MANILA – Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo on Wednesday urged the Commission on Audit (COA) to cease from going “beyond” their mandate by releasing preliminary observations pending a full inquiry on how the Department of Health (DOH) managed PHP67.3 billion funds meant for pandemic response.
Panelo appealed to COA Chairman Michael Aguinaldo to “change” how it immediately flagged agencies for deficiencies and published its reports to media when they could be easily remedied by the agency concerned.
"Michael, alam mo medyo baguhin niyo yung istilo niyo. Trabaho niyo na suriin, pangalagaan ang pera ng bayan. Tama kayo diyan. But do not go beyond yung required lang sa inyo (Michael, you know change your style. It’s your job to assess, protect public funds. You’re right. But do not go what’s required of you),” he said in his commentary show “Counterpoint”.
He acknowledged how preliminary observations may show deficiencies and lack of paperwork, but only while programs and projects within an agency are still being implemented.
“Ang problema, di siyempre may mga preliminary findings, may mga nakita kayo na mali o kulang. Pero yung mali o kulang na proseso, puwedeng iwasto 'yan kasi hindi pa naman tapos yung proyekto o yung programa. Yung pera, ginagastos pa e (The problem is, of course there are preliminary findings, they saw deficiencies and lack of paperwork. But these deficiencies or lack of paperwork can be corrected because the said projects or programs are not finished yet. The money is still being spent),” he added.
Panelo said it is “common sense” for the COA to release preliminary observations to the concerned agency to avoid painting an unfair perception that the concerned agency is already guilty of corruption.
"Huwag niyo na munang ilalabas sa publiko. Kanino niyo ilalabas? Ilabas niyo dun sa taong iniimbestigahan (Don’t release them to the public first. Who do you release them to? Release them to the person being investigated). That's common sense, Michael," he said.
President Rodrigo Duterte, in a public address on Monday, dismissed COA findings as "insufficient", noting that it only pointed to missing paperwork, not corruption.
In a congressional inquiry on Tuesday, Aguinaldo said the publication of annual audit reports is "required by law".
"Insofar as the work of the COA is concerned, we have a constitutional mandate to follow," he said.
He also clarified that the COA has never "flagged or flogged" any government agency.
"We do not flag, it is only the media that uses that term," he said, noting that the COA has no control of what the media pick up and publish from the agency’s website.
Meanwhile, Panelo snapped back at an unnamed lawmaker who criticized the DOH for its failure to ward off a surge in Covid-19 infections.
“Yung World Health Organization, makailang ulit na napuri itong pamahalaan sa tama at wasto na pagtugon sa suriliranin ng coronavirus. E bakit ngayon sasabihin mo na palitan? Think, think, think. Ikaw mag think, think, think for a change (The World Health Organization has repeatedly praised the government for its proper handling of the coronavirus pandemic. Why are you asking the agency to change its approach? You should think, think, think),” he said.
Last month, WHO representative to the Philippines Dr. Rabindra Abeyasignhe commended the Philippines’ handling of the Covid-19 pandemic amid the emergence of the more infectious Delta variant.
“The number of people who have succumbed to this virus in the country is comparatively lower than many other countries which were thought to have higher capacity and higher resource access. From that perspective…it appears that the Philippines has done a good job,” he said. (PNA)