Palace: COA will be ‘fair and objective’ in validating Napoles claims

MANILA, Philippines – A Malacañang official on Saturday, May 31, said the Commission on Audit (COA) will be "fair and objective" in its validation of the so-called Napoles list. This, despite its chairman and commissioner being appointees of President Benigno Aquino III.

Communications Secretary Herminio "Sonny" Coloma Jr said the allegations that COA will not be objective in its task are baseless.

On Friday, May 30, COA Chair  Maria Gracia Pulido-Tan told reporters in an interview at the Supreme Court after she was interviewed by the Judicial and Bar Council they would validate against their records the supposed transactions made by Janet Lim Napoles, the alleged architect of the pork barrel scam, with lawmakers.

“COA is an independent body of the government. Based on the Constitution, it’s really independent from the executive arm. But the president’s power to appoint the chairman and commissioner is also mandated by the Constitution,” Coloma said.

In 2011, Aquino appointed Heidi Mendoza, the whistleblower on military corruption, to be the office’s commissioner, while Tan, a former finance undersecretary, was appointed chair. Mendoza, in office for about 3 years now, without the benefit of confirmation from the Commission on Appointments, was behind the audit report against the Binays of Makati.

“It’s unfair to say that just because they were appointed, they will be biased in their roles,” Coloma added.

COA's earlier probe on the misuse of lawmakers' Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) transactions from 2007 to 2009 became the basis of a case build-up by the Department of Justice. (READ: COA special report on PDAF, 2007-2009) Tan, however, told reporters COA could still check supposed transactions that happened after 2009 since the Commission has audits of the PDAF from 2010 to the present.

“We should not tarnish the institutional integrity of COA. We should be objective in pointing fingers at public institutions. The heads, officials, and employees of COA are doing the best they can,” Coloma said.

June 12 movement

Coloma also said the government supports the indignation protest against public officials involved in the pork barrel scam set for Independence Day on June 12.

“This is an issue of fighting anomalous and irregular use of public funds. We’re one with this movement as it follows the principle of good governance that we’ve been building. This is the reason why we’ve set up institutions that promote openness, transparency, and accountability of public officials,” he added.

A newly-formed coalition against corruption and the pork barrel system on Thursday, May 29, called on Filipinos to join an Independence Day protest at the Kartilya ng Katipunan in Manila City. The coalition is composed of over 20 organizations with the objective of reasserting their freedom in what they described as “systemic corruption and state neglect.” 

“In terms of their call for public officials to resign, we may not be on the same side. Nonetheless, we respect the Filipinos' right to air out their concerns and we’re hoping that the protest will be held peacefully and in accordance with law,” Coloma said.

Gathering evidence

Coloma echoed the call of Senator Aquilino "Koko" Pimentel III for the government to look for official documents that will serve as hard evidence to build a case against those involved in the pork barrel scam. 

Pimentel had called principal whistleblower Benhur Luy's files "useless nonsense" and urged the government to ignore them and instead build an airtight case against those who should be made accountable for the multi-million-peso pork barrel scam.

Luy's hard disk drive had been given to the blue ribbon committee and the National Bureau of Investigation. Committee chair Senator TG Guingona has said he intended to make the contents of the drive public through the media.

“That has always been the President’s principle: Let the evidence point to the direction of the inquiry. We are siding with no one and we are forcing no one into the investigation,” Coloma said.

Coloma assured the public that the government will do its best to verify every information that is being gathered.

“We’re always looking for probative value in the data we gather. Is it supported by concrete evidence? Will it pass judicial scrutiny? These are the kinds of evidences we need to give justice to the Filipino people,” he added. -