Duterte orders gov't agencies to ignore audit findings as he hits COA for 'flogging'

Alexis Romero - Philstar.com
Duterte orders gov't agencies to ignore audit findings as he hits COA for 'flogging'
Photo shows President Rodrigo Duterte and Health Secretary Francisco Duque III.
Presidential Communications Operations Office

MANILA, Philippines — President Rodrigo Duterte has ordered agencies to ignore the reports of the Commission on Audit and has asked state auditors to stop publishing their initial findings that "condemn" departments and officials and create impressions that they are corrupt.

During a pre-recorded public address last Monday, Duterte said no one has been jailed because of the findings of COA, which recently flagged the Department of Health's supposed "deficiencies" in managing more than P67 billion in COVID-19 funds.

"Huwag mong sundin 'yang COA. P***** i** 'yang COA-COA na 'yan. Wala namang mangyari diyan (Do not follow COA. Son of a b****. Nothing will happen there)," Duterte said.

"That's what I hate about flagging. It creates a conundrum and you know that it's political season. Everyone has tirades, everyone has criticisms. These newspapers act as if they are the epitome of propriety and decency," he added.

In its annual report, the COA cited the DOH's alleged deficiencies in handling the funding for COVID-19 response, including its supposed failure to obligate and disburse billions of pesos at yearend. According to state auditors, the return of the funds to the national treasure was "counter-beneficial" to efforts to fight the pandemic. The deficiencies, which were tied to non-compliance with laws and regulations, have contributed to the department's challenges and "missed opportunities," the report added.

Malacañang has said it expects the DOH to come up with a "comprehensive" and "clear" response to COA's findings. The House of Representatives has asked COA for a briefing on the alleged deficiencies, noting that the funds involved were among those allocated under the Bayanihan laws approved by Congress last year.

Duterte said COA should refrain from publishing reports until agencies have completed their work because its documents would be viewed as "gospel truth," a system that he said creates suspicions and is not fair to the people involved.

"Do not audit yet until I am finished with my work. That is what we are asking from them. Do not conduct an audit on our work that is ongoing because we are still documenting it," Duterte said.
"You make a report. Do not flag and do not publish it because it will condemn the agency or the person that you are flagging. The flagging is spelled f-l-a-g-g-e-d. What you are doing is f-l-o-g-g-i-n-g. Do not just flag. And then no one gets jailed, nothing happens. And yet you know that when you flag, there is already a taint of corruption by perception," he added.  

"You know, this COVID-19 will never be won by the way you are also behaving."


Presidential spokesman Harry Roque claimed there is no issue about Duterte's statement about ignoring COA reports.

"I guess what the president said was he was frustrated because the interpretation of the people on the initial observations was filled with condemnation. The process should not be like that because COA knows that initial observations have to be answered before it comes up with a final report," Roque said at a press briefing Tuesday.

"So perhaps what was stated is not necessarily just for the government. Let us not give weight to initial observations because they will be responded to," he added.

Roque said COA has the obligation to come up with final reports yearly and these are the ones that should be published. He added that the president did not issue threats against state auditors but was merely expressing "frustrations."

"Because if you read what was published based on preliminary observations, it seemed that the DOH did not spend P64 billion during the pandemic. But that's not the case," Roque said.  

"They (COA) are just looking for MOA (memorandum of agreement) so unnecessarily, people were alarmed when they were just looking for documents, for a MOA that is not required pursuant to a GPPB (Government Procurement Policy Board) resolution," he added.

Asked why Duterte had to curse COA for merely performing its mandate, Roque replied: "That's just his style. You can't teach an old horse new tricks and people have accepted him for how he is. That's why he is elected despite the fact that we know his style."

Roque noted that the constitution guarantees the independence of COA from other branches of the government.

During a post-typhoon briefing in Ilocos Norte in 2018, Duterte advised local officials to defy what he described as "stupid" COA circulars after he was informed that the commission does not permit cash advances for building materials. The president even told then Ilocos Norte governor Imee Marcos to push a COA personnel down the stairs so the auditor cannot report for work. Officials have claimed that Duterte was just emphasizing the need to ensure the timely release of funds in times of disaster.

Duterte: No corruption in Cabinet

At the same public address, Duterte assailed notions that the pandemic response funds have been lost to corruption. He added that the deficiencies cited by the COA are about producing necessary documents, not stolen funds.

"You know, papers, bureaucracy takes very long and sometimes the documents are deficient. So you need to correct," the president said.

"Many government workers were placed in a bad light because of the release of the COA audit that cited deficiencies, about the P67.3 (billion). People thought the money was missing. The money is there...But to the issue of whether the money has been stolen, that is pure b***s***," he added.

Duterte said it is "impossible" to steal P67.3 billion and assured the public that he won't allow cabinet members to pocket government funds.  

"I, the president, promise that I will protect you people, it includes your money. Do you think I will allow even just one of the cabinet members here to steal even P1,000? You really think that I would allow it?" Duterte said.

"The deficiency in the papers at the lower levels, the problem is it is attributed to the head of the department. He cannot look at all the papers everyday... I tell you, you think I would allow (it)? Son of a b**** we have to shoot each other if that happens," he added. 

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