The Presidential Communications Operations Office has spent P1.3 billion in operating expenses for the country’s hosting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit in 2017.
In a 2017 audit report, the Commission on Audit flagged the PCOO for a 700-percent increase in 2017 compared to its expenditures in 2016 on the Asean summit.
The PCOO’s maintenance and other operating expenses in 2017 reached P1.3 billion against 2016’s P156.67 million.
The state auditors said PCOO’s 2017 expenses were eight times more than that of 2016’s.
The huge increase went to rental expense with PCOO spending P764 million more than it did in 2016.
At least P771.88 million was eaten up by rentals and lease last year against 2016’s P7.86 million.
Rentals and lease expenses specifically went to the “rental of equipment, vehicles, venues, parking space, tents used during the Asean Summit 2017 as well as rentals of office equipment used during the foreign travels of the President,” the report read.
The audit body assailed PCOO’s awarding of contracts for van rentals and the procurement of goods and services for the Asean events.
Travel expenses of the PCOO ate up the second biggest increase in expenditures with P162.32 million funding in 2017 against 2016’s P30.11 million, or an increase of P132.21 million.
Some P119.62 million went to domestic travels for officials and employees against 2016’s P14.99 million, while overseas travels increased to P42.36 million from 2016’s P15.12 million.
The PCOO spent P98.85 million in 2017 for “other maintenance and other operating offices” with an increase of P98.85 million from 2016’s 21.17 million to last year’s P120 million that went to payment for contractual personnel for the Asean summits.
CoA called the attention of the PCOO for an increase in internet connection in 2017 to P80.27 million from P2.31 million or with a P77.95-million increase.
In addition, the audit body recommended the filing of charges against PCOO officials for the P38-million “deficient” disbursements for the 2017 Asean Summit.
CoA also questioned the purchases of goods and services worth P27, 503,535.40, and van rentals worth P7, 264,450, rental of information technology equipment for P4,039,140.
PCOO Secretary Martin Andanar said he had already ordered a probe of any violation of the Government Procurement Act in the rental of IT equipment and vans.
Meanwhile, PCOO Undersecretary for Legal Affairs Marvin Gatpayat said at least five individuals including two PCOO deputy officials are now being investigated for possible violation of procurement laws.
“It’s under investigation. Let’s just say more or less around five,” Gatpayat told the media in an interview.
While the communications official refused to name names, he said the two PCOO officials have been designated to handle the Asean Committee on Media Affairs and Strategic Communications which was assigned to PCOO.
“It’s under investigation. To avoid any trial by publicity, we will just announce their names at the proper time,” Gatpayat, who is Andanar’s chief of staff.
According to COA reports, the PCOO had awarded contracts to suppliers with over-the-budget quotations and split purchases for giveaways and vans which is a violation of the procurement law.
In a statement, the PCOO said the investigation has started as early as April or a month after the PCOO received the Audit Observation Memorandum (OAM) “on the aforementioned procurement irregularities”.
“As ordered by the Secretary, the PCOO Legal Department is conducting an investigation on the matter. Show cause memorandums have been issued and an investigation report is forthcoming,” Gatpayat said in a statement.
As early as January this year, Gatpayat said the PCOO had received reports that there might have been “some indiscretions” in the conduct of procurement in the ASEAN event.
Gatpayat said an office order has been issued reconstituting the PCOO-Bids and Awards Committee and PCOO-BAC II, “effectively replacing their respective chairpersons”.
“To strengthen our procurement process, and to comply with the observations of the COA, we also created an interim procurement service unit (PSU),” Gatpayat said.
He said the PSU is already performing support functions in relation to the preparation of supporting documents and to ensure strict compliance with the Government Procurement Reform Act.
“In view of the foregoing, the public can rest assured that this Office will undertake all needed actions and reforms to uphold the integrity of the PCOO,” he said.
Gatpayat said COA has the option to ask the Office of the Ombudsman to look into the matter.
“But definitely, we will conduct our investigation and penalize people who violated any government laws,” he said.
Meanwhile, following the successful pre-State of the Nation Address (SONA) 2018 Forum, the PCOO is now thinking of holding the event every quarter next year so that people would get updates on the government’s key policies, programs, and initiatives.
“We will have this also next year and we are planning to have this perhaps on a quarterly basis so that at least we have a forum,” said Andanar.
He added that the three-part series pre-SONA 2018 Forum themed “Tatak ng Pagbabago” was a success, giving various Cabinet clusters a chance to even broadcast even small accomplishments that President Rodrigo R. Duterte may not mention in his third SONA on July 23.
“I think this pre-SONA was successful because our President cannot cover all accomplishments of the government since he will speak for only 35 minutes,” Andanar said.
“So the three-week ‘Tatak ng Pagbabago’ Forum would have at least give justice to the other accomplishments and hard work of the executive branch,” he added.
Cabinet Secretary Leoncio “Jun” Evasco said the pre-SONA Forum was part of the “reformatted” 2018 SONA to allow the President to speak more freely on the matters that he would like to share to the people.
In the first pre-SONA Forum dubbed Tatak ng Pagbabago: Tatak ng Pag-unlad on July 6, the Economic Development Cluster (EDC) and the Infrastructure Cluster presented their accomplishment reports.
On the other hand, the Human Development and Poverty Reduction and the Participatory Governance Clusters took centerstage in the second series “Tatak ng Malasakit at Pagkakaisa” on July 11.
The Climate Change Adaptation and Mitigation-Disaster Risk Reduction Cluster, as well as the Security, Justice and Peace Cluster, delivered a report in the third and last pre-SONA Forum on July 18.
The pre-SONA Forum is a collaborative effort of the Office of the Cabinet Secretary, the Office of the Executive Secretary, Office of the Special Assistant to the President, Presidential Management Staff, PCOO and the six Cabinet clusters.
Andanar said the three-part series was designed to “metamorphose” into the anticipated third SONA of the President on July 23.
“In many ways, he has already articulated the people’s desire for change, and has often enough, made a summary of the essentials,” Andanar said in his opening remarks during the third pre-SONA Forum.
While Duterte told his Cabinet that he will read his SONA speech in not more than 35 minutes, Andanar said Duterte has the prerogative to ad-lib, similar to last year’s SONA.
Duterte’s first SONA in 2016 was delivered in 90 minutes and the 2017 SONA in 120 minutes.
In the third SONA, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said Duterte is expected to speak “straight from the heart.”
Film and television director Joyce Bernal has been tapped to direct the third SONA of the President. She intends to portray the President as “the father of the nation”.
Andanar said Duterte is expected to highlight the government’s accomplishments on war on drugs, anti-corruption, criminality and peace and order.
Before his SONA, Duterte is also expected to sign into law the landmark Bangsamoro Basic Law. With PNA