THE OBJECTIVITY OF THE COMMISSION on Audit (COA) in its ongoing special audit of the releases made through the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) is now in question after the agency admitted that it also received funds from the controversial program.
COA Chairman Grace Pulido-Tan, who attended the Senate plenary debates on the 2014 proposed General Appropriations Act (GAA) on Monday night, confirmed that the agency received P143.7 million from DAP in 2012.
Tan made the admission during intense questioning by Sen. Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada on the COA budget.
“Your agency cannot be objective in its audit in the propriety and legality of the DAP when the agency itself is a recipient and beneficiary of the DAP even if there’s no irregularity in the disbursement,” Estrada told Tan.
But the COA chief said that it is the Supreme Court (SC) and not the COA that will determine the legality of DAP. She explained that her agency is merely auditing the utilization of the funds released through the controversial acceleration program of the executive department.
Tan admitted that she wrote a letter to Department of Budget and Management (DBM) requesting funding for the upgrade of COA computers and the procurement of other equipment and services.
“We found a great backlog in the cases so we wanted to hire some consultants to help us. So I did request for that [extra fund],” she said, adding that the request was made in 2011.
The COA chair said part of the DAP money was used to buy service vehicles for the agency’s head and commissioners.
Of the P143.7 million DAP released to COA, Tan said that P68.3 million was used for the agency’s information technology (IT) infrastructure program, P2.79 went to the purchase of close-circuit television cameras, P4.6 million was paid to consultants and P5.115 million went to the purchase of vehicles.
Tan said the remaining P63.545 million may be disbursed for the IT needs of the agency.
Aside from being a recipient of DAP funds, Tan admitted hiring her daughter as her executive assistant, which according to Estrada could be a violation of COA’s own rules which prohibits the recruitment of relatives of government officials and personnel.
The COA chair, however, made it clear that there are exceptions to the rule. She added that executive assistant positions are considered confidential and co-terminus with the appointing authority.
Malacañang was quick to defend the use of DAP fund by the audit agency.
Presidential Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma said the use of DAP funds was based on the sound judgment of the officials concerned.
“When the decision was made [to release the funds through DAP], it was based on the judgment of the officials that the action they took was in accordance with the law and did not violate the Constitution or any other law,” Coloma told reporters.
“The questions of Sen. Estrada were part of the budget deliberation in the Senate.
These have been answered that’s why there is no need to make further comments about it,” the Palace official said.
“It is important that we appreciate the question in the right perspective. The question was posed as part of Senate deliberations on the budget of a government agency. If you are familiar with the procedure, a senator stands on the floor to ask questions from the proponent of the budget. It is the proponent of the budget not the agency itself that answers the questions directly,” he added.
On reports that President Benigno Aquino 3rd may be courting an impeachment case over DAP, Coloma said the chief executive is ready for such a scenario.
“If our lawmakers want to do anything, it is within their right and the government will face whatever is thrown before it. The President had already made his reply. He was asked beforehand about it and he assured he is ready [to face impeachment]if it comes to that,” he added.
Earlier, Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) president Vicente Joyas said that if the Supreme Court (SC) declares DAP unconstitutional, the President may be held liable for technical malversation, a solid ground for impeachment.
In October, the IBP filed the fifth petition against DAP and asked the SC to order COA to conduct an immediate audit of the program and disallow all public money spent through it.
Other petitions were separately filed by former Iloilo representative Augusto Syjuco, Manuelito Luna, Jose Malvar Villegas and the Philippine Constitution Association (Philconsa). Militant groups also filed a similar case before the High Court.
Coloma said the president is confident that the DAP was not contrary to law.
Former senator Panfilo Lacson said DAP “is good” if it used for its intended purpose.
“It becomes illegal when it is used to fund other projects, much more if it is allocated to projects of congressmen and senators,” he said during yesterday’s Kapihan sa Manila Hotel.
“Distributing DAP funds to legislators is a clear violation. As a consequence, the Commission on Audit will issue a Notice of Disallowance,” he added.
With a report from Jaime Pilapil