Fact check: Is COA mandated to prove corruption in government?

Franco Luna - Philstar.com
Fact check: Is COA mandated to prove corruption in government?
The photo of the Commission on Audit's office in Quezon City taken on Aug. 17, 2021.
The STAR / Michael Varcas

MANILA, Philippines — Government officials and their allies in both chambers of Congress are now highlighting that the Commission on Audit failed to prove corruption in the Duterte administration.

This is a misleading claim. 

What they're saying: On Thursday, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque claimed that "it is important to answer allegations of corruption in the purchase of PPEs and face shields."

"To the people, what has been proven in that Senate hearing? They've had seven long hearings and they took the time of our health secretary, testing czar, and vaccine czar," Roque said. 

"If you won't believe the executive branch, believe in COA chairman Mike Aguinaldo who said there was no overprice," he also said Thursday. 

Earlier this month, House Deputy Speaker Rodante Marcoleta (Sagip party-list) pointed out that it was clear that the audit report does not contain any report of overpricing or corruption.

Representatives of COA were made to say multiple times that their report made no such claim. 

What they left out: Aguinaldo was referring solely to the content of the COA report as he pointed out that proving corruption was not the COA's job to begin with. 

The word "corruption" is not once mentioned in the COA's constitutional mandate.

"Our mandate is primarily to examine, audit, and settle accounts," Aguinaldo told the Senate Blue Ribbon committee.

Properly called the Committee on Accountability of Public Officers and Investigations, the Blue Ribbon Committee has jurisdiction over "all matters relating to, including investigation of, malfeasance, misfeasance and nonfeasance" by government agencies and their officials.

Aguinaldo had to repeat before the House Committee on Good Government and Public Accountability that the audit report on PS-DBM did not actually say that the pandemic supplies it purchased were overpriced.

"There's no statement to that. The observations related more to inventory management than overpricing. So it's not right to say that COA said they were overpriced in our report," Aguinaldo said in Filipino. Some members of the House took this as proof that there was no corruption or overpricing to speak of. 

On its official website, the COA says that its principal duties are to:

  • Examine, audit, and settle all accounts pertaining to the revenue and receipts of, and expenditures or uses of funds and property owned or held in trust by, or pertaining to, the government.
  • Submit annual reports to the president and Congress on the financial condition and operation of the government.
  • Recommend measures to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of government operations.
  • Keep the general accounts of the government and preserve the vouchers and supporting papers pertaining thereto.

Necessary context: The Senate's ongoing probe into government spending flagged by the COA has set its sights on the DBM Procurement Service's deals with Pharmally Pharmaceutical Corp.

The corporation was awarded the government's largest pandemic contracts despite a paid-up capital of just P625,000 along with its relatively lacking track record and overall credibility. 

The hearings were prompted by "deficiencies" that the COA found but government auditors did not set out to find proof of corruption in the government offices that they looked into. 

"The commission shall have exclusive authority, subject to the limitations in this Article, to define the scope of its audit and examination, establish the techniques and methods required therefor, and promulgate accounting and auditing rules and regulations, including those for the prevention and disallowance of irregular, unnecessary, excessive, extravagant, or unconscionable expenditures, or uses of government funds and properties," the 1987 Constitution also reads.

Why does this matter?: Though it was not mentioned in the COA report, Senate hearings found that Pharmally sold the items at a price higher than other companies, particularly face masks that were purchased at P27 apiece versus other companies selling masks for just P13.

President Rodrigo Duterte has declared that there was no corruption in the deals and that the government had to act quickly to secure the PPEs.

In August, the chief executive instructed government offices to ignore audit findings by the COA after auditors flagged a number of government departments over unspent funds and other "deficiencies."

He is now ramping up the pressure on the Senate for its investigation into government purchases, most recently accusing Sen. Richard Gordon of using his position as chair of the Philippine Red Cross to fund his electoral campaigns. 

What kind of misinformation is this?: The claims, particularly Roque's, are an example of misleading content through the use of Aguinaldo's quote to frame the issue in a certain way and forward a certain narrative.

Administration allies in both chambers' repeated that there was no mention of corruption in the audit reports and that there is no reason for the hearings to continue.

Users on social media, too, are resharing headlines on the statement as proof that nothing is amiss. A number of comments and statements have made claims based on the quote that do not reflect what Aguinaldo actually meant. 

 with reports from Bella Perez-Rubio 

This story is part of the Philippine Fact-check Incubator, an Internews initiative to build the fact-checking capacity of news organizations in the Philippines and encourage participation in global fact-checking efforts

Have a claim you want fact-checked? Reach out to us at editor@philstar.com.

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