Who is COA’s boss? A look at its role, mandate as it faces Duterte’s opposition

August 17, 2021 - 6:53 PM
The Commission on Audit examines how government bodies carried out projects and contracts against laws and rules. (Interaksyon artwork)

The Commission on Audit is now caught in President Rodrigo Duterte’s crosshairs after it released a report flagging deficiencies and perceived irregularities of government agencies’ use of public funds.

The Department of Health, the primary agency leading the government’s pandemic response, received the most outrage from the public over the P67 billion deficiencies COA found in its handling of funds.

Other agencies COA called out in its consolidated report include the Department of Transportation and the Department of Information and Communications Technology.

Duterte’s rant vs COA

In his taped remarks on Monday, August 16, Duterte slammed state auditors for releasing audit reports about agencies under the executive branch and asked them to stop doing so.

“Hindi lang ito pati ‘yung DILG may nababasa ako, pati ‘yung kay Secretary Galvez, mayroon din, flagged, puro flagged, flagged, flagged down. Stop that flagging, g**d*** it. You make a report. Do not flag and do not publish it because it will condemn the agency or the person that you are flagging,” Duterte said.

He also perceived they are actually “flogging” rather than flagging. Flogging refers to the painful punishment of being repeatedly hit.

“The flagging is spelled f-l-a-g-g-e-d. Ang ginagawa ninyo is f-l-o-g-g-i-n-g. Flogging, hampas. Eh huwag naman sige kayong flag nang flag,” Duterte said.

“Tapos wala namang napreso, wala naman lahat. And yet you know that when you flag, there is already a taint of corruption by perception. You cannot… You know, this COVID-19 will never be won by the way you are also behaving,” he added.

Duterte also threw expletives and insults at the commission in his recorded talk aired late at night.

“Wala namang mangyari diyan. Iyan ang ayaw ko, iyang flagging-flagging eh. It creates a conundrum pati na alam mo political season na ngayon. Kanya-kanyang banat, kanya-kanyang criticism itong mga newspapers akala mo as if they are the epitome of propriety and decency,” he said.

Revisiting COA’s mandate

Social media users shared screenshots of different news reports this year about other affected departments to show that the DOH was not the only agency that COA reported about.

The COA is an autonomous body and is not meant to be interfered with by a sitting president.

“The COA is an independent body under the Constitution that does not take orders from the president,” lawyer and former Supreme Court spokesperson Theodore Te tweeted.

“On a substantive note, it shouldn’t be difficult to point out the mistaken perception of the COA’s mandate and powers by simply citing the Constitution, specifically Art. IX-D, secs. 2 and 3,” he added.

Under the Constitution, COA is one of the three Constitutional Commissions of the Philippines. The other two are the Civil Service Commission and the Commission on Elections.

These three constitutional commissions are also independent in nature.

In Section 2.2-D, Article IX, it was stated that COA has the authority to:

  • Define the scope of its audit and examination
  • Establish the techniques and methods required therefore,
  • Promulgate accounting and auditing rules and regulations, including those for the prevention and disallowance of irregular, unnecessary, excessive, extravagant, or unconscionable expenditures, or uses of government funds and properties

Moreover, in Section 3-D of Article IX, it was specifically provided that:

“No law shall be passed exempting any entity of the Government or its subsidiary in any guise whatever, or any investment of public funds, from the jurisdiction of the Commission on Audit.”