COA and Ombudsman, not Comelec, could sanction ‘epal’ gov’t officials — election lawyer

By , on May 29, 2015

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MANILA — An election lawyer has said that if the Commission on Elections (Comelec) cannot sanction incumbent government officials who are promoting themselves on television, radio and print media through advertisement, the Commission on Audit (COA) and the Office of the Ombudsman could go after them.

In a statement, Atty. Romulo Macalintal said that cases could be filed against these politicians under Section 3(g) of Republic Act No. 3019[1] for “entering into contracts or transactions that are manifestly and grossly disadvantageous to the government.”

“Epal” is a derogatory reference to public officials who advertise themselves using government projects.

“For there is evident bad faith committed by these public officials in using public funds for such transactions since there is no benefit that could be derived by the people from the millions of pesos spent for the said advertisements which are clearly intended only to promote the images of these officials for election purposes,” Macalintal said.

Earlier, Comelec Chairman Andres Bautista asked “civil society groups and poll watchdogs to help sway the voting public against ‘epal’ candidates.”

With this, he urged these groups to file cases against those who are taking advantage of their positions.

“These groups could start by filing cases against ‘epals’ in the government before the COA and the Ombudsman,” Macalintal said.

He noted that Section 3(c) of R.A. 3019 also prohibits public officers from performing official duties in “evident bad faith” which cause “undue injury to the government.”

Likewise, Presidential Decree 1445 or the State Audit Code of the Philippines declares that “all resources of the government shall be safeguarded against loss or waste through illegal or improper disposition” and that COA is mandated to prevent and disallow the “irregular, unnecessary, excessive, or extravagant or unconscionable expenditure” of public funds as provided under COA Circular No. 85-55-A dated Sept. 8, 1985.

Macalintal also cited a decision of the Supreme Court, which ruled that “unnecessary” expenditures are those which are “not dictated by the demands of good government” or such expenses that “could be dispensed with without loss or damage to property.”

The Court also ruled that “extravagant” expenditures are those “incurred without restraint, judiciousness and economy and exceed the bounds of propriety.”

“Surely, such unconscionable expenses exceeded the bounds of propriety as they are unnecessary and could be dispensed with because, even without them, the operation of their respective offices will not be paralyzed,” he said.

Macalintal added, “Thus, it would not be difficult to pursue such cases against these ‘epal’ officials since the facts could not be disputed in that the transactions are grossly and manifestly disadvantageous to the government because the funds were irregularly, unnecessarily and unconscionably used to the advantage of these government officials who are eyeing elective posts in the 2016 elections.”