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COA has been politicized

The disclosure the other day that the Commission on Audit (COA) itself received last year P143.7 million from President Aquino’s scandalous “Disbursement Acceleration Plan” (DAP) funds is a body blow to its credibility as nonpartisan, nonpolitical guardian of government funds.

Can COA claim that it is not partisan for this administration when the President in effect junked the budget for the agency that the 2012 Appropriations Law allotted, and gave it another P144 million from the DAP kitty, P5 million of which were spent to buy the commissioners brand-new cars?

Recall what the DAP funds are. These are monies allocated for uses specified by under the budget laws, but which Aquino falsely declared as “savings” and then used according to his wishes.

It is in effect the President’s own gargantuan pork barrel in disguise.

Just as legislators directed how their Priority Development Assistance Funds (PDAF) would be used, the President had his DAP—totaling P158 billion from 2011-2013—and which he used anyway he chose to. For example, Aquino ordered from the DAP money an additional 2012 fund of P8 billion for the Autonomous Region For Muslim Mindanao, over and above the P13 billion the appropriations law gave the regional government notorious as a black hole for government money.

*A dash in COA table, not zero **Not anywhere mentioned in COA report, as if they weren’t senators Source: COA Special Audits Office Report No. 2012-03, Table 4, pages 13 to 14, and only for “soft” PDAF releases.

*A dash in COA table, not zero
**Not anywhere mentioned in COA report, as if they weren’t senators
Source: COA Special Audits Office Report No. 2012-03, Table 4, pages 13 to 14, and only for “soft” PDAF releases.

Isn’t the P144 million the COA got clearly a form of largesse extended by the President to an entity that is, under the constitution, an independent body?

COA chair Grace Pulido-Tan’s explanation for the money it got from the President was actually shocking, coming from the head of a constitutionally independent body: “I requested the DBM [for funds] because when I got into COA, we found out that we were behind in terms of computerization.”

Tan seems to confuse her position now as COA chair from her post from 2002 to 2005 when she was part of the executive branch as a finance department undersecretary. The COA is not part of the executive branch but one of the three independent constitutional commissions, the other two being the Civil Service Commission and the Commission on Elections.

COA not part of Executive Branch
It is not the DBM (the department of budget and management) which COA asks for funds, as this would one way or another make it beholden to the executive branch of government, which is its task to audit. It is the second branch of government—Congress—which determines its budget through the appropriations laws that body enacts. It has to be in congressional hearings that COA has to argue that it needs this much for computerization. Or did COA want to hide its purchase of cars, which it would have been able to do so in secret meetings with the DBM?

COA has strived to portray itself as a crusading agency. However, what kind of auditor—or even crime investigator—would theatrically call, as COA head Pulido-Tan did, the findings of its special audit on pork barrel funds as “kahindik-hindik” (abominable) even without getting the side of those she in effect accuses of high crime?

A partisan one, a politicized auditor playing a crucial part in a plot to debilitate the opposition way before the 2016 elections.

There are three things that show that for the first time in our nation’s modern history—something not even the dictator Marcos attempted to do—the COA has been politicized, “weaponized” by Aquino against his enemies.

First, a nearly retiring Heidi Mendoza jumped several pay levels to be appointed as one of the three COA commissioners. (The third commissioner is former Cadiz mayor Rowena Guanzon, whose legal expertise though has never been in auditing, but in violence against women. It is a puzzle why Guanzon was made a commissioner, breaking the traditional practice of having at least two commissioners coming from the COA’s ranks.)

One may argue that Mendoza deserved the post because of her tearful performance in testifying about corruption in the military’s top brass.

Her crucial tasking though for Aquino emerged when she provided Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales, who testified in Chief Justice Renato Corona’s impeachment trial, with misleading analysis that bloated his bank accounts. While grossly false (transactions were counted as accounts, so that Corona was portrayed as having $10 million), it wrongly portrayed Corona as having so much unexplained wealth that it provided the senators the smokescreen for finding him guilty. (Carpio-Morales even tried unsuccessfully to have Mendoza take the witness stand, and she apparently had prepared another theatrical performance, this time against the chief justice.)

Audit, only of the opposition
Second, the COA special audit on the use pork barrel funds focused almost entirely, except for a few, on those by opposition legislators. It audited nearly all of the pork barrel funds of opposition Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada, and Ramon Revilla. However, it examined only 10 percent or less of the pork barrel funds of such pro-Aquino senators as the Cayetano siblings, Manuel Pangilinan, and Antonio Trillanes.

In its report, the COA claimed that this was the DBM’s fault, as it didn’t submit documents involving other non-opposition lawmakers, especially senators. This claim though is appearing to be false, as COA auditors have copies of each and every financial transaction by government agencies. At any rate, is it fair to make public the audit of the use of pork barrel only by the opposition?

The special audit was started three years ago in May, and finished, I was told, sometime late 2012. Pulido-Tan however would wait only last August to release it, after public outrage against the pork-barrel system and the opposition senators had been created by the series of exposés by alleged whistle-blowers in the country’s biggest newspaper.

Did Pulido-Tan coordinate her release of the report with the political section of this administration?

Did Budget Secretary Florencio Abad—or even President Aquino—receive an advance copy, or a draft of the special audit months before it was released? That would explain why Aquino made sure all three of the COA members were loyal to him, and didn’t include a career official.

Did such a draft prod this administration, through the justice department and its National Bureau of Investigation, to undertake an operation to get the staff of Janet Napoles, the alleged pork-barrel scam brains, to rat against her and against the opposition legislators, in a vivid way that a COA report couldn’t?

The disclosure that COA received P144 million in DAP certainly shows that the agency has likely been in bed with the administration since the new commissioners were appointed.

Where is the 2010-2012 audit?
Third, COA head Pulido-Tan had claimed that it had also audited Congress’ PDAF under Aquino, from 2010 to 2012. It has not however made its study public, even as one enterprising broadcast journalist, Anthony Taberna, three months ago made one report on it. A camera in Taberna’s program even panned a copy of the actual report. Why isn’t the COA releasing the report?

Aquino’s cabal obviously had underestimated the outrage against the pork barrel system created by its propaganda drive it only intended to demonize and debilitate the opposition for the 2016 elections.

However, it led to the Supreme Court decision ruling the pork-barrel system as unconstitutional, weakening this administration’s hold over Congress. It also led to the exposé of Aquino’s secret mammoth pork barrel called the DAP which likely would also be struck down by the high court as illegal.

Indeed, as that 18th century poet very aptly put it, the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.

Aquino bought off the legislature, the second branch of our Republic, through the pork barrel system and his DAP, in order to remove the head of the Supreme Court, the third branch, so he could control it.

His mother’s over-the-hump bodyguard was put in charge of our national defense and disaster management; his own close-in security in the 1980s was put in charge of peace and order; and his planned successor was put to oversee local government to help him build a nationwide network for the 2016 elections.

The Commission on Elections, one of the three independent constitutional bodies, was used to jail his predecessor on trumped up electoral sabotage case, in which the main witness is a top plotter of the most gruesome massacre in our nation’s history.

And finally: This year it is another independent constitutional body, the Commission on Audit that he has debased, and made into his political weapon.

It is a wasteland of damaged institutions that Aquino will be leaving us when he steps down in office.

I am still hoping though that the three women in the COA would show balls that men in the other institutions obviously don’t.