Lawmakers strike back: COA auditors grilled in budget hearingBy Christian V. Esguerra
Philippine Daily Inquirer
MANILA, Philippines—The state auditors went to the House of Representatives on Friday to defend their proposed P8.4-billion budget for 2014, only to find themselves being grilled by House members displeased by the “errors” in the Commission on Audit’s (COA) special review of pork barrel releases from 2007 to 2009.
“If you make an audit report and it’s not correct, you destroy the reputation of people,” said Surigao del Sur Rep. Philip Pichay as he pointed to the “erroneous” portion of the audit report that said former Compostela Valley Rep. Manuel “Way Kurat” Zamora received and spent P3 billion in pork barrel.
Party-list member Jonathan de la Cruz (Abakada) raised a “point of order” when Commissioner Heidi Mendoza said she was not with the COA during the period covered by the special audit.
“That is precisely the reason why we had been asking that the chairman of the Commission on Audit should be here because she is the responsible officer,” De la Cruz said.
At the start of the budget hearing conducted by the appropriations committee, Camarines Sur Rep. Rolando Andaya, the committee vice chair, read out a letter from COA Chair Grace Pulido-Tan saying that Tan was in New York for “bilateral meetings … in connection with our candidature with the UN Board of Auditors.”
De la Cruz insisted that Tan should face the congressmen, many of whom are caught up in the still-unfolding scandal involving the wholesale theft of the pork barrel, officially known as the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF).
“The chairman should be here because she was the one who came out with those statements besmirching the reputation of Congress and [its] individual members,” he said.
“Imagine coming out with a report and insisting that a member of Congress, Congressman Way Kurat, was allocated P3 billion and she repeatedly came out with it in the newspapers,” De la Cruz said.
Andaya sought to calm De la Cruz, saying “my colleagues should find comfort in the correction made” by the Department of Budget and Management. He also noted that like Mendoza, the COA chair was not yet with the agency during the period in question.
Misamis Occidental Rep. Henry Oaminal asked Mendoza whether the alleged irregularities on the use of the PDAF between 2007 and 2009 were not detected by resident auditors of the implementing agencies involved in the scandal.
“If this happened as early as 2007, then it could have been detected in the year 2008. So there could have been no occurrence in 2008. Or even if there was no other occurrence in 2008, then it could have been committed again in 2009 and so forth,” he said.
“That’s why I’m asking if our auditors had been vigilant in bringing this matter to the higher-ups and to the concerned agencies,” Oaminal said.
Mendoza, who joined the COA in 2011, said she was not yet with the commission during the years covered by the special audit.
“But for those years under our administration, we commit to you, your honor, that we will be more vigilant in our job,” she said.
She said it was “possible that the postaudit had not yet covered transactions covered in the special audit.”