The Palace on Tuesday said the Commission on Audit (COA) can conduct a “special” audit of the Philippine Red Cross’ (PRC) spending, even though the agency has said it has no jurisdiction over the non-government organization.
In an online press briefing, presidential spokesman Harry Roque said President Duterte had a basis to urge COA to audit funds received by PRC.
Citing Section 4.8 of COA Circular No. 93-003, Roque said PRC can be audited once the government requests COA to carry out a “special audit” of NGOs like PRC “on case to case basis.”
“Does the President have a basis to ask COA to conduct a special audit of PRC? He has,” Roque said.
Roque also said under Article 9 of the 1987 Constitution, COA has the power to examine on a post-audit basis all accounts pertaining to the expenditure or uses of funds by NGOs “receiving subsidy or equity, directly or indirectly, from or through the government.”
“Does the COA have jurisdiction over the Philippine Red Cross? The answer is it has,” he said, contradicting the head of the agency.
“We do not have the jurisdiction to audit the Philippine Red Cross,” COA chairman Michael Aguinaldo told the House committee on appropriations during the budget briefing last Friday.
“The only thing we can audit is Philhealth (Philippine Health Insurance Corp.) payments to Red Cross,” Aguinaldo said, referring to the state health insurer. “We're auditing PhilHealth and not the Red Cross.”
Roque said COA can look into the PRC’s memorandum of agreement (MOA) with Metro Manila mayors for COVID-19 testing, as well as its MOA to get advance payment of P100 million from PhilHealth for its testing service.
“The PRC Charter clearly states that it cannot earn money while it is fulfilling its mandate,” Roque said in Filipino.
Roque added that the advance payment clause under the MOA violates the PRC Charter and Republic Act (RA) 11469 or the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act, which states that only reimbursement, not advance payment, in the distribution of goods and services, is allowed.
Roque also questioned the PRC’s move to impose a rate of P3,500 per COVID-19 test, even if the machines used for the testing were donated.
He said the cost of COVID-19 testing is higher compared to the P2,077 that PRC should have charged for each test since the machines it is using were donated.
“That’s why we need to know if all the machines were donated, how many were donated, and how much was the charge. That’s what the audit should cover,” Roque said.
Under RA 10072 enacted in April 2010, PRC is acknowledged as an “independent, autonomous, nongovernment organization auxiliary to the authorities of the Republic of the Philippines in the Humanitarian Field.”
Senator Sherwin Gatchalian, meanwhile, spoke in support of PRC Chairman and Senator Richard Gordon, saying he has served in his post with competence.
Gatchalian was responding to a query as to whether Gordon should step down as Red Cross chair while he leads the Senate probe into the government’s purchase of pandemic supplies as chairperson of the Senate blue ribbon committee.
"I am also one of the Board of Governors of the Red Cross, and we [including Senator Gordon] are duly elected by the Red Cross. I don't see why he should step down because firstly, the Red Cross shouldered 90 percent of our COVID-19 testing capacity when everything about the pandemic was still new," Gatchalian said during the Laging Handa public briefing.
"I did not even think the Red Cross can do it, but they did, and we have to give credit where it is due in terms of increasing our testing capacity," he added.
On the other hand, Gatchalian said agencies such as Philippine International Trading Corporation (PITC) and Department of Budget and Management-Procurement Service (PS-DBM) should be abolished because they failed to spend government funds they receive appropriately.
The PS-DBM, for example, paid P8 billion to a small company, Pharmally, for face masks and face shields and personal protective equipment that were overpriced in 2020.