Martires seeks non-publication of COA’s initial audit memo
MANILA, Philippines — Ombudsman Samuel Martires has suggested that Congress remove provisions in the annual budget that require the publication of an audit observation memorandum (AOM), to prevent people from immediately jumping to conclusions that a specific official is corrupt.
At the hearing of the House committee on appropriations on Monday, Martires made this proposal when asked why it seems the number of cases filed by the Ombudsman has decreased.
Martires then explained that they have to verify several cases, checking with the Commission on Audit (COA) if the observations resulted in disallowance or not.
“What happens is that our investigation stalls because they ask for an extension when we require them to provide copies of documents. Even cases from the blue ribbon committee of both Houses, we verify that, and the agencies again ask for more time to provide us with documents,” he said in a mix of English and Filipino.
“Sometimes there are times when the COA is not yet finished with their investigation or audit. So we await COA’s signal that they finished their auditing process, not just the audit of the auditor but the en banc commission until they decide on the matter. It’s okay if we cannot see anything,” he added.
In the process, Martires said he has observed that there are several instances where government officials only forgot to submit receipts and are called out by COA — but are eventually painted in bad light due to reports in the media.
“I want to suggest to Congress if we can remove from the special provisions or general provisions of the GAA (General Appropriations Act) lines referring to the publishing of [AOM]. This AOM causes confusion for people because when they read that in the AOM that a P10 million project faced a hiccup, they will say that a government official earned P10 million from that. But the truth is they just forgot to submit receipts,” Martires said.
“So I leave this to Congress to remove this because after filing a case with the Ombudsman, the case is being dismissed because the COA audit is resolved, They will say that the Ombudsman took a bribe. I hope it’s true that the Ombudsman got paid, but it isn’t; the problem is it’s creating an innuendo that the Ombudsman earned,” he added.
This is not the first time, however, that Martires said that they would prefer to wait for final COA reports before taking action.
In 2021, after the Department of Health (DOH) and Procurement Services – Department of Budget and Management (PS-DBM) officials were accused of wrongdoing when the government purchased face masks and face shields from Pharmally Pharmaceutical Corp. at allegedly higher rates, Martires said he waits for the full COA audit report before filing cases.
Martires reasoned that the audit reports give agencies the flexibility to address observations and fully implement recommendations, noting that it is necessary to avoid losses for the government.
Eventually, Martires filed graft complaints against PS-DBM officials and Pharmally executives for their involvement in the issue.
Martires’ views also echo that of former president Rodrigo Duterte, who said that investigations should only take place after COA’s audit reports are final.
Abolish PS-DBM, revise procurement laws
At the latter part of the deliberations on the Office of the Ombudsman’s P5.05 billion proposed 2024 budget, Martires also suggested that the PS-DBM be abolished as it is the source of corruption allegations, like in the case of the Pharmally issue and the purchase of overpriced and slow laptops.
“I think Congress should take a serious look into abolishing also PS-DBM which has in the past year became the source of graft and corruption, as what happened in the Pharmally case,” Martires said.
“Why do we have to buy a ballpen at the cost of P1.50 when I can buy it in the store for only P1.00? Why do we have to pay PS-DBM a certain percentage to buy me a ballpen? Why not put that responsibility on the government procuring entity? Why PS-DBM? So now everyone wants to buy their goods through PS-DBM. We can do that, we don’t need PS-DBM anymore,” he added.
He also believes the country should revert to old procurement laws, claiming that Republic Act No. 3019 or the Government Procurement Reform Act have placed bonds that drive product prices higher.
“I think it is about time that Congress should take a serious look into repealing the present procurement law which we copied from the government of Canada. Let us go back to our old procurement law where it was so simple, not much requirement,” he said.
While Martires did not explicitly state what specific version of the Philippines’ procurement law should be adopted instead, the Ombudsman said the recent law forces the government to make silly decisions.
“If you buy a car now whose cost is about P1 million, you purchase it at P1.2, P1.3 million because of the many requirements imposed under the new procurement law. Not only that, is the procuring a car in Metro Manila if you are in Metro Manila, you’d look at the lowest bidder, and you sometimes find the lowest bidder in Nueva Ecija, or in the Bicol Region,” Martires said.
“So how do you maintain the car, you’d go to Bicol, you’d go to Daet just to have your car maintained? This is silly,” he added.