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Commentary

Bending laws, breaking laws

Of the three independent constitutional commissions — the Commission on Audit (COA), the Commission on Elections (Comelec), and the Civil Service Commission (CSC)—the COA is the textbook eldest child. It is the first among equals. The Constitution recognizes that the respective functions of these commissions — ensuring the correct and proper spending of government, the conduct of free and peaceful elections, and the adequate fulfillment of the staffing needs of the government machinery — cannot be influenced by petty politics if orderly governance is to be achieved.

The COA, the Comelec, and the CSC exist in a world that is parallel with, and mostly separate from, the three great institutions of the executive, the legislative, and the judiciary. Their policies are not subject to approval or veto by the rest of government, not because of any lack of jurisdiction, but because the very narrow, very specific raison d’être of the commissions allows for very little overlap in function with the rest of the government organism: The COA is there to audit government spending, the Comelec is there to conduct elections, and the CSC is there to set standards for government employees.

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Looking closer at the recent “Commission of the Hour,” the COA, we find a deceptively simple mandate: to conduct audits of government agencies and offices to ensure that the public funds used to fund projects and programs are spent properly. The COA has the unenviable task of painstakingly scrutinizing every transaction made in order to determine if there are any irregularities that may indicate negligence and/or corruption.

What is peculiar is that for an administration that is so vocal against corruption, President Duterte and his band of merry mediocrities seem to be confused as to what the COA actually does.

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The COA audit is not a new thing. Government auditors scrutinize the spending of government agencies, offices, and government-owned and -controlled corporations every year pursuant to their duty to close every budget passed by Congress. They are also mandated to audit all private transactions made with government. The COA’s commitment to transparency requires it to publish its auditors’ findings on the COA website, which is made public to the people who pay the taxes that government spends.

Why then was it such a surprise to the President and his gaggle of pet geese when the COA flagged the Department of Health (DOH) for issues it discovered during its audit of the agency? It boggles the mind how the President, during his bizarre midnight broadcasts, painted the COA as the villain when the audit findings were based on the liquidations, transaction records, and clarifications made by the DOH itself.

But that was just the tip of the iceberg. In the weeks that followed, we were treated to a carnival of scandal—Michael Yang, Pharmally, and the President’s ridiculous directive that the Philippine Red Cross should be audited by the COA. The corrupt house of cards that was so carefully constructed by people seemingly close to the President is now in danger of spectacular collapse. All in the middle of the single most devastating health crisis our country has ever seen.

The laws that govern our political system are capable of bending: Some degree of flexibility is an asset in this case, and the President, as a matter of course, is given a lot of wiggle room when it comes to government policy. But at one point, when you bend something over and over again, it will break. It is clear that there is very little understanding among the people surrounding the President that laws on public spending are laws you wouldn’t want to break if you wish to keep yourself out of jail after your patron’s term ends. People are bound to do crazy things — such as turning against your once-invincible, vastly popular patron — when you mess with their money.

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Ryan Robert Flores is a marketing executive for an international retail brand based in Makati.

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TAGS: Commentary, Commission on Audit, DOH fund deficiencies, Rodrigo Duterte, Ryan Robert Flores
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