SC upholds confidentiality of COA’s notices of disallowance

Published February 13, 2021, 12:21 PM

by Rey Panaligan 

The notices of disallowance (NDs) issued by the Commission on Audit (COA) are confidential documents and cannot be released to anyone without justifiable grounds despite the government’s policy of full public disclosure and the citizens’ right to information.

Supreme Court (SC) (MANILA BULLETIN)

The Supreme Court (SC), in a resolution released last Monday, Feb. 8, said the confidentiality of NDs is provided for under COA Circular No. 2011-06.

The circular provides that “except as to the status of cases, no information as to the action and/or the probable disposition or decision of any case pending adjudication before any office of this Commission shall be disclosed to any person.”

It also provides that “violation shall be the subject of administrative sanction provided under existing Civil Service Laws.”

The SC said the “purpose (of the circular) is to preserve and protect the information contained in the record of cases pending adjudication before COA.”

Also, the SC said under COA’s Revised Rules of Procedure, “notices of disallowance may be released only to the parties having direct material interest, namely, the auditor, the head of the agency, and. the officials directly affected by said notices.”

With its ruling, the SC dismissed the petition of Greco Antonious Beda B. Belgica, now commissioner of the Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission (PACC), and three other persons who wanted to compel COA to issue NDs on the P6.15 billion Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) subject of the 2007 to 2009 COA audit.

Belgica,  Reuben M. Abante, Jose L. Gonzales, and Quintin Paredes San Diego also asked the SC to direct then COA Chairperson Maria Gracia Pulito Tan to give them copies of the NDs on PDAF.

They said they reminded Tan of her commitment to issue NDs in their letter dated Dec. 12, 2013.

But they said they did not get a response and thus, Tan and other COA officials’ “neglect of their public duties constitutes a serious breach of the mandate of the COA under the Constitution, the Revised Administrative Code, as well the 2009 Revised Rules of Procedure of the COA, as well as the public right of the petitioners.”

In their comment, Tan and Susan P. Garcia of COA’s special audit office, told the SC the commission respondent to Belgica and his group’s letter in a reply letter dated Jan. 20, 2014.

The two also said that the NDs on PDAF had also been issued but the request for copies cannot be granted as a matter of policy and in consideration of the right of the parties to appeal.

In their answer to Tan and Garcia’s comment, Belgica and his group reinforced their plea to get copies by invoking “the State’s policy of full public disclosure” and ‘the people’s right to information on matters of public concern.”

In denying Belgica and his group’s petition, the SC said:

“Here, petitioners (Belgica and his group) failed to show how respondents (Tan and Garcia) neglected their duties. As manifested by respondents, COA has already issued notices of disallowance, covering almost 50 per cent of the PDAF involved, as early as six months prior to the filing of the Petition.

“At the time that respondents filed their Comment, COA was in the process of issuing the remaining notices. Respondents should not be faulted based on petitioner Belgica’ s mistaken belief that respondent Pulido-Tan never responded to his letter following his failure to check his mailbox. 

“Further, petitioners failed to establish any clear legal right to be furnished with copies of the notices of disallowance. Section 6, Rule IV of the 2009 Revised Rules of Procedure of the COA provides that notices of disallowance may be released only to the parties having direct material interest, namely, the auditor, the head of the agency, and. the officials directly affected by said notices.

“Notices of disallowance are likewise confidential pursuant to COA Circular No. 2011-06,”