Duterte ‘joke’ may have gone too far

MANILA – Was it really just a joke or was it a blatant threat for the Commission on Audit (COA) to turn a blind eye to possible cases of graft and corruption involving his administration?

Only President Rodrigo Duterte knows for sure.

Speaking in the vernacular, the president wondered aloud if kidnapping and torturing COA officials would be a good deterrent to the commission’s constant auditing of government officials.

Under the law, the COA is tasked to audit all government agencies to make sure that they are following all rules and regulations regarding spending of public funds.

Speaking before barangay officials in Pasay City on Tuesday, Jan 8, the president lambasted COA for doing its job.

He said that he was against excessive bureaucratic red tape that made it difficult to get work done in government offices.

It was not the first time that Mr. Duterte had accused COA of hindering the job of his administration. Last year, he threatened to shove a COA auditor down a flight of stairs for daring to submit a negative report against his ally, Ilocos Norte Gov. Imee Marcos.

Critics of the president had warned him on numerous occasions against making jokes that could be misinterpreted by his followers as a call to action against his perceived enemies.

Retired COA Commissioner Heidi Mendoza reminded the president that it was the commission’s job to protect the taxpayers’ money by making sure that the funds were not misspent and all public officials held accountable.

COA auditors and employees had previously expressed fears that the president’s uncalled for remarks against them exposed them to increased risk of being assaulted or worse by the public officials that they have to examine.

As with all the president’s previous questionable statements, Malacanang dismissed the supposed threats as just a joke not to be taken seriously by anyone.

The men and women of COA, however, fail to see the humor in the chief executive threatening them with bodily harm.

It is worth noting that Mr. Duterte was himself the subject of negative reports from COA during his time as mayor of Davao City.