COA flags Robredo’s OVP for hiring lawyer without approval
MANILA, Philippines — The Commission on Audit (COA) may have an unmodified opinion of the Office of the Vice President (OVP) under Leni Robredo, but it still flagged the OVP for hiring a private lawyer, supposedly without adhering to COA rules.
According to the 2021 COA report, the OVP engaged the services of a private lawyer as a legal consultant without the prior approval of the COA and the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG).
Without such approval, public funds used to pay the private lawyer may be disallowed or ordered returned, as stated in a circular that COA released in April 1986.
According to the 2021 COA report, the payments “are considered irregular and unnecessary expenditures” and “shall be the personal liability of the officials concerned.”
The COA audit team also found out that there was no valid reason for hiring a legal consultant necessary. It noted that the OVP created its own Legal Affairs Division in 2020 with two legal officers employed “as part of its institutional strengthening efforts.”
“It is believed that the contracted legal services can be handled by OVP’s legal officers. As such the hiring of a legal consultant is not justifiable,” the COA report said.
COA urged OVP to hold accountable those who approved the contract and the payments and have them refund the money paid to the private lawyer.
It also advised the current OVP to appoint someone to head the Legal Affairs Division.
In response, Robredo’s OVP said that it had asked the Office of the President (OP) for the creation of third-level positions for a “core group of policy advisers, including consultant.” Bu the OP did not act on the request.
If the OP had acted on the request, an undersecretary post would have been created for the consultant.
“OVP has always considered the hiring of the consultant as primarily confidential, and policy determining, as opposed to a legal officer primarily and exclusively engaged in the exercise of profession as a lawyer. This is also precisely why despite having legal officers under the newly created LAD, OVP still sought to engage the services of the consultant,” the OVP told COA.
Robredo’s office also admitted that the private lawyer in question worked beyond providing legal services, giving technical assistance to “regulatory and feasibility considerations of projects” that included some of the OVP’s flagship programs like the provision of medical assistance and the COVID-19 response initiatives.
Still, the COA lamented that OVP’s response did not answer the issue at hand — that the office did not secure approval from the COA and the OSG.
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