Former President Benigno Aquino III’s 10 top executives, including Interior Secretary Manuel “Mar” Roxas II, Social Welfare Secretary Dinky Soliman, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, and Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala had P10.14 billion in cash advances but failed to liquidate the amounts beyond the prescribed period, a Commission on Audit report shows..
Based on the 2013 Annual Financial Report that was submitted to Congress in October, the COA says the cash advances mostly “represented expenses on local and foreign travels and for special purpose time-bound undertakings.”
The 228-page COA report, a copy of which was obtained by the Manila Standard, shows that the P10.14 billion was higher by P477.11 million than the unliquidated cash advances of the same national government agencies in 2012.
Even the Office of the President has ranked 8th in the top 10 with unliquidated advances amounting to P340.87 million in 2013, the COA report says.
Roxas’ DILG ranked third with P1.1 billion in unliquidated cash advances.
The COA discovered that the Commission on Elections has P3.214 billion in unliquidated advances, the biggest among the top 10 departments, or 31.71 percent of the total unliquidated amount.
The Department of Education came second with total unliquidated advances of P2.23 billion.
The unliquidated advances of Roxas’ DILG represented 10.85 percent of the total P10.14 billion.
Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin ranked fourth or next to Roxas at P685.62 million.
De Lima came fifth at P617.44 million, Soliman at sixth with P452.55 million, and Alcala at seventh with P354.50 million.
The COA says other executive offices had unliquidated advances amounting to P297.53 million but did not identify them.
The State Universities and Colleges also had P160.27 million in unliquidated advances while “other departments, offices” had a total of P676.51 million, the COA says.
“With the exception of the SUCs, same the departments reported the highest figures of unliquidated advances to officers and employees in fiscal year 2012,” the COA report says.
“Under the Revised Penal Code, if a public officer had been advanced cash and failed to account for the money, it is presumed that the money had been pocketed and put to personal use,” said Pasig City Rep. Roman Romulo, a party mate of President Aquino and Roxas in the ruling Liberal Party.
“The legal presumption is as clear as day.”
For this reason, Romulo filed House Bill 1287 that seeks to make the infraction prima facie proof of embezzlement.
Romulo was responding to a COA finding that some P10.14 billion in cash advances remain unsettled by 10 government executives, well beyond the prescribed period.
Exasperated by the brazen disregard for the law and pertinent COA orders on the timely liquidation of all advances, Romulo wants to hold the public officers instantly liable for stealing the funds obtained.
“We’ve already filed House Bill 1287, which make the infraction prima facie proof of embezzlement of the money received,” Romulo said.
“The failure to settle a cash advance will be sufficient evidence that the recipient pocketed the money unless the proof is rebutted,” Romulo added.
This means the Office of the Ombudsman may already initiate a criminal charge for malversation of funds, according to Romulo.
Depending on the amount involved, “malversation of public funds” carries the maximum penalty of life imprisonment and perpetual disqualification from public office, plus a fine equal to the sum misused.
Also under Romulo’s bill, advances in all government offices have to be liquidated within the following prescribed deadlines:
For salaries and wages – within five days after each 15th day of the month pay period;
For petty operating expenses and field operating expenses – within 20 days after the end of the year;
For special operations, and operating expenses or purchases of supplies, materials and the like in the amount exceeding P100,000 – within 20 days after completion of the operation or delivery and acceptance of supplies, materials and the like;
For local travel – within five days upon the officer’s return to official station;
For foreign travel – within 60 days upon return to official station; and
For other advances – within six months after performance of the purpose for which the advance had been granted.
Under a COA circular, a cash advance is settled either by returning the money if unspent, or by presenting vouchers, with details as to the items thereon paid, which must be in accord with the purpose for which the money was released, and further backed by proper receipts and other evidence of payment, subject to the result of a post-examination thereof by the auditor concerned.