Ombudsman: DBM violated Constitution by withholding COA funds

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Ombudsman Samuel Martires on Monday urged the Commission on Audit (COA) to file a case against the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) after it withheld the release of the state auditor’s P173 million funding for capital outlay.

Under the Constitution, the executive department is not allowed to withhold funding from COA and other constitutional bodies as they are entitled to fiscal autonomy.

“I don’t want to say some bad words against the Department of Budget and Management, but I think it has gravely abused its discretion amounting to what we always say lack of jurisdiction,” Martires said as during a Senate hearing on the budget proposals of COA and the Office of the Ombudsman.

“It created an undue injury not only to the agency but to the Filipino people… If it will affect the work of the Commission on Audit, the DBM is liable for that,” he said.

“If I were in the place of COA chair [Michael] Aguinaldo, I would have filed a case against the DBM secretary or any personnel involved in the non-release of P173 million,” he said.

The COA chief earlier conceded that the non-release of a portion of their budget was “a violation of fiscal autonomy under the Constitution,” but noted that the agency does not plan to urge the DBM to reinstate their funding.

“Ginive up na natin considering the difficulties the government has in the funding of the pandemic,” Aguinaldo said.

“We’re okay with that decision because we understand the difficulties but we agree with you, it is a violation of the constitution,” he told Sen. Panfilo Lacson, who first raised the issue during the budget hearing.

Budget Secretary Wendel Avisado had an explanation for this supposed violation. He said that the P173 million was “not included as part of the pooled savings under Bayanihan 1,” and was actually a a Congress-introduced adjustment. This makes the amount classified for later release because such budget changes are “subject to approval of the President,” Avisado told reporters.

“It is still available and not included as part of the pooled savings under Bayanihan 1,” he said.

“As of now, there is yet no Special Budget Request (SBR) received by DBM for the following projects… As soon as we receive the SBR, we will immediately forward the same to Office of the President for approval,” he said.

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