DAGUPAN CITY – Residents of Dagupan are demanding for accountability and good governance from local government officials. With elections just a few days ahead, they are resolute to choose leaders of proven integrity who will prioritize the well-being of every Dagupan constituent.

The call was made by concerned residents after the previous city administration under Mayor Belen Fernandez reportedly failed to explain questionable transactions disclosed by the Commission on Audit (COA) in their Annual Audit Reports during her term.  Fernandez served as city mayor from 2013-2019.

COA flagged several issues on their Annual Audit Report for the city government of Dagupan in 2017 and 2018 which became the subject of Notices of Disallowance.

According to the report, the city government hired two retired government employees without observance of the one year statutory ban as stipulated in the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards on Government Officials and Employees. A total of P398,410.00 was reportedly disallowed in connection with the hiring.

The city government also reportedly hired six private lawyers as legal consultants despite the existence of the City Legal Office as mandated in the Local Government Code. The hiring violated COA Circular No. 98-02 and was done without written conformity and acquiescence of the Office of the Solicitor General and written concurrence of COA. This act by the city government exacted P1,146,775.00 from the city treasury paid as legal fees which were disallowed in the COA report.

COA also disallowed expenditures amounting to P819,221.00 in relation to the city’s Animal Bite Program due to the absence of the required disbursement vouchers and supporting documents.   Another irregularity discovered by COA which resulted in the disallowance of P162,211 involved the city’s scholarship grants. Funds were disbursed to 17 scholars with failing grades for two or more subjects, in violation of Resolution No. 1-2017 establishing the policies and guidelines on city’s Scholarship Program.  P150,705.26 was also disallowed by COA as terminal leave pay due to erroneous computation of total leave credits by the city’s Human Resource Management Office.

According to its 2017 Annual Audit Report Executive Summary, COA concluded that the accuracy and reliability of the Property, Plant, and Equipment (PPE) account, with a net booked value of P1,062,402,466.93 in the books as of December 31, 2017 cannot be ascertained since the city government of Dagupan failed to do a physical inventory of such. The same concern was again pointed out by COA in 2018 despite an earlier recommendation to the local government on how to address the problem.

Another allegedly anomalous transaction was discovered by COA involving the hiring of 60 security guards from CGS3 Security Agency Inc. who were listed as Job Order employees with salaries amounting to P6,480,000.00. The hiring reportedly circumvented the prescribed procurement process to directly hire the said security personnel through competitive bidding, as provided by Sec. 10 of the Revised Implementing Rules and Regulations of Republic Act No. 9184. Moreover, the city government failed to justify the hiring of 77 individual consultants in 2018 of which 40 of them failed to submit their credentials and/or eligibilities.

Dagupeños are also taking to task the previous city officials for the construction of a three-storey evacuation center with roof deck on a donated property encumbered with a government bank amounting to P8,388,000.00. Construction of the evacuation at Barangay Pugaro cost the city government P5,642,561.00. The Deed of Donation failed to reveal that the subject parcel of land for donation is encumbered and does not contain any provision as to who shall be liable for the lien thereof.  Stakeholders are alarmed that if the issue of liability remains unsettled, taxpayers’ money used in the construction may be wasted.

Another issue against the administration of former Mayor Belen Fernandez was the procurement of 3,600 business plates amounting to P360,000.00  in the last quarter of 2018. Business plates issued by local government units bear the year, the picture and name of the respective incumbent local government chief.  But local governments must exercise prudence in the procurement especially as these are time-bound. Business plates are replaced after three years.

The said business plates were deemed obsolete and could no longer be used since former Mayor Belen Fernandez lost in the 2019 elections.

According to the COA Audit Report for the period, the bulk of issuances of business plates in Dagupan was in 2017. In the succeeding years, 2018 and 2019, most of the business establishments did not renew their business plates because these would expire in 2020 and in anticipation of the local elections in May 2019. The local government should have been judicious on the procurement and took into consideration the unpredictability of election outcomes that could affect the appearance of the business plates.

As Filipinos cast their votes on May 9, they are hopeful that those who will be elected into office will take to heart the guiding principle that government is for the people. They must be exemplars of public service.

For Dagupeños, their local government officials must adhere to this principle. They must be trustworthy, transparent and accountable to their constituents.