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Political Tidbits is the prestigious column of Belinda Olivares-Cunanan that ran for 25 continuous years in the op-ed page of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the newspaper that she helped put up with its multi-awarded founder, the legendary Eugenia Duran-Apostol, in December 1985, just two months before the EDSA Revolution.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

JPE queries whether DBM is protecting “some sacred cows” when it failed to turn over to COA records of nearly P70 billion in pork funds between 2007-2009. Netizens demand from COA, why the double standard in fast denouncing pork in GMA years, while dragging its feet on current administration? Former DOE Chief Accountant Marcelo Tecson laments COA’s discard of pre-audit, thus opening government system to lack of control.



In a recent press conference apparently to explain his involvement as the “topnotcher” in the pork barrel issue, Senate Minority Leader Juan Ponce Enrile was quoted intriguingly by the Inquirer as questioning the motives of the Department of Budget and Management with regard to the Commission on Audit’s special audit of 2007-2009.

Enrile cited in particular the “failure or refusal” of DBM to turn over to COA records of P69.261 billion in pork barrel funds released in those years. He raised the question whether DBM is “protecting some sacred cows or hiding the identity of the legislators concerned, as well as its own negligence, incompetence, if not complicity and participation” in the PDAF scam?

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The target of JPE’s questioning was obviously legislators and officials identified with the Aquino administration, who appear to be the object of protection by DBM and COA---whereas, in contrast, COA’s expose is perceived as aimed at the opposition in the Senate. This suspicion of a double standard in the handling of the pork controversy by COA/DBM is fueling skepticism and anger from citizens.

Following JPE's disclosure the question is now being asked by citizens: who owned that whopping nearly P70 billion in undisclosed pork barrel?  They demand to know, if fair will be fair.  Did these billions belong to solons now allied with President Aquino or even to former Sen. Noynoy in the GMA years? If not his, whose are those? 

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Suspicions of complicity between COA and DBM in treating P-Noy allies and the opposition differently were brought upon themselves by these two government agencies. For while COA, which is fed data by DBM on its pork releases, was quick to lay out the records of Congress in the Macapagal-Arroyo years, it was forced to admit later that it hasn't even begun looking into the P-Noy years---after three years.

Moreover, because of the Daily Tribune staff’s alertness in smelling that story, COA Chair Grace Pulido-Tan was forced to admit that before her office bared the special audit report to media, it sent an advance copy to Malacanang. The question now is, was there a connection between the missing nearly P70 billion pork item in the COA special audit (that JPE denounced) and the Palace sneak preview? 

Reports indicate that it’s this “sanitized version" that P-Noy ordered to be sent to Cardinal Tagle.

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The COA is a huge agency of 12,000 officials and employees; it is so constitutionally powerful and independent that as a retired accountant noted, “it can say no even to the President.” Thus, it’s difficult to imagine that Congress audit of 2010-2013 cannot be brought up to date, especially since the report on 2007-2009 was already finished. 

If COA Chief Pulido-Tan were not politicking, isn’t it logical that she should have worked on the audit for 2011 and  2012, and  should already be doing 2013, especially since her office had discovered so many anomalies in 2007-2009? A related question for COA: why did it take a whistle blower (BenHur Luy) to rake up the Napoles scams?



Moreover, the pork anomalies COA found in the GMA years should have already alerted Pulido-Tan, inasmuch as many of those who had profited immensely from their political alliance with former President GMA later jumped over to the other side and were making perhaps even greater hay from President Aquino’s INCREASED pork barrel for Congress and the bigger pork for his office? 

Note that for 2014 the “Special Purpose Fund" for the President’s office alone amounts to P449.95 billion---which is 1/5 of the entire 2014 national budget of P2.25 trillion.

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But Chair Pulido-Tan did not see the urgency of an audit for 2010-2013, and COA’s actuations in the pork scams are very disappointing---especially given the high reputation with which she came into this job. A lawyer/CPA on government and college scholarship at UP with 30 years of professional work in both private and government enterprises, the Chair earned a Master’s of Law degree from New York University and subsequent experience as tax specialist at a prominent NYC office prior to returning to PH.

Under the Constitution that protects and guarantees the independence of four constitutional commissions, the COA Chair has a fixed term of seven years (removal only through impeachment) and a salary that cannot be reduced.

Unfortunately, however, Pulido-Tan does not seem independent, and as a result, much is being ascribed by critics to her having worked with Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima in his first stint in that post in the GMA years (2004-2005). In July, 2005 Purisima resigned with the rest of the so-called “Hyatt 10” officials as well as Pulido-Tan, who had served with him as Undersecretary, in charge of the Revenue Operations Group). 

In the interim she served as auditor at the Belle Resources Corporation where her husband, Atty. Bayani Tan, was the firm’s lawyer during the power struggle to ease out industrialist Roberto Ongpin.

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Accountant Marcelo I. Tecson of San Miguel Bulacan, who was chief accountant of the Department of Energy for five years and who professes to be genuinely concerned about the pork barrel scams, has offered measures to reform government on corruption. Tecson blames the pork barrel mess the country currently is embroiled in on COA Chief Pulido-Tan’s decision in July 2011 to discard the standard accounting procedure of         PRE-AUDIT---and rely completely on the POST-AUDIT, which is conducted after a crime has already been consummated. 

Tecson points out that COA had reduced pre-audit coverage in the 1980s, then it was totally abolished in 1995 with a shift to 100% POST AUDIT. In August 2009, however, pre-audit was again restored by past COA Chair Reynaldo Villar until it was again abolished by Pulido-Tan in 2011.

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Tecson maintains that had there been pre-audit of government transactions BEFORE releases are made, it would have been alerted to various scams in government--- especially after such mega-scams as the fertilizer scam in the GMA years and the NFA importation scam in the early Noynoy years. Tecson stresses that “There is CORRUPTION because there is OPPORTUNITY AND TEMPTATION to commit it without being punished for it.

Opportunity for corruption, he opines, arises from the lack of CHECKS AND BALANCES that, in turn, is rooted in the violation of a crucial INTERNAL CONTROL rule: that no one person should be in complete control of transactions. Otherwise he would have the irresistible motivation to commit corruption---as he can do it at will, even without anybody’s help. 

This latter opinion is a sobering thought to keep in mind, in the current debate on whether to abolish or retain the President's pork---estimated by former National Treasurer Leonor Briones to be about P1 trillion.

There is corruption, says Tecson, because the government agency entrusted to check it--COA--has not done its job. Tough to argue with this point. 



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