IT WAS 1992; Fidel V. Ramos had just been voted as president, and Joseph ‘Erap’ Estrada as vice president. Presidential bet Miriam Defensor Santiago was crying foul, saying she had been cheated. She would later file an electoral protest, but the Commission on Elections (Comelec) was apparently more interested in something else: conducting its first ever audit of the campaign contributions and expenses of candidates for president, vice president, and senators for the then recently concluded polls.
The Comelec, then headed by Christian Monsod, seemed serious, and even formed a committee to examine the books of account of candidates, political parties, donors, and media entities. Lawyer Josefina de la Cruz, who became part of that committee, also recalls that the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR), Commission on Audit (COA), and the National Bureau of Investigation served as Comelec’s “counterparts” in the initiative.
NUMBERS – people, cases, funds – are a messy, maddening mix in the courts. The numbers defy all myth and romance about the majesty and dread that literature ascribes to the men and women in robes, and indications are they pose a perpetual challenge for the administrators of the country’s judicial system.
Indeed, attempts of the judiciary to keep a firm grip on its budget and fiscal processes alone have already triggered periodic delays in completing audit reports, as well as caused recurring disputes on compliance with budget circulars that should apply across the bureaucracy.
THE COMMISSION on Audit (COA) is probably used to seeing dismal book-keeping from government units, but in the last several years, it seems to have become particularly challenged in trying to keep track of the accounts of Maguindanao and the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).
Since 2002, the state auditing agency, in various reports, has repeatedly raised adverse findings about the lack of transparency, inadequate documentation of expenses, disallowed or irregular or unliquidated disbursements, and mismatched or irreconcilable entries in bank balances and financial reports of ARMM and Maguindanao, as well as unverified or unavailable physical inventory of equipment and properties supposedly purchased with public funds there.
PART CRAGGY mountains and part deep valleys, Apayao in the Philippine north is probably not a place for those seeking an easy life. Yet up until six years ago, the ruggedly beautiful province had a relatively respectable poverty incidence rate of 16.8 percent, which meant more than 80 percent of the families there were consistently meeting their basic needs without much problem.
By 2006, however, majority of Apayao families were struggling, with the province posting a poverty incidence rate of 57.5 percent. As a result, Apayao had also become the newest entry in the Philippines’ list of 10 poorest provinces, and even earned the dubious honor of clinching rank No. 4.
UNDAUNTED by the resounding defeat recently of the fourth impeachment complaint against President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, the opposition at the House of Representatives is embarking on another crusade that does not seem to stand a chance of winning, at least under the present administration.
The opposition now seeks to control the president’s wide discretion in disbursing public money, including the lawmakers’ Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), derisively called ‘pork barrel,’ and other unspent amounts in the annual budget program.
UNLIQUIDATED CASH advances, “loans” without records, donations diverted to uses not prescribed by donors, understated expenses, and overstated accounts, in the hundreds of millions of pesos, all sourced from taxpayers’ money.
These irregular transactions in clear breach of government accounting and auditing rules mark financial transactions in the Office of the President (OP) under Gloria Macapagal Arroyo in 2007, according to Commission on Audit (COA) report, a copy of which was obtained by the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ).
IN 2007, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s presidency spent a total of P249.5 million to pay the salaries and wages of its regular employees; and P10.7 million to pay casual and contractual employees.
Combined, that means P260.2 million to pay the rank and file of the Office of the President, and 58 other executive offices, agencies, commissions, and committees under Arroyo.
HE WAS still in his last year in college when he landed a job at the alternative newspaper Malaya in 1985. That was at the tail-end of the Marcos rule, but the regime’s grip on media was still strong and journalists who dared to criticize the Palace often wound up behind bars or went missing. Yet journalist Ellen Tordesillas says the young Ben Evardone remained true to his profession and steadfastly pounded his Commission on Elections beat even though he had already been warned the police could arrest him anytime.
IN 2002, taxpayers spent P939,472.47 every month on each senator and P429,601.79 on each congressman, based on published reports.
Shocking as these amounts may sound, they reflect only part of what Filipinos pay for their legislators’ upkeep. Government auditors themselves say they are in the dark over how Congress spends most of its money, in part because there is hardly any paper trail to help them scrutinize how lawmakers use public funds.