Who audits the Commission on Audit?

Recently, President Duterte issued a statement that he would, when he gets elected as Vice President, audit other government offices and agencies, including the Commission on Audit (COA). This was his response to the COA's recent public reports that flag certain departments under the Executive Branch with questionable acquisitions and transactions.

The question now is who audits the COA and whether the Vice President can audit the COA. Let's start with a review of the concept of checks and balances.In the Constitution's allocation of powers among the different branches, commissions and offices it has created, the intention and net effect are separation of powers and checks and balances. Under the principle of separation of powers, no constitutional branch or commission can validly encroach upon the province, powers, prerogatives, functions and duties of the others.[1][2]

For example, when the President vetoes a bill passed by Congress, the former is acting in checks and balances against the latter.[3] This is good because Congress cannot simply make a law without the President having a chance to scrutinize it. Usually, the grounds for the President's veto are objections based on perceived violations of the Constitution.[4] However, this does not mean that, once a bill is vetoed, it never becomes a law because Congress is also given the power to check and balance the President's veto via what is called "vote to override a veto."[5]

The same principle of checks and balances and that of separation of powers apply for and against the COA. The COA is given by the Constitution the power, authority, and duty to examine, audit, and settle all accounts pertaining to the revenue and receipts of, and expenditures or uses of funds and property, owned or held in trust by, or pertaining to, the Government, or any of its subdivisions, agencies, or instrumentalities, including government-owned or controlled corporations with original charters, and on a post-audit basis.[6] In fact, the Constitution itself says: "No law shall be passed exempting any entity of the Government or its subsidiaries in any guise whatever, or any investment of public funds, from the jurisdiction of the Commission on Audit." [7][8] In short, no part of the Government is immune from the audit powers of the COA.

Interestingly, the Duterte administration has issued statements criticizing the COA for publicizing its reports when, actually, it is no less than the Constitution which says: "The Commission shall submit to the President and the Congress, within the time fixed by law, an annual report covering the financial condition and operation of the Government, its subdivisions, agencies, and instrumentalities, including government-owned or controlled corporations, and non-governmental entities subject to its audit, and recommend measures necessary to improve their effectiveness and efficiency. It shall submit such other reports as may be required by law."[9] Read in line with the Bill of Rights on the right of the people to information on matters of public concern,[10] it appears that there can be no legal contest against the publication of said reports. After all, public office is a public trust.[11] 

So, who audits the COA? The answer is: all other constitutional branches and agencies, except the Commission on Elections.

The President. The President has the power and duty to ensure that the laws be faithfully executed.[12] Having control over executive department, bureaus and offices, the President can mobilize, for example, the National Prosecution Service and the National Bureau of Investigation to institute legal proceedings or investigate, as the case may be, against erring officers and employees of the COA.[13]

The Congress. The House of Representatives has the power to launch an impeachment complaint against Commissioners of the COA for valid grounds therefor.[14] After a successful initiation of such complaint, the Senate shall try and decide the case. No person shall be convicted without the concurrence of two-thirds of all the Members of the Senate.[15]

The Civil Service Commission (CSC). The CSC, as the central personnel agency of the Government, has the power to establish a career service and to adopt measures to promote morale, efficiency, integrity, responsiveness, progressiveness, and courtesy in the civil service. It shall strengthen the merit and rewards system, integrate all human resources development programs for all levels and ranks, and institutionalize a management climate conducive to public accountability.[16]

It must be recalled that the CSC has the primary responsibility for the administration and enforcement of Republic Act No. 6713, otherwise known as the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees. It has the power to institute such administrative actions and disciplinary measures as may be warranted in accordance with law.[17] In other words, in case of erring officers and employees in the COA and violations of civil service laws, the CSC may proceed against them.

