Ombudsman says it’s probing audit reports quietly

Ombudsman Samuel Martires (Rappler Photo)

“The Office of the Ombudsman would prefer to work quietly and away from the limelight, particularly when the reputation of people in the government are concerned. After all, we still operate under the Constitutional presumption of innocence and the statutory presumption that official functions are regularly performed.”

This was the statement made by Ombudsman Samuel Martires in relation to the Annual Audit Report (AAR) posted by the Commission on Audit in its website.

The AAR contains the various observations of the COA with respect to its inquiry into the budget utilization of the Department of Health (DOH) for fiscal year 2020.

Ombudsman Martires also revealed that he ordered, motu propio, and as early as June 2020, the investigation relative to the procurement of test kits, PPE’s and other emergency purchases; including the non-payment to ” fallen health workers” and those infected by the virus; as well as the lapses and inefficiencies that led to the rising number of deaths and infected medical frontliners.

The on-going investigation already resulted to the preventive suspension of at least five (5) DOH officials sometime in October 2020.

“Our next step now is to review the COA Report and compare the same with our findings to determine the existence of any administrative or criminal liability in relation to the financial transactions of the DOH,” the Ombudsman added.

He stressed that their investigation is also focused on determining the causes of inefficiency or mismanagement and identifying areas prone to corruption, the results of which will be communicated to the agency concerned and to Congress for appropriate legislation, if necessary. With the 2020 AAR this will greatly help in their investigation.

Earlier, former Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales pointed to a 2017 COA-OMB Memorandum of Agreement that created a task force composed of COA auditors and Ombudsman investigators to automatically investigate audit observations tagged by the COA.

“I would like to apologize to former Ombudsman, Justice Conchita Carpio Morales for not informing her that I deactivated the task force because I noted some legal infirmities in the MOA like usurpation of authority. I also want to avoid another wastage of government resources and embarrassment on the part of the Ombudsman prosecutors, the likes of which happened in the numerous cases which Justice Carpio Morales filed against a former Congressman and several department heads of Caloocan City.”

Ombudsman Martires was referring to the anti-graft and malversation cases filed by former Ombudsman Carpio Morales based on an Audit Observation Memorandum of the COA.

When the cases against former Congressman Echeverri, et al. were filed, the audit process has not yet been completed and the accused were able to appeal the audit observations to the Commission en banc, which overturned the findings of the auditors.

Meanwhile the OMB criminal cases pending with the Sandiganbayan reached the Supreme Court which, on the basis of the decision of the Commission Proper, dismissed the cases. This forced the prosecutors of the Office of the Ombudsman to withdraw the other cases against Echiverri, et al.

Ombudsman Martires also clarified that “The AAR is composed of several Audit Observations Memorandums and the agency is given the time to comply with the recommendations of the auditors. The AAR is final and can no longer be changed. But the audit process is still on-going and not yet complete. If we were to compare it to a case before the regular courts, the findings of the auditor can be likened to a decision by the Regional Trial Court which is appealable to the Court of Appeals or the Supreme Court. In this case, the audit observations can still be brought to the Commission Proper for final decision.”