Duterte advises COA to 'reconfigure' audit reports

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(FILE PHOTO)

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, August 21)— President Rodrigo Duterte advised the Commission on Audit to "reconfigure" its audit reports on government agencies by immediately saying there are no irregularities involved.

"Alam ko walang malisya (I know there's no malice). You are just doing your duty," Duterte said during a taped address aired on Saturday.

"But in making the report, kindly reconfigure everything and sabihin sa una, at the first instance, 'pag ma-interview ka, sabihin mo na kaagad there is no corruption here, because there is no money involved," he added.

[Translation: But in making the report, kindly reconfigure everything and say, at the first instance, if you're interviewed, immediately say there is no corruption here, because there is no money involved.]

Earlier this week, Duterte also suggested that COA continue its mandate but refrain from publishing findings, as doing so would taint agencies with "corruption by perception."

RELATED: Duterte hits COA on DOH audit report, defends health agency on 'deficiencies' over COVID-19 funds

The pronouncement was met with opposition from several lawmakers and experts who reminded the chief executive that he cannot give out orders to an independent constitutional body.

Under the 1987 Constitution, the COA is granted the "power, authority, and duty to examine, audit, and settle all accounts pertaining to the revenue and receipts of, and expenditures or uses of funds and property, owned or held in trust by, or pertaining to, the government, or any of its subdivisions, agencies, or instrumentalities, including government-owned or controlled corporations with original charters, and on a post-audit basis."

Repercussions?

Aside from the billions worth of "deficiencies" COA raised regarding the Department of Health's handling of pandemic response funds, state auditors also flagged issues concerning a number of other government agencies.

Duterte said he is not criticizing state auditors as he recognizes their duty under the law.

"Hindi naman personal 'yan. Pero 'yung mga repercussions lang na gusto man ninyo o hindi, gusto ko rin o hindi, ay mangyari pagkaganito 'yung environment ng ating bansa. Pulitika, pati 'yung mga tao na...well, there is a freedom to criticize," the president noted.

[Translation: That's not personal. But the repercussions — whether we like it or not — may happen if the environment is like this. Politics, and people who are...well, there is a freedom to criticize.]

'Uphold COA independence'

Meanwhile, some of the country's biggest business groups expressed their support for COA, and underscored the importance of upholding the body's independence.

"Such is the constitutional nature of the Commission, with the power and mandatory duty to serve as a robust check-and-balance on the power to disburse and use public funds and properties, ensure that effective controls are in place to protect government financial assets and properties, improve effectiveness and efficiency, and be a vital instrument against corruption and misuse of public funds and properties," members of the private sector said in a joint statement.