[OPINION] Accountability test: Duterte should welcome COA red flagging government agencies showing deficiencies in use of public funds 

COA office headquarters Philstar.com file photos

PHILIPPINE President Rodrigo Duterte campaigned on the promise that he would never tolerate nor condone corruption in government — and yet his response to the Commission on Audit’s (COA) move to make public audit reports for government agencies for their apparent questionable handling of public funds creates a shadow of doubt on the president’s sincerity and commitment to fulfill his campaign promise.

As quoted by the report of Inquirer.net, the President said: “Stop that flagging, goddamnit. You make a report, do not flag. Do not publish it because it will condemn the agency or the person you are flagging.

“What you are doing is flogging. Striking. Please don’t. You keep on flagging but then nobody gets jailed, nobody at all. When you flag, there is already a taint of corruption by perception,” the President added.

The report likewise said Duterte also lamented how transactions would pass through local auditors only for them to be questioned later, quoting: “When they get to the top for auditing, there’s a hitch. You blame now the procurement, the mayor, whoever. Leche na yan [Damn that]. Just remove the auditors at the bottom. It’s wrong. Just make one audit, your audit [at the main office].”

Duterte’s public rebuke of COA, which its the, seems to suggest that the President wants the Philippine government’s spending watchdog to stop fulfilling its obligation to promote transparency and fight corruption in government. As the Inquirer reported, “COA regularly posts its audit reports and observations on its official website, which is accessible to the public, as part of its mandate”. These reports of the COA are all public documents that the citizens of the Philippines should be informed about.

Such comments of the President seem to disregard the very reason why COA was created and that what COA is doing is in fact important especially during this difficult time of the pandemic when people have been questioning whatever happened to taxpayers’ money and the huge loan the Philippine government has made to manage this biggest health crisis of the century.

And as this remarks of the President dominates national discourse, Reuters  reported: “The Philippine health ministry on Thursday (August 19) recorded 14,895 new coronavirus cases, the second highest daily increase in infections since the start of the pandemic.”

“In a bulletin, it said total confirmed cases were 1.79 million, while deaths have reached 30,881, after 258 fatalities were recorded on Thursday. Active cases rose to a near four-month high at 111,720.”

The controversial COA report that infuriated  Duterte was the  “deficiencies” worth over P67 billion in the 2020 pandemic budget of the Department of Health.

As the Inquirer further reported, this finding “stirred furor from both the public and the administration – the former, calling for accountability, while the latter, criticizing COA.” And rightfully so. Why is  the government lagging behind in controlling the spread of the virus and its variants? Why is the vaccination rate so low up to now? What happened to the money meant to be used to help the government save lives?

If President Rodrigo Duterte really wants to get rid of corruption, then he should welcome this report of COA being made public. In fact, he should use this as an opportunity to really clean up the government and make all agencies accountable instead of appearing to want to cover-up information that the Filipino people need and deserve to know.

The antagonism in the response of Duterte and his cohorts in his administration just reinforces the impression that they resist accountability and transparency when these are the very tools he needs to fulfill his campaign promise of fighting against corruption.

We cannot solve a problem that we do not acknowledge and confront head on.

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The opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints of the Asian Journal, its management, editorial board and staff.

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Gel Santos Relos has been in news, talk, public service and educational broadcasting since 1989 with ABS-CBN and is now serving the Filipino audience using different platforms, including digital broadcasting, and print, and is working on a new public service program for the community. You may contact her through email at gelrelos@icloud.com, or send her a message via Facebook at Facebook.com/Gel.Santos.Relos.

Gel Santos Relos

Gel Santos Relos is the anchor of TFC’s “Balitang America.” Views and opinions expressed by the author in this column are solely those of the author and not of Asian Journal and ABS-CBN-TFC. For comments, go to www.TheFil-AmPerspective.com and www.facebook.com/Gel.Santos.Relos

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