PCOO probes 5 employees over 'anomalous' ASEAN expenses flagged by COA

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, July 20) — The Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) on Friday said it is investigating the alleged anomalous purchase of goods and services used for the country's hosting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit in 2017.

PCOO Undersecretary Marvin Gatpayat said five employees are being probed for the procurement irregularities flagged by the Commission on Audit (COA).

"The report will be released any time soon, in the next 10 days or so on," Gatpayat said, stressing that charges will be filed if there is evidence to support them.

The PCOO in a statement added that it has created an interim procurement service unit "to strengthen our procurement process, and to comply with the observations of the COA."

In its annual audit report released Thursday, COA recommended the PCOO to "file the appropriate charges against any erring officials, as prescribed under Section 65.1 of the Revised IRR of RA No. 9184, for taking particular action that favored a particular supplier/s, when necessary."

COA said the PCOO rented vans from three suppliers despite going beyond the approved budget for the contracts (ABC), violating the Government Procurement Reform Act which states this amount shall be the "upper limit or ceiling for acceptable bid prices." This violation is punishable with imprisonment of up to 15 years.

COA said only one firm, the DLCL Transport met the approved budget for van rental service used for events in Metro Manila, Tagaytay and Clark, Pampanga. COA disclosed that MNM Transport, Godspeed Transport, and 2A-2M Transport were granted 16 contracts worth around a million pesos each — all of which were higher than the approved budget ranging from P730,000 to P990,000 only.

This was also the case in the PCOO's procurement of power banks and handmade soaps, COA noted.

COA said the contracts should have been awarded to bidders who submitted lower quotations, but the PCOO in its response said it was not aware of any lower bids.

All bids could have been accessed through the Government Electronic Procurement System (PhilGEPS), where suppliers send their quotations.

But the PCOO said, "only one PCOO personnel has access to the PhilGEPS account of the agency," who might have failed to check or deliberately concealed the lower bids.

"He claims that for the longest time, all that was required is the production of at least three quotations, and that the posting requirement in PhilGEPS is merely ministerial," COA said, quoting PCOO.

PCOO added the lower bidders might not have met the requirements set for the product or service, but COA maintained no supplier can go beyond the approved budget contract.

This is the only finding where COA recommended the filing of charges against erring officials, but state auditors flagged other irregularities in the PCOO's use of its P1.4 billion budget for the ASEAN, including unliquidated cash advances amounting to over P28.2 million.

The PCOO chaired the Committee on Media Affairs and Strategic Communications during the country's hosting of the ASEAN Summit which gathered world leaders in November 2017.

CNN Philippines' Ina Andolong and Eimor Santos contributed to this report.