Robredo camp clarifies COA had cleared hiring of ‘private’ lawyer

The camp of former vice president Leni Robredo clarified on Wednesday, July 20, that the Commission on Audit (COA) has already lifted the Notice of Disallowance on its hiring of a private lawyer a day before she stepped down from office.

Former vice president Leni Robredo (OVP photo)

“We would like to clarify that the initial finding was premised on the hiring of a lawyer as consultant without authorization from the Office of the Solicitor General as required under a pertinent COA circular,” lawyer Barry Gutierrez, Robredo’s former spokesperson, said.

“The matter was appealed by the OVP to the COA on 27 May 2022 and the appeal was granted on 29 June 2022, effectively lifting the Notice of Disallowance considering the absence of bad faith, malice or gross negligence in the transaction. It is now currently undergoing automatic review by the Commission,” he explained.

A disallowance is explained in the 2009 Revised Rules of Procedure as “the disapproval in audit of a transaction, either in whole or in part.”

This meant that those who approved the use of public funds for a disallowed government transaction must return the money.

This statement came after reports of the state auditors, now under Chairperson Jose Calida, former solicitor general during the Duterte administration, flagging the Office of the Vice President (OVP) for illegally hiring a private lawyer as a legal consultant.

READ: COA flags OVP for hiring private lawyers

The report said that the OVP violated COA rules because it lacked clearance from the state auditors and the solicitor general, so those who approved the payments from January 2020 to July 2021 should be held liable.

But Gutierrez explained that in the appeal, the OVP stressed that the lawyer worked primarily as a consultant engaged in being a key advisor on policy matters and not as a lawyer.

This should not be covered by the COA circular, he added.

“Upon assumption of VP Robredo in 2016, a written request was already made to the Office of the President (OP) to establish positions for a core group of policy advisers, including the consultant in question. OP never acted on the request,” the former spokesperson said.

The OVP, under Robredo, received an unqualified opinion from the state auditors for four straight years until she left office. This is the highest audit rating given to a government office, and it means that the OVP’s financial statements are prepared according to accounting standards.