NO amount of spin by the Palace apologists can excuse President Rodrigo Duterte’s insulting remarks Sunday about state auditors.
In a post-typhoon briefing in Ilocos Norte Sunday, Duterte called on local officials to defy “stupid” Commission on Audit circulars after Ilocos Norte Gov. Imee Marcos complained about various prohibitions that the audit agency imposes on local government transactions.
“Who’s from CoA here? Push him down the stairs so he won’t be able to file a report anymore,” the President joked in Laoag City Sunday afternoon.
Marcos said the local government offices in Ilocos Norte were only allowed to request cash advances only for food of up to P15,000 even in times of calamity, adding the prohibition made the rehabilitation efforts in the province “even more difficult.”
Duterte then belittled CoA for coming up with circulars.
“Don’t believe in CoA’s circulars. You know, they just do it by circular and they expect everybody to obey. Why would I care about your circular? That’s yours,” said Duterte.
“So this CoA, some guys in the government went to jail based on a circular and other guys went scot-free because of the same circular. It would depend on where the swing of the legal arguments there,” he added.
Elated by Duterte’s comments about CoA, Marcos also complained that the CoA had issued an audit observation memorandum against Ilocos Norte for applying for too many loans since the onset of monsoon rains in August.
“Tell CoA Duterte told them to shut up,” the President told Marcos.
On Monday, the President’s spokesman tried to justify those remarks, saying Mr. Duterte merely wants relief and rescue efforts for victims of calamities expedited.
There are so many restrictions on the delivery of assistance in times of crisis that the COA, which will conduct a post-audit anyway, should just allow the delivery of these goods that people need, Roque said, interpreting the President.
“There should be no bureaucratic red tape in the release of assistance to the people,” Roque continued. “The President said, if a CoA circular will be violated, so be it.”
Sadly, what Mr. Duterte and his spokesman fail to appreciate is that we operate on the basis of a government of laws, not of men, and that everyone must follow the rules or we will descend into chaos. These are not rules cooked up by the CoA on a whim, as the President suggests. They are rules that all government agencies are mandated to follow.
And if the rules are no longer responsive, then they must be amended. We should not encourage people to violate them, as the President did.
Finally, Mr. Duterte’s unkind joke about pushing a CoA auditor down the stairs to stop him from reporting flies directly in the face of his vow to stop graft and corruption in the government.
The men and women of the CoA, a constitutional commission, work diligently and often courageously to keep government officials and employees from straying, and expose those that do. For this they deserve a pat on the back, not a push down the stairs.
With all due respect to the President, maybe it is not CoA that needs to shut up. Particularly for those who do not weigh the impact of their words, silence is indeed golden.