The COVID-19 pandemic has brought heightened uncertainty over the economy, employment, finances, relationships, physical and mental health. During these difficult times, accountants across the country took up the challenge of continuing to be the guardians of our economy amidst the "new normal," and RISING up in solidarity to participate and update their accounting knowledge and skills during the first ever virtual 2020 Accountancy Week Celebration (AWC) that was held from 12 to 18 July 2020.

This year's theme, “Filipino CPAs RISING in Solidarity Amidst Challenging Times," focuses on solidarity within the profession as the impact of the pandemic greatly affects not only the accounting practice but also other professions as well as the economy of the country.

During the virtual opening program of the AWC, Commissioner Roland C. Pondoc said that the week-long event highlights the value and contribution of Filipino CPAs in nation-building. He said the activities set for the week aims to show support of solidarity to the continuing commitment of the accounting professionals in both government and private sectors to be more relevant during the changing and challenging times. The Commissioner said that CPAs should attend the programs and webinars scheduled for the AWC to be updated and informed of what will be the proper approaches to face the challenges that the new normal brings to the accountancy profession.

"Remember that as long as we have that HOPE in our hearts, we can RISE above these challenging times and be able to continue our mission as a professional organization, because together as one, we shall all prevail," Commissioner Pondoc declared.

The AWC continued with the Government Association of Certified Public Accountants (GACPA) Day program and webinar that was held virtually through Zoom and Facebook Live on 16 July 2020.

In his inspirational message, Hon. Noe G. Quiñanola, Chairperson, PR Board of Accountancy said he is surprised and happy to know that many CPAs from other sectors joined the GACPA event which is a manifestation that accountants value the accounting profession. He encouraged everyone to guard the accounting profession against threats or elements and challenged all CPAs to subscribe to the tagline: "A strong accountancy profession begins with me."

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Ensuring transparency and accountability without creating a bottleneck in the government’s response to the current pandemic is one of the challenges discussed in the webinar on the “Role of the COA in the Philippine Government’s Response to COVID-19: Emergency and Post-Emergency Phases” conducted by the Commission on Audit (COA) Regional Office No. IX on 9 July 2020. The webinar was also broadcasted on Facebook Live.

COA Commissioner Roland C. Pondoc was the resource person at the webinar which was attended by 344 participants from COA Regional Office No. IX led by Director Visitacion Q. Mendoza.

“There will be adjustments in our normal audit practices and I hope we will be able to identify the important points that we need to consider to continue our functions and roles as employees of COA,” Commissioner Pondoc said. “We need to transition through unique challenges to ensure continued transparency and accountability without becoming a bottleneck,” he added.

Commissioner Pondoc noted some key principles during the emergency stage including prioritizing safety of people, frontliners, audit and auditee staff; taking advantage of digital audit technology to continue audit operations remotely; securing audit trails on COVID-19 through monitoring, documenting and analyzing government responses; and maintaining effective communication with key stakeholders, among others.

For the post-emergency stage, Commissioner Pondoc suggested using professional judgment to contextualize conclusions to the COVID-19 emergency and developing approaches for expenditures from blended funding sources, among other principles. Considerations in the post-emergency stage also include government high-priority programs in terms of materiality and risks such as social ameliorations, stimulus package and distribution of medical and food supplies and challenges such as missing audit trails, limited access to data and onsite physical verification and alternate procedures or solutions.

The Commissioner also observed audit of procurement should align with actions taken during the COVID 19 emergency, noting that the risk of fraud is always present but is elevated during emergency cases. He also emphasized the need for coordination with accountability agencies.

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Commissioner Roland C. Pondoc of the Commission on Audit (COA) joined Fiscal Year 2020-2021 National President Mr. Lope L. Bato, Jr. along with the new officers and National Board of Directors in the Philippine Institute of Certified Public Accountants (PICPA) virtual turn-over and induction ceremony last 3 July 2020.

Taking his oath of office together with the other officers, Commissioner Pondoc is now PICPA's new Vice President - Government Sector and Senior Director - Southern Mindanao Region. The Honorable Cabinet Secretary Karlo Alexei B. Nograles served as the inducting officer for this event.

Other key officers of PICPA are Ms. Marydith C, Miguel, Executive Vice President; Ms. Gladeys Jill A. Santos-Cua, VP for Operations; Atty. Rheneir P. Mora, VP for Commerce & Industry; Ms. Milagros C. Cardona, VP for Education; Mr. Michael C. Gallego, VP for Public Practice; Ms. Estelita C. Aguirre, Executive Director; Ms. Anna Lissa C. Dycaico, Secretary; and Ms. Ma. Teresita Z. Dimaculangan, Treasurer. All the members of the national board, presidential advisers, board of trustees of PICPA Foundation, committee chairpersons, vice-chairpersons and members, regional sectoral representatives, and chapter presidents were likewise inducted.

