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COA: Another institution Aquino damaged

The Commission on Audit had been, even through martial law, one of the most prestigious agencies of our Republic, its reputation untainted by graft or partisanship.

With just a few months remaining for this inglorious Administration, the COA will be left as another institution damaged by President Benigno Aquino 3rd, who has turned it into a political weapon.

Even in this rather late stage of the electoral game, this yellow regime is using the COA for its political ends, as in a report mysteriously leaked the other day alleging unliquidated funds of the Office of the Vice President. The next day, of course, as if on cue, was another accusation against Binay by former Makati vice mayor Renato Bondal – yes, the same accuser whose allegations have been proven false, yet hogged the headlines of the Philippine Daily Inquirer’s front pages for 44 nearly consecutive days. (See http://www.manilatimes.net/inquirer-vs-binay/155669/) It’s the familiar flurry of accusations for a vilification campaign.

I had been asked in the comments section of my column why I haven’t written much about the allegations against Binay. My simple answer is: Why should I, when the Philippine Daily Inquirer, which claims to have the biggest circulation (Manila Times is just no. 4 among the broadsheets) seemed to have found as its newest cause this year the demonization of the Vice President? Why should I help it in its project, which could have been undertaken for not-so-noble reasons?

I am not only talking about its news sections. Columnist Solita Monsod, its most widely read columnist, must have written over 50 columns against Binay, with many of the occasional contributors trying to show off, unsuccessfully, their polemical skills to vilify the candidate. Fair play, I say, so I have presented the other side to the allegations, most of which, I think, had been indisputably debunked as pure lies. And these lies, the Ombudsman insists, should be investigated in the courts.

For example, both the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the Department of Environment and National Resources (DENR) records showed that the Batangas estate belonged to a Chinese-Filipino businessman, and not to Binay. The Makati Building II’s costs were comparable in terms of price per square feet to Senate President Franklin Drilon’s Iloilo Convention Center, or to the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas’ (BSP) branches in three provinces, which all had the same contractor. Binay’s “crime” is his inarticulateness or his campaign staff’s inefficiency in debunking and burying the corruption allegations against him.

The Office of the President’s newest attached agency? From left, COA chair Aguinaldo, former Deputy Executive Secretary for Legal Affairs; Fabia, Philippine Information Agency head, 2010- 2012; and Heidi Mendoza, Aquino’s crying, or angry, lady at Senate hearings.
The Office of the President’s newest attached agency? From left, COA chair Aguinaldo, former Deputy Executive Secretary for Legal Affairs; Fabia, Philippine Information Agency head, 2010- 2012; and Heidi Mendoza, Aquino’s crying, or angry, lady at Senate hearings.

But back to the COA. It was astonishing that former chair Grace Pulido-Tan claimed, when she stepped down, at the pork-barrel investigations what her legacy was: the pork-barrel exposés. How on earth could she claim that, given the fact the probe had been ordered undertaken by her predecessor who was appointed by President Arroyo, and when most of those investigated under her administration, and charged, were opposition figures like senators Enrile, Estrada, and Revilla?

Pulido-Tan herself said two years ago that a special audit was also being undertaken to investigate the pork-barrel funds released during Aquino’s Administration, from 2010-2012.

The report had been completed and I myself viewed a TV report in 2013 by broadcast journalist, Anthony Taberna, about that investigation. A camera even panned a copy of the actual report.

Two years after it was completed, COA hasn’t released the report. And she has the gall to claim that she did her part in Aquino’s anti-corruption crusade?

Is it because the COA itself received P143.7 million in 2012 from President Aquino’s scandalous “Disbursement Acceleration Plan” (DAP), which the Supreme Court has ruled unconstitutional? Or was it because Pulido-Tan has been angling for a position in the Supreme Court when it announced a vacancy in 2012? (Aquino, instead, appointed Marvic Leonen, who is as inexperienced in legal practice as the Chief Justice is. Is Tan still hoping she will be the last Aquino appointee in April 2016, when Justice Martin Villarama retires?)

In the past, those appointed by Presidents as COA chair and members were people of unquestionable integrity, without the slightest taint of partisanship, such as Teofisto Guingona (chair 1986 to 1987), Eufemio Domingo (1987-1993), Celso Gangan (1994-2001), Guillermo Carague (2001-2008) and Reynaldo Villar (2004-2008), who ordered the special pork-barrel audit. It had also been a tradition for the other two members of the commission to be appointed among the COA’s veteran auditors, especially for those who spent their entire professional career in the agency.

Contrast that to Aquino’s appointees to the COA:

• A nearly retired Heidi Mendoza – who had vowed to pin down Binay on corruption charges many years ago, jumping several pay levels – was appointed as one of the three COA commissioners. It was Mendoza who provided Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales, when she testified in Chief Justice Renato Corona’s impeachment trial, with grossly false analysis that artificially bloated his bank accounts. For that monumental fabrication that whipped up a mob against the Chief Justice, she, together with Carpio-Morales, should have resigned their posts.

• Jose A. Fabia was appointed a COA member in 2014. Who is he? The Director-General of the Philippine Information Agency since Aquino assumed office, up until 2012, when he reached the government’s retirement age. He replaced a former Liberal Party Cadiz City mayor Rowena Guanzon, who served only a year, since she was given what Aquino thinks is a more important task, as Commission on Elections member. (I am hopeful, though, that Guanzon, at the end of the day, would live up to her lofty principles.)

• Aquino in March appointed Michael G. Aguinaldo as COA chair. Aguinaldo was the Deputy Executive Secretary for Legal Affairs of the Office of the President since Aquino assumed office, and reportedly his classmate in their Ateneo days.

Isn’t that, in his hubris, Aquino’s way of practically telling the country: “The COA, one of my favorite political weapons, has been attached to the Office of the President”?

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

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