“She is no longer a commissioner of the COA.”
Former Commission on Audit (COA) Commissioner Heidi Mendoza’s statements against President Rodrigo R. Duterte are pathetically off-tangent.
This observation is not intended to pre-empt her right to freedom of expression but one intended to prevent slander against the government based on malicious charges of graft and corruption through alleged illegal disbursement of public funds. I remember her as the one who made her dramatic entry as an appointee of the Noynoy Aquino administration accusing some generals in the Defense Department of graft and corruption.
Despite the brouhaha of alleged corruption among the top brass, nothing of her charges resulted in their conviction. In short, her alleged graft and corruption charges were concluded without securing the arrest and indictment of even one general. Instead, she was later appointed to the UN.
Section (1), Article IX D of the Constitution states the powers and functions of the Commission on Audit. Mendoza as a certified public accountant did not indicate if she ever practiced her profession which is required. What the public know is Mendoza is a former commissioner of the COA, and in that status she is no longer entitled to exercise the powers and functions enumerated in Section 1 (1-c), and Section 3 and 4, Article IX of the Constitution. The fatal flaw in her allegation is she did “not mention public funds going to private pockets, but the repeated noncompliance with procurement laws and recurring accounting deficiencies by government agencies (giving rise) to corruption…” She added, “the government auditing body has recently been releasing accounts of the manner and amounts of taxpayers’ money used or not used by state agencies in the past year as part of its mandate to publicly disclose its annual audit reports, and one of the most controversial was about the Department of Health (DOH).”
Specifically, she cited, and to quote the “numerous deficiencies in the use of a P67.3-billion pandemic response fund by the DOH, which undermined the timely and efficient response to the COVID-19 emergency last year.” She also “reported that P11.8 billion of this amount was untapped, that more than P95 million in medicines and supplies were wasted and that the DOH failed to use P59.124 billion of its P200.9-billion budget in 2020.”
Assuming what she said is true, her title as former commissioner of COA does not give her the authority to issue such statements or release said documents to the media without the approval and permission of the majority of the members of the COA considering that she is no longer connected with said office. To allow a former commissioner to come out with such slanderous comments against the government on the pretext of acting as some kind of do-gooder is to unjustly usurp the powers of the commissioners under the guise of freedom of information.
The secrecy or confidentiality of such documents lies in the nature that they were entrusted to officials appointed to that office. Her comment against the officials of the Department of Health and against the Office of the President officially stand as without basis for even if true, she was not authorized to disclose them.
The former commissioner should have been more circumspect in analyzing the implication of her revelation. For instance, she said that “COA cited numerous deficiencies in the use of a P67.3-billion pandemic response fund by the DOH, which undermined the timely and efficient response to the COVID-19 emergency last year.” It also reported, to quote “that P11.8 billion of this amount was untapped, that more than P95 million in medicines and supplies were wasted and that the DOH failed to use P59.124 billion of its P200.9-billion budget in 2020.”
But these are mere figures that indicate huge amounts of money representing the allocated budget for the Department of Health that was allegedly released, spent, wasted, or pocketed by the concerned officials like the Secretary of Health Duque or worse, by the President. They do not represent anything except that Mendoza is putting malice into those figures.
For that matter, one cannot avoid implicating the President or his cabinet based on documents as naively and maliciously interpreted by Mendoza. Evidence of corruption in the disposition of public funds must be clear like pointing to a particular person as responsible and the particular act committed to pass the test of prima facie evidence. It seems that fault-finding is now the surest way to boost one’s candidacy done through the threat of auditing.
Lacson resigned from the various committees to concentrate on scrutinizing the budget to boost his wobbly candidacy. It seems that many have copied Grace Poe’s grandstanding like calling for an investigation to besmirch the reputation of others, but making sure she earns the propaganda mileage but without concluding or finding the person guilty of the alleged anomaly.
Besides, the term “corruption” is a general term. The document must be specific like naming the person and the particular act committed. It is far more difficult to correlate the document and use it as evidence to accuse a person of committing corruption. Even on this test, Mendoza failed to hurdle. Her disclosure was without the authority and permission from COA. The value of those documents was important while she remains the commissioner. Alas, she is no longer a commissioner.
Moreover, the press conference made by Mendoza was premeditated to embarrass the government. She was hooked up to known anti-government media which reason why the President merely reacted by treating her disclosure as a dud.
One has to be more circumspect not to state the specifics of her accusation. She cannot invoke the status of a whistleblower similar to the case to Edward Snowden and Julian Assange. She only enjoys the rank of a “pasikat.”
The only instance where the confidentiality of government documents is allowed is to members of Congress. They are entitled to government immunity. That immunity includes exemption from the possible charge of libel. Section11, Article VI of the Constitution is clear, to quote: “A Senator or a member of the House of Representatives shall, in offenses punishable by not more than six years imprisonment be privileged from arrest while the Congress is in session. No member shall be questioned or held liable in any other placed for any speech or debate in the Congress or any committee thereof.”
To reiterate, said provision is not intended to suppress the right of one to freedom of expression but to put order to society. The government will not allow any Tom, Dick, and Harry to speak and freely slander the government. It has the right to protect itself against malicious, libelous, and unjust accusations that could erode the trust and integrity in the government.