Solons agree P173-M funds ‘for later release’ should be given to COA
MANILA, Philippines — Some members of the House of Representatives have expressed support for the release of the P173-million budget for projects and programs under the maintenance and other operating expenses (MOOE) and capital outlay (CO) of the Commission on Audit (COA) that was classified for later release.
During the hearing of the House committee on appropriations on the proposed budget of COA for 2021 on Wednesday, Cagayan de Oro 2nd District Rep. Rufus Rodriguez noted that approved annual appropriations should be automatically released to constitutional bodies like COA.
“The Constitution is very clear. For constitutional bodies, the budget should be automatically released to agencies like COA which are embedded in the Constitution. The Bayanihan 2 was merely a realignment of the executive offices and the COA is not under the executive department,” he said.
This position of Rodriguez was echoed by committee vice-chairman Bulacan Rep. Jose Antonio Sy-Alvarado who was leading the hearing.
“Ako po ay nakikiisa sa sinabi ni Congresman Rodriguez, kasi napakalinaw naman talaga sa Constitution na ang isang constitutional commission kagaya ng COA, kailangan ang minimum niyo ay ang budget niyo noong nakaraang taon, kaya ako rin ay nagtataka kagaya ni Congresman Rodriguez kung bakit napayagan na bawasan ang pondo ng COA,” he said.
(I agree with what Congressman Rodriguez said because it is clear in the Constitution that for constitutional commissions like COA, the minimum budget should be the budget for last year. Like Congressman Rodriguez, I am puzzled why the budget was discontinued.)
In response, COA chairman Michael Aguinaldo said the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) previously notified the commission that funds for later release would not be provided to the state auditor yet. He said COA officials did not insist on the release of the P173 million mainly because they know that the government currently prioritizes funding for COVID-19.
It was Senator Panfilo Lacson who first questioned why the P173-million worth of projects and programs under COA’s MOOE and CO were discontinued and were categorized as funds for later release. Ombudsman Samuel Martires even urged COA to file a case against the DBM for supposedly withholding the release of the funds.
But Budget Secretary Wendel Avisado later denied that the DBM was withholding the release of the concerned funding for the commission.
Avisado explained that the funds were not part of the national expenditure but were initiated by Congress that’s why it was classified for later release. He also said that a special budget request and a detailed plan on how COA wants to use the funds should be submitted to DBM for the later release of the funds.
Nevertheless, programs and projects for the P173 million would still require funding from the government, said Aguinaldo.
“Nonetheless, that would require funding and we know there is difficulty in funding now, kaya we’re at peace with sige, kahit hindi muna ibigay sa amin ‘yan because of the situation. Maybe if there was no pandemic, siguro mag-insist kami,” he added.
(Nonetheless, that would require funding and we know there is difficulty in funding now, that’s why we are at peace even if they do not release the funds because of the situation. Maybe if there was no pandemic, we would insist for its release.)
Alvarado said he understands the position of COA, but noted that the Constitution should still be followed in the release of funds.
Rodriguez, meanwhile, pointed out that the government should even strengthen COA during this time of pandemic.
“At this time of the pandemic, the more we should strengthen the COA because we see immediate releases of funds. There may be certain programs that contractors may get without bidding,” he said.
“Therefore the COA, being our constitutional watchdog in the protection of our funds and to prevent corruption, should get this P173 million, whatever was discontinued. It should be given not next year but this year,” he added.
Asked by Rodriguez if he will support Congress in pushing for the release of the funds, Aguinaldo said: “With the kind of support from Cong. Rodriguez and Alvarado, I don’t see how we can say no.”
“We have no problem with the Secretary (Avisado). We are willing to work with him. If he tells us na hindi naman sila maaapektuhan (that they will not be affected) with the release of the funds, then we are all for it,” he said.
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