they expect everybody to obey. Mga circular, pakialam ko? (Why believe in that CoA? You know, you just do it by circular and then they expect everybody to obey. Circulars, what do I care?)"

On August 12, Palace spokesman Harry Roque said Duterte had asked the DoH to answer CoA's initial audit findings of deficiencies in using COVID-19 response funds in 2020. He said the President was "withholding judgment" until after the DoH has explained its side on the issue.

"Ang instruction ng Presidente sagutin mabuti ang mga observation ng CoA (The President's instruction was to answer CoA's observations)," Roque said, assuring that Duterte would spare no one in his administration's fight against corruption.

Several times in the past, Duterte refused to heed calls to fire Duque from his Cabinet, vouching for the health chief's integrity and competence.

Last July 2, Duterte again came to Duque's defense against calls for his resignation. "Bakit ko tatanggalin (Why should I remove him)? Against the advice of the many, even Cabinet members, sabi ko (I said), I will stick with the man na walang kasalanan (who is sinless) and working only doing his job," the President said in a speech at an event in Antipolo City. "There is no coherent reason why Duque should be out."

Duterte should be told that his disrespect for the CoA and its strict policies in examining the accounts and spending of government agencies run against his oft-repeated anti-corruption campaign.

CoA requires adherence to the principles of transparency and accountability in public office, something that the president refuses to observe in regulations as simple as in making public his statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth.

With CoA's audit report on DoH spending for 2020, which was released last week, is Duterte changing his tune on Duque? I don't think so. Let's wait for his regular COVID-19 update on Monday night if he can still "withhold judgment" on the issue.

Basically, CoA's audit findings did not explicitly say the P67.32 billion landed in the pockets of officials. It simply said the DoH did not comply with existing laws and regulations in the disbursement of P67.32 billion in COVID-19 response funds.

Some of these noncompliant actions involved purchases worth P5.038 billion that lacked documentation and had procedural deficiencies, which violate provisions of the Government Procurement Reform Act; improper documentation of in-kind donations of P1.405 billion; and unobligated funds amounting to P11.89 billion despite an urgent need to strengthen the capacity of the DoH to address the pandemic.

Purchases amounting to P194.40 million were found to be disadvantageous to the government and P69.942-million worth of medical equipment and supplies that have been bought have remained unused due to factors that could have been avoided if proper procurement planning was followed, according to the CoA auditing team.

These involved basic transparency and accountability issues.

While Duque has assured the public that the P67.32-billion deficiencies flagged by CoA was "accounted for" and that the issues are "being addressed" by the DoH, his words are not convincing enough given the new surge in the number of COVID-19 cases due to the uncontrolled spread of the new Delta strain of the coronavirus.


The views in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of VERA Files.
This column also appeared in The Manila Times.

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