Beyond call of duty

Published March 13, 2019, 12:14 AM

by Charissa Luci-Atienza & Bernie Cahiles-Magkilat



Grace M. Pulido Tan
Grace M. Pulido Tan

It has been more than four years since I retired from the Commission on Audit.  I have continued, however, with working on public accountability, albeit in different capacities and fora. I continue to be in the Independent Audit Advisory Committee of the United Nations General Assembly and served as chair for two consecutive years.  I am also a trustee of the International Budget Partnership based in Washington, DC.  In both, I assist the organizations in their oversight functions.  Every now and then, I also get invited to speak on the subject, or otherwise act as a resource person here and abroad.

Surely, my stint as chair of the COA and the distinct experiences and learning I acquired as such, have opened these opportunities, and I am deeply honored and thankful. Sometimes, however, I ask myself what am I doing them for, specially as they are non-remuneratory, can get quite exhausting with all the travelling involved, and take me away from the pleasures of retirement. I comfort myself with the thought that I have become an international public servant in this way, a career high that I never even aspired for.

But none of these could match sitting for a case before the Sandiganbayan, which resulted from a fraud audit report that we referred to the Ombudsman during my tenure.  I was called as a witness; I could have declined but I thought of the auditors who have been called as principal witnesses.   My testimony was in fact brief and the inconvenience so minor compared to theirs.

More than anything, I welcomed the opportunity to have been able to explain not only to the court but to everyone in the room how the COA goes about its work and how seriously it does, the rigorous demands of the audit process and the professional standards that must be followed. I think the crucial role of the COA in promoting public accountability is still obscure to many.  The audit process and methodologies are likewise little understood, if at all.  Auditors are still perceived as tormentors, if not corrupt and on the take.  This is so far from reality, the greatest and most inspiring reality I discovered while I was COA Chair.

COA auditors are generally highly competent and dedicated to duty.  While there are certainly errant and deviant ones, most of them are exemplary public servants, working silently but diligently, without fear, and beyond personal comfort.  Their responsibilities do not end with the issuance of the audit report.  As the Sandiganbayan case attests, they continue to make themselves available for hearings even long after they have completed their report.  These do not detract from their current engagements.  Neither are they provided with counsel or logistics; they have to fend for themselves and contend with the almost obligatory badgering and posturing of defense counsels during trials.

The moral courage and commitment to the Filipino people of dedicated COA auditors can never be gainsaid.  I am very proud of them, and to have been their Chair for almost four years.    For them and for country, the call to serve is beyond time and duty.  Maraming salamat, and keep up the good work.