Solons split over bid to halt publication of COA audit memo
MANILA, Philippines — Several lawmakers issued different opinions regarding Ombudsman Samuel Martires’ suggestion to stop the publication of the Commission on Audit (COA) audit observation memorandum (AOM), with those against it insisting that such documents are important for transparency.
In a statement on Tuesday, ACT Teachers party-list Rep. France Castro said that the AOM is one of the few ways the public can check how their taxes fare, which means this should not be removed.
“I think that the practice of publishing the [AOM] by the [COA] should continue because it is just one of the very few ways that the public can check if their hard-earned money is being used properly and above board,” Castro said.
“It is like the publication of the SALN (Statement of Assets and Liabilities and Net Worth) of government officials so that the public may know if these officials enriched themselves while in office,” she added.
According to Castro, both the AOM and the SALN are important in ensuring accountability for public officials who are involved in irregular transactions.
“The publication of the AOM and the SALN are mechanisms for transparency and accountability for public officials. Doing away with it is like giving unscrupulous government officials carte blanche on the people’s money,” Castro said.
However, another minority lawmaker in Albay 1st District Rep. Edcel Lagman said he agrees with Martires’ suggestion that Congress should remove provisions in the annual budget or the General Appropriations Act (GAA) requiring the publication of the AOM.
Lagman echoed Martires’ concerns, saying that officials may have been prejudiced when issuing an AOM is just the first step towards auditing — meaning that government officials can still comply with auditing requirements.
“I agree with the Ombudsman that Section 94 of the 2024 General Appropriations Bill on the publication of COA’s audit observation memorandum should be deleted because this memo is not final and executory,” Lagman said in a separate statement.
“Its publication would impress in the public mind the culpability of an agency or official when the memorandum is still subject to reconciliation and rectification,” he added.
Martires made the proposal on Monday, as the House House committee on appropriations discussed the Office of the Ombudsman’s proposed 2024 budget. When asked by lawmakers why it seems the number of cases filed by the Ombudsman has decreased, Martires replied that they need to verify several cases, checking with COA if transactions mentioned in cases have been disallowed or not.
In the process, Martires said he has observed 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.
Previously, Martires had said they would prefer to wait for the 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 will wait for the full COA audit report before filing cases.
The Ombudsman in the past also said that he wants SALNs withheld as people have judged public officials for their wealth, even going as far as proposing jail terms for individuals who would comment on the SALNs.