IN a 224-page report released a year ago, the Commission on Audit reported that 10 top executives and government agencies, including some of the most high-profile members of the Administration, had amassed P10.14 billion in cash advances that they had failed to liquidate within and even beyond the prescribed period.
With a year now gone since the report was released, we want to know from the audit commission and from the officials involved how much progress there has been in the liquidation of the cash advances.
The COA report merits urgent attention for the following reasons:
1. Many of the cash advances were incurred by Administration and Cabinet officials who are now seeking higher office. It is fair to ask whether the sums are being used to promote their candidacies. It is timely to ask them now when they propose to settle accounts, because the voters must know that these candidates are deadbeats–and possibly criminally guilty.
2. Even the Office of the President, which normally and understandably racks up the most cash advances because of its high-level tasks and activities, ranks only eighth in the COA’s top 10 miscreant agencies.
3. The Aquino Administration today is supposed to be engaged in an intensive effort to fast-track state disbursement of funds, before the end of the year, and evidently also before the formal start of the election campaigning period. It could potentially add to the sums of misappropriated public money.
Based on the 2013 Annual Financial Report that it submitted to Congress in 2014, COA said the cash advances mostly “represented expenses on local and foreign travels and for special purpose time-bound undertakings.” P110 billion of traveling is too much.
The top 10 COA list of personages and agencies with gigantic unliquidated cash advances are:
1. The Commission on Elections, which has P3.214 billion in unliquidated advances, the biggest among the top 10 miscreant departments, or 31.71 percent of the total unliquidated amount.
2. The Department of Education and Secretary Armin Luistro came second with total unliquidated advances of P2.23 billion. Could this be because far–flung branches of the DepEd actually used the money and up to now have not come up with the liquidation documents?
3. The Department of Interior and Local Government during the time of then secretary and now presidential candidate Manuel Roxas 2nd had unliquidated advances of P1.1 billion.
4. Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and the Department of Defense ranked fourth with unliquidated cash advances of P685.62 million.
5. The Department of Justice under Secretary Leila De Lima has a total of P617.44 million in unliquidated cash advances.
6. The Department of Social Welfare and Development under Secretary Dinky Soliman has a total of P452.55 million in unliquidated cash advances.
7. The Department of Agriculture under Secretary Proceso Alcala has a total of P354.50 million in unliquidated advances.
8. The Office of the President ranked eighth in the top 10 with unliquidated advances amounting to P340.87 million in 2013.
In addition, COA said in the report that there are other executive offices that have unliquidated advances amounting to P297.53 million but COA did not identify them.
The State Universities and Colleges also had P160.27 million in unliquidated advances while “other departments, offices” had a total of P676.51 million, the COA says.
The COA report says that Under the Revised Penal Code, “if a public officer had been advanced cash and failed to account for the money, it is presumed that the money had been pocketed and put to personal use.”
The legal implication is that malversation-–a crime–has been committed.
Under a COA circular, a cash advance is settled either by returning the money if unspent, or by presenting vouchers, with details as to the items thereon paid, which must be in accord with the purpose for which the money was released, and further backed by proper receipts and other evidence of payment, subject to the result of a post-examination thereof by the auditor concerned.
Congressman and now senatorial candidate Roman Romulo of Pasig City filed House Bill 1287 which seeks to make the infraction prima facie proof of embezzlement.
He filed the bill in response to the COA finding that some P10.14 billion in cash advances remain unsettled by 10 government executives, well beyond the prescribed period.
Wide public concern over the issue is proper at this time because we are approaching within the next six months the end of the term of President Aquino.
If no serious effort is made to hold the concerned executives to account for and force them to return the money, the nation would be the poorer by over P10 billion of precious public resources.
If personages who are running for office win election without being made to explain, electoral outcomes could complicate the process of liquidating the advances.
The issue is primal and the cases are instructive. We must confront the fact that under President Aquino, we have seen by far the most wide-ranging and pervasive looting of the public treasury. Legislators and executive officials have taken that crime to a whole new level.
Now is pre-eminently the time to call people to account, when the presidential administration is still in place, and officials involved are still in office.
Under no circumstance should they ever be allowed to believe that they can get away with taking public money without accounting for it properly.
Brazen disregard of the law and pertinent COA orders must never be condoned.
We applaud the Commission on Audit and its people for their zealous oversight over the expenditure of public funds. Keep up the good work.