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Sunday, December 3, 2023

Revisiting SC, COA jurisdictions

“Martires, a former Supreme Court and Sandiganbayan Justice, projects as a public servant’s Ombudsman”

Congresswoman France Castro of Alliance of Concerned Teachers Party-list recently rebuked Ombudsman Samuel Martires when the latter allegedly proposed to do away with Annual Audit Reports (AARs).

To her point, she said the Commission on Audit is mandated by no less than the 1987 Constitution to submit to Congress and the President these AARs.

Castro’s statement is inaccurate.

What the 1987 Constitution requires from COA is the timely submission of the Annual Financial Reports (AFRs) of the government and its instrumentalities.

Distinguished from AFRs, the AARs are ancillary reports the production and publication of which may be provided by applicable laws, such as the General Appropriations Act.

Nevertheless, we agree with Castro that completely doing away with AARs erodes transparency and accountability in the public sector.

But does this mean that Martires’ crusade is pure folly?

Martires, a former Supreme Court and Sandiganbayan Justice, projects as a public servant’s Ombudsman.

Jeered by many when he restricted public access to Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth (SALN), he is lauded principally for not injecting political color to his decisions (i.e. dismissal on merits of the charges vs. PNoy, whose presidency was a difficult time for Martires) and for firing his own Over-all Deputy Ombudsman, who was linked to the Pharmally scam.

Earlier, he seemed to have decriminalized SALN misstatements — another unpopular decision. However, Martires was recently vindicated by the Supreme Court when the latter decreed that SALN charges must be preceded by the exhaustion of remedies before each government agency’s SALN Review and Compliance Committee.

His proposal not to rush with reporting and publishing AARs may yet be another attempt to rebalance the scale between transparency and efficiency of public service – perhaps, a nod to Lee Kuan Yew’s pragmatic views on public sector management.

To be fair to Martires, what he suggested was to do away with the publication of incomplete or contested audit reports, which expectedly breeds harassment suits before his office.

He also proposed the Supreme Court and COA revisit their respective jurisdictions in audit matters, alluding that it is best if such controversies terminate at the COA Proper level.

Will this be another coup for the Ombudsman? Time will tell.

(The author is a Filipino lawyer based in Singapore. He was an Assistant Secretary at the Presidential Management Staff and a long-time Legislative Staff Head at both the Senate of the Philippines and House of Representatives.)

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