President: No more blindfold on ‘eyes of bureaucracy’
MANILA, Philippines—President Benigno Aquino III Tuesday told state auditors—“the eyes of the bureaucracy,” in his words—that they could now do their job of safeguarding the public coffers without fear that they would be stopped.
Speaking at the 112th anniversary celebration of the Commission on Audit (COA) at its office in Quezon City, the President urged state auditors to join his administration’s fight against corruption, saying that things were now different under his watch.
“If before, auditors were afraid to reveal the anomalies they see in government transactions, now you are given the power to be free, brave and fearless in your duties. If before, unscrupulous officials tend to raid the public coffers, now just hearing the name COA would strike fear in them and they would withdraw,” Mr. Aquino said in a speech delivered in Filipino.
“Being the eyes of the bureaucracy, you know that no one is blindfolding you in tracking down anomalies. No one is stopping you to speak up against things that are not right, and no one is tying you so you can fulfill your mandate to be honest and loyal guardians of the people’s money,” he said.
Mr. Aquino made special mention of both COA Chair Grace Pulido Tan and Commissioner Heidi Mendoza in his speech.
He said it was important in his crusade against corruption to bring into the commission people who could be trusted and would not consider any government official as a sacred cow. He said this was why he did not hesitate to appoint Tan as its chair.
“And when we met Heidi Mendoza, we also did not pass up the chance to appoint her as commissioner,” he said of the woman who blew the whistle on the irregular transactions made by former military comptroller Carlos Garcia.
The President also said those named “Heidi” or its variants were apparently women who were fearless and who would not exchange principles for bribes. He cited the efforts of auditor Haydee Pasuelo from Iloilo City, who was able to stop three agencies from spending P97.8 million and discovered that two government officials had been able to steal more than P1 million.
Pasuelo was named COA’s outstanding employee for the year and received an award from the President.
Mr. Aquino also called on state auditors not to accept bribes from agencies whose records they were examining, whether in the form of a house, a car or money.
The right path
“This is true service. This is the right path. This is the realization of our goal for change, and you auditors are in the frontline of this fight,” he said.
The President said he expected the new Ombudsman who would replace the resigned Merceditas Gutierrez would be able to work well with the COA.
“If the COA files a case in the Office of the Ombudsman, we are expecting that it will be attended to and studied well, that it will not be just put in a corner, or that it will be resolved with the people ending up losing,” he said.
The President is now waiting for the Judicial and Bar Council to submit a short list of nominees for Ombudsman.
Gutierrez, who was impeached by the House of Representatives, was to have been tried at the Senate this month. She submitted her resignation to Mr. Aquino last week.
Despite threats to their lives, a group of state auditors have examined the records of numerous transactions and have gone the extra mile to uncover irregularities involving public funds, primarily the scam involving Pag-IBIG housing loans.
On Tuesday, the COA honored them in a ceremony attended by a President for the first time.
Two groups led the awardees—Audit Team 3 from Regional Office VII (Central Visayas) in Tacloban City, and Audit Team 6 from its Regional Office I (Ilocos) in San Fernando—which had uncovered bogus borrowers, ineligible developers and other irregularities involving the Home Development Mutual Fund or Pag-IBIG.
The irregular transactions involved over P500 million in funds. The members of Audit Team 3 are Rodulfo Ariesga, Alicia Malquisto, Imelda Oballo, Elena Merida and Josefina Galos. The members of Audit Team 6 are Sabiniano Cabatuan, Pelilia Veloso, Herminia Laforteza and Nixon Niera.
The Pag-IBIG loan scam had also headlined legislative inquiries.
According to the COA, the auditors of Team 6 did not have an easy time because they received threats to their safety when they were scrutinizing the housing records. The officials they were investigating also delayed the submission of reports and records, and offered self-serving explanations.
Those they had investigated also resorted to misrepresentations to distract the team’s attention from the issue.
The COA said the accomplishments of Team 3, which is considered the whistle-blower of the Pag-IBIG loan scam, helped enhance the commission’s image and credibility, especially when the team testified at congressional hearings on the bogus housing loan borrowers.
Team 3’s technique in uncovering the anomalies will help future investigations because it shared its audit programs that can be implemented nationwide, the COA said.
COA’s role in governance
The commission commended Pasuelo for her work disallowing the expenses of three government agencies amounting to P97.84 million, and which have also resulted in the dismissal of two government officers for malversation of public funds amounting to P1.25 million.
The expenses that Pasuelo had disallowed included disbursements for financial assistance to volunteer health workers, procurement of digital sterilizers for a hospital and payment of extra cash gift to employees of the provincial government of Iloilo.
The COA said Pasuelo’s accomplishments heightened the people’s awareness of the commission’s role in good governance and in the fight against graft and corruption.
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