By: Manuel “Boy” Mejorada
It was an issue I had raised in a complaint before the Ombudsman late last year: the Province of Iloilo under then-Governor Arthur Defensor, Sr. had illegally released millions of pesos in financial assistance or grants to non-government organizations during the campaign period for the 2013 local elections.
In its 2018 Annual Audit Report, the Commission on Audit (COA) had taken the Capitol to task for releasing funds to 13 NGOs even though these were not duly accredited by the Sangguniang Panlalawigan.
The money came from the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) that the Aquino administration gave as political largesse to Defensor, one of his political allies at the time, to gain undue advantage over his rival back then, former 4th District Cong. Ferjenel Biron, M.D.
As I asserted in my complaint, the release of funds was illegal on two points: first, the recipients were not duly accredited by the Sangguniang Panlalawigan, and second, the funds were disbursed during the 45-day campaign period.
Somehow, this was overlooked by the Commission for several years, a case of blind mice not doing their job of safeguarding the public treasury.
I’m inclined to believe my expose and Ombudsman complaint forced the COA to look at the issue closer.
It’s hard to believe the COA didn’t spot these blatant violations of the law. And even with this audit finding, it dwelled only on the lack of accreditation for declaring the financial assistance violative of the law. It continued to skirt the issue of the Comelec ban on financial disbursements during the 45-day campaign period.
This breach of the law is just one of many violations committed by the Defensor administration.
It’s as if COA was afraid of Defensor.
Such attitude of the COA is frustrating for people who want law enforcement to be equal and without favor. During the Defensor years at the Capitol, COA was very lenient even though the transgressions were of the serious nature. It was like giving Defensor a blanket authority to break laws.
About eight months ago, I wrote COA about the anomalies I discovered the landscaping and parking lot contract. The complaint provided the COA with enough details to serve as ground for the issuance of the Notice of Suspension at the very least.
But until now, the COA hasn’t acted on my complaint.
Indeed, I can’t help but doubt if the COA is really doing its job.