Bello not discounting 'politics' as reason behind COA-themed attacks on DOLE

Published August 19, 2021, 12:44 PM

by Ellson Quismorio

Is “politics” behind the supposed unmerited attacks against the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) in connection with findings made by the Commission on Audit (COA) in its 2020 audit report?

DOLE Secretary Silvestre Bello III speaks during the Aug. 19, 2021 virtual press briefing while under quarantine in Ilagan, Isabela. (Screengrab from Zoom meeting)

DOLE Secretary Silvestre Bello III thinks it’s a possibility, even as he emphasized that COA ultimately gave the department an “unqualified opinion” on its spendings based on the latest audit report.

“Malinis po ang galaw ng ating mga kasamahan sa DOLE, all is above level. Wala pong kalokohan yan (Our colleagues in the DOLE have clean activities, all is above level. They’re not involved in shenanigans),” Bello said in virtual press conference Wednesday, Aug. 18.

The Cabinet official went out of his way to give this assurance to the public–the presser took place as he was under quarantine in Ilagan, Isabela following a positive test result for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) over the weekend.

Despite this, DOLE-Information and Publication Service (IPS) Director Rolly Francia noted how some news reports have chosen to highlight negative yet “minor” observations of COA in the audit report.

Asked by Francia if he believes that politics had something to do with these attacks on DOLE, Bello said, “I do not discount that.”

Bello, 77, is among the favorites of President Duterte in his Cabinet. He is also being linked to a possible senatorial run in the May 2022 national elections. However, the DOLE chief has yet to say anything definitive about his plans for next year, if there are any.

He went on to explain just how telling the unqualified opinion from COA is when it comes to attesting to DOLE’s fiscal diligence. “That is the highest rating COA can certify. With all humility, yun ang lumabas (that’s what we got).”

“Every year nagkakaroon ng exit conference with COA (Every year we have an exit conference with COA). We reply to these questions like on unliquidated cash advances. Prinesenta yan ng COA and we responded, sinagot nating lahat (COA presented that to us and we responded, we addressed everything). After that, they gave us the unqualified rating,” Bello said.

“Kung hindi sila satisfied sa mga sagot natin, hindi nila gagawin yun. Ibig sabihin na satisfy natin yung mga issues raised by them (They won’t do that if they weren’t satisfied with our answers. That only means we satisfied the issues raised by them),” he further said.

Like Francia a few days earlier, Bello noted that DOLE had also received an unqualified opinion from COA in its 2019 audit report.

“Maybe we can get a third consecutive,” Bello added.