The Ombudsman. The Ombudsman has the following powers, functions, and duties, among others:

  1. Investigate on its own, or on complaint by any person, any act or omission of any public official, employee, office or agency, when such act or omission appears to be illegal, unjust, improper, or inefficient;
  2. Direct, upon complaint or at its own instance, any public official or employee of the Government, or any subdivision, agency or instrumentality thereof, as well as of any government-owned or controlled corporation with original charter, to perform and expedite any act or duty required by law, or to stop, prevent, and correct any abuse or impropriety in the performance of duties;
  3. Direct the officer concerned to take appropriate action against a public official or employee at fault, and recommend his removal, suspension, demotion, fine, censure, or prosecution, and ensure compliance therewith;
  4. Direct the officer concerned, in any appropriate case, and subject to such limitations as may be provided by law, to furnish it with copies of documents relating to contracts or transactions entered into by his office involving the disbursement or use of public funds or properties, and report any irregularity to the Commission on Audit for appropriate action;
  5. Request any government agency for assistance and information necessary in the discharge of its responsibilities, and to examine, if necessary, pertinent records and documents;
  6. Publicize matters covered by its investigation when circumstances so warrant and with due prudence; and
  7. Determine the causes of inefficiency, red tape, mismanagement, fraud, and corruption in the Government and make recommendations for their elimination and the observance of high standards of ethics and efficiency.[18]
Any illegal, unjust, improper or inefficient act or omission on the part of the COA officer or employee is subject to the investigation powers of the Ombudsman who, through its Special Prosecutors, also has the power to conduct preliminary investigation and prosecute criminal cases within the jurisdiction of the Sandiganbayan.[18b]

The Supreme Court. The Supreme Court has the power and duty to determine whether or not there has been a grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction on the part of any branch or instrumentality of the Government.[19] Therefore, despite its administrative expertise in handling matters within its jurisdiction, the COA is not insulated from the judicial power of the Supreme Court.[20][21]

Regarding the Vice President auditing the COA, suffice it to say that the Office of the Vice President actually does not have any constitutional power or duty, other than to replace the President in case of the latter's death, resignation or permanent disability.[22] Nevertheless, the Vice President may be appointed as a Member of the Cabinet.[23]

In conclusion, in our system of government, the COA is not left un-audited. It is still a constitutionally-created body subject to checks and balances. 

[1] https://www.projectjurisprudence.com/2018/09/notes-on-blending-of-powers-checks-and.html.

[2] https://www.projectjurisprudence.com/2018/09/notes-on-separation-of-powers-political-law.html.

[3] https://www.projectjurisprudence.com/2019/05/4-effects-of-president-signing-bill-into-law.html.

[4] https://www.projectjurisprudence.com/2018/07/video-explains-how-bill-becomes-law-political-law.html.

[5] https://www.projectjurisprudence.com/2018/06/can-bill-become-law-without-presidents-signature-yes.html.

[6] https://www.projectjurisprudence.com/2019/06/full-text-of-1987-constitution-of-the-republic-of-the-philippines.html.

[7] Id.

[8] Section 3, Article IX-D.

[9] Section 4, Id.

[10] The right of the people to information on matters of public concern shall be recognized. Access to official records, and to documents and papers pertaining to official acts, transactions, or decisions, as well as to government research data used as basis for policy development, shall be afforded the citizen, subject to such limitations as may be provided by law (Section 7, Article III, supra note 6).

[11] https://www.projectjurisprudence.com/2018/06/case-digest-guingona-et-al-v-comelec.html.

[12] Section 17, Article VII, supra note 6.

[13] Id.

[14] Section 2-3, Article XI.

[15] Id.

[16] Section 3, IX-B, supra note 6.

[17] https://www.projectjurisprudence.com/2021/08/republic-act-no-6713-february-20-1989.html.

[18] Section 19, Article XI, supra note 6.

[18b] https://www.projectjurisprudence.com/2021/08/republic-act-no-6770-november-17-1989.html.

[19] Section 1, Article VIII, supra note 6.

[20] https://www.projectjurisprudence.com/2021/06/coas-special-knowledge-expertise.html.

[21] https://www.projectjurisprudence.com/2018/06/case-digest-reyna-soria-vs-coa.html.

[22] Section 8, Article VII, supra note 6.

[23] Section 3, id.