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PNoy to state auditors: Have no fear in fighting corruption

May 10, 2011 2:02pm

Exactly a year after the May 10, 2010 automated elections, President Benigno Simeon Aquino III on Tuesday said the "reformed" Commission on Audit (COA) is proof that his administration is against corruption and is on the "daang matuwid (righteous path)."

In his speech at the head office of COA in Quezon City, Aquino said the government's auditing arm has transformed from being a "fearful" body into an aggressive agency feared by corrupt officials.

The COA audits all government revenues, resources and other expenditures.

"Kung dati may agam-agam ang COA auditors na ilantad ang anomalya sa transaksyon ng opisyal ng gobyerno, ngayon binibigyan na kayo ng lakas. Malaya, matapang at walang pangamba sa paggawa ng inyong tungkulin," Aquino said during COA's 112th anniversary rites.

"Kung dati pinagpipistahan ng mga tiwaling opisyal ang pagkamal ng pera, ngayon marinig lang nila ang COA, masisindak at aatras na sila," he added.

Sandiganbayan decision

While Aquino boasted of his administration's successful anti-corruption efforts, he also noted that the government suffered a setback with the Sandiganbayan's decision on Monday approving the plea bargain agreement with an accused plunderer, former military comptroller Maj. Gen. Carlos Garcia.

Under the agreement, the former military comptroller was absolved of plunder charges after pleading guilty to a lesser offense of direct bribery and agreeing to pay the government back less than half (P135 million) of the more than P300 million which he said to have stolen from government coffers.

Aquino said he instructed Executive Secretary Paquito "Jojo" Ochoa and the Department of Justice (DOJ) to exhaust all legal means, like filing a motion for reconsideration, to have the Sandiganbayan ruling reversed.

Aquino promised to elevate the matter to the Supreme Court if government prosecutors fail to convince the Sandiganbayan, the country's anti-graft court, to reverse its decision.

Whistle-blower Mendoza

During his speech, Aquino also praised the whistle-blower on military corruption — Heidi Mendoza — now a COA commissioner but formerly a government auditor who was responsible for the filing of plunder charges against Garcia.

Mendoza said she was no longer surprised by the Sandiganbayan and assured the public this is still not the end of the government's quest to make Garcia answer for his supposed wrongdoings.

"This is just a temporary setback, not really a defeat. Much has yet to happen. I am confident this is not yet the end," she said on the sidelines of the COA celebration.

Mendoza's revelations paved the way for other whistle-blowers — such as Lt. Col. George Rabusa — to speak about military corruption.

"Ngayon wala nang pumupiring sa inyong mga mata para makita ang katiwalian, bumubusal sa inyong bibig para magsalita tungkol sa katiwalian at gumagapos upang tuparin ang mandato bilang tapat at mapagkakatiwalaang bantay sa kaban ng bayan," Aquino said.

Rabusa revealed the alleged practice of converting military funds into "pabaon" (send-off money) or "pasalubong" to outgoing and incoming military generals.

Getting rid of red tape

Meanwhile, Aquino also mentioned that he appointed Grace Pulido Tan as the COA chairperson because he believed in her integrity and capability to rid the agency of red tape.

Under Tan's watch, Aquino said he expects better coordination between the COA and the Office of the Ombudsman, the body tasked to investigate and prosecute government officials, especially after impeached Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez resigned from her post.

Last March, the House of Representatives impeached Gutierrez after finding sufficient grounds that Gutierrez betrayed public trust because of her supposed inaction on five high-profile cases.

On April 29, or 10 days before the Senate impeachment trial was set to begin, Gutierrez announced that she had tendered her resignation, which took effect on May 6.

"Kapag nilapag ang kaso sa Office of the Ombudsman, inaasahang hindi isasantabi [at] hindi maglalabas ng resolusyon na lugi ang taumbayan," Aquino assured the public.

Other COA personnel

In his speech during the 112th anniversary celebration at the Commission on Audit in Quezon City on Tuesday, President Benigno Aquino III also spoke about other accomplishments under his administration, including the Coast Guard's response to the recent Philippines-China spat over the Reed Bank, an oil-rich area in the disputed Spratlys Islands or the Kalayaan Island Group.

He lauded how the Coast Guard still managed to create a presence in the area - where Chinese patrol boats were said to have been harassing a group of oil explorers from the Philippines' Energy department - despite having an old vessel.

"Luma na ang sasakyang pandagat natin at yung Coast Guard nagtitiis. Sabi nga nila, 'Wala ng justice, puro tiis. Just tiis.' Iyan ang binabago natin," Aquino said.

He also took pride in the hike of the combat pay for soldiers by more than double, from P240 to P500.

"Asahan niyong hindi puro 'thank you' ang matatanggap niyo sa akin. Habang tumataas ang ekonomiya, lumalakas din kayo. Habang ginagawa ang trabaho niyo, kumokonti ang 'just tiis'," he said. "Ngayon po nakikita na ang liwang na palapit na ng palapit, kayo ang nagbibigay ng lakas. Lumakas sana kayo pati ang paglilingkod ninyo sa pamahalaan."
In his speech, Aquino also cited other COA personnel who performed their duties well.

He lauded the COA regional office in San Fernando, La Union for discovering a P484-million overpriced payment for the housing loan for the government's Home Development Mutual Fund Program.

The President said the government also saved around P53 million thanks to the COA regional office in Tacloban City, which discovered that the firm tapped for the direct development program from the Pag-IBIG fund failed to secure an accreditation.

He also singled out another "Heidi" — Heidi Pasuelo, a state auditor from Iloilo who played a crucial role in preventing three government agencies from misusing P198 million in public funds.

"Kung mayroon sana tayong 10 Heidi Pasuelo o 100 na Heidi Mendoza na buo ang loob na i-report sa boss na ninanakawan kayo at nilalamangan at hindi matatahimik hangga’t hindi napaparusahan ang mga abusadong opisyal," Aquino said.

Aside from praising COA, Aquino described other accomplishments of his administration since his term began in July 2010.

He said the government, through the Department of Justice has so far filed a total of 23 high-profile cases as of April 2011.

The Bureau of Internal Revenue, meanwhile, has also filed cases involving a total of P12.5 billion.

The Customs bureau, meanwhile, has seized contraband worth about 45.1 billion, according to the President. - VVP/HS, GMA News
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