Having expressed in an earlier editorial that the Commission on Audit (CoA) must report on disallowance notices and return-money orders (The Manila Times, January 9, 2018), we view with keen interest the recent decision of the audit body to demand that another batch of public officials who received an illegal distribution of bonuses, and which the commission had officially disallowed, to return the funds to the treasury.
The latest group to be slapped with the CoA order consists of former executives of the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) who served during the term of former President Benigno Aquino 3rd.
Held culpable were former PCSO officials headed by Chairman Margarita Juico for unauthorized allowances, bonuses and cash incentives amounting to P13.751 million paid to them over a 15-month period from September 2010 to December 2011.
CoA Chairman Michael Aguinaldo, along with Commissioners Jose Fabia and Isabel Agito, dismissed the petition for review filed by the respondents for lack of merit.
Juico and the other officials declared in defense that such benefits and allowances were approved, dating back to the administration of former Presidents Fidel Ramos and Joseph Estrada.
But CoA in its decision ruled: “The prior presidential approvals obtained by PCSO were superseded by Executive Orders Nos. 7, 19 and 24… thus, by executive fiat, the authority of the board members to receive various allowances, benefits and other perks… were considered withdrawn.”
CoA said board members were not entitled to receive allowances and benefits, and that the only authorized form of compensation was “reasonable per diems.”
It explained: “To stress, petitioners are not salaried employees of PCSO but members of the board of directors who are not entitled to receive fringe benefits, unless expressly provided by law.”
The issue has been clarified by the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) Circular Letter No. 2002-02, which stated that members of the board of directors of agencies are not salaried officials of the government.
CoA in its ruling said: “As officials who are directly responsible in authorizing and approving the payment of the disallowed benefits, they are solidarily liable for their reimbursement. The payment of the disallowed benefits cannot be deemed in good faith.”
CoA deserves commendation and public support for its zeal in standing vigil over the public treasury and its clear-sighted decisions and rulings regarding the errant or crooked handling of public funds by public officials. Officials of government-owned and -controlled corporations (GOCCs) have often escaped scrutiny because they are not constantly on public view, like the regular government departments and agencies.
The Commission on Audit is one of the three constitutional commissions that were expressly established by the1987 Constitution under Article IX: the Civil Service Commission; the Commission on Elections; and the Commission on Audit.
Each commission is independent, and enjoys fiscal autonomy. Each is assigned specific powers and duties that are vital to the proper operations and administration of government.
The constitutional provision on the audit commission is crystal-clear and sweeping: “The Commission on Audit shall have the power, authority and duty to examine, audit, and settle all accounts pertaining to the revenue and receipts of and expenditures or use of funds and property owned or held in trust by the Government…”
No bodies, commissions, units or agencies of the government are exempted from the jurisdiction of the Commission.
It is comforting to know that our people and government are being well served by the eagle-eyed audit commission. May it succeed in securing the return of unauthorized payments from the Treasury.