Meanwhile, Commissioner Pondoc also had the honor of introducing President Rodrigo R. Duterte as one of the Keynote Speakers during the virtual ceremony.

"Maayong hapon sa atong tanan. Ladies and gentlemen, good afternoon. I have the high privilege and distinct honor of introducing to you our keynote speaker this afternoon. The President of the Republic of the Philippines, Mayor-President Rodrigo Roa Duterte," Commissioner Pondoc proudly declared.

In his speech, President Duterte wished the organization and the officers a meaningful event and took the opportunity to commend the CPAs for their critical role in accelerating the country's economic growth.

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The Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) expressed its gratitude to the Commission on Audit (COA) and its Chairperson, Atty. Michael G. Aguinaldo, for extending the relaxation of its auditing rule to expedite the release of the funds for the second tranche of the Social Amelioration Program - Emergency Subsidy Program (SAP-EAP) to aid those greatly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

In its press statement posted on their website last 30 May 2020, the DSWD thanked the Commission for granting the agency’s request to extend the relaxing of the rule under COA Circular No. 2016-002 requiring a “Certification by the Accountant that the funds previously transferred to the Implementing Agency has been liquidated and accounted for in the books, as a prerequisite to the succeeding release of funds” specific to the DSWD’s request and for the duration of the present crisis.

The DSWD specifically asked to relax the rule requiring the submission of liquidation reports by the implementing agency prior to the subsequent transfer of funds in order for the DSWD to proceed with the distribution of the second tranche of the SAP-EAP to eligible beneficiaries.

“Nagpapasalamat ang DSWD sa sambayanang Pilipino, sa inyong pagtitiwala sa lahat ng ahensya ng pamahalaan na nakikipaglaban para sa kabutihan ng bawat pamilya sa panahon ng pandemiyong COVID-19,” the DSWD said of the COA.

The Commission allowed the DSWD to rely on a signed Sangguniang Barangay Resolution or a Barangay Council Resolution attesting that the identified beneficiaries are eligible and qualified under DSWD-DOLE-DTI-DA-DOF-DBM-DILG JMC No. 1 and DSWD MC No. 09-2020 in lieu of the liquidation report.

However, all Local Chief Executives must submit their duly accomplished completed full liquidation reports within three months from the lifting of the declaration of the State of Calamity. COA also said that the actual transfer of funds to the local government units and disbursements shall be subject to regular post audit The Commission also reminded the DSWD to submit the reports required by oversight agencies, including the budget and financial accountability reports to the Department of Budget and Management and to the COA. 

The Philippines ranked tenth (10th) out of 117 countries for budget transparency according to results of the 2019 Open Budget Survey (OBS) conducted by the International Budget Partnership (IBP). The country garnered a score of 76 in the area of budget transparency.

The country also scored high in audit oversight with 89 points. Audit oversight together with legislative oversight form one of the areas assessed by the OBS.

The IBP said the OBS is the world’s only independent and comparative measure of fiscal transparency, public participation, and oversight at the central government level. The OBS evaluates three areas: public access to relevant information on key budget documents, public participation in the budget process, and assurance of budget oversight by independent legislatures and audit institutions.

New Zealand and South Africa were joint first place with a budget transparency score of 87, followed by Sweden (86), Mexico (82), Georgia (81), Brazil (81), Norway (80), and Australia (79), with the United States and Peru also scoring 76.

The Philippines also scored the highest in Southeast Asia for budget transparency and also scored higher than other Asian countries such as Japan (62) and South Korea (62).

The OBS said the legislature and the Supreme Audit Institution (SAI) in the Philippines provided adequate budget oversight with a composite score of 74. Individually, the audit oversight scored 89 while the legislative oversight scored 67.

The IBP said SAIs verify the accuracy and reliability of public accounts, ensure that public funds are spent according to the law and warrant the efficiency and effectivity of public spending. The IBP also noted the role of auditors in ensuring that relevant institutions take requisite action on audit findings and remedy issues identified in audit recommendations.

The country’s Citizen Participatory Audit was given special mention as an example of proactive engagement of the public. “The Citizen Participatory Audits practiced in the Philippines, where citizens and CSOs jointly conduct audits along with the Commission on Audit, is an example of another emerging practice that directly involves program beneficiaries in audit investigations,” the OBS said.

In terms of public participation in the budget process, the country scored 31 which is significantly above the global average score of 14.