MANILA, Philippines — The state trading company Philippine International Trading Corp. (PITC) is using “a devious scheme” to illegally keep at least P1 billion in government funds instead of remitting the money to the nation’s coffers for possible spending for urgent pandemic or disaster response, according to Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon.
In a statement on Saturday, Drilon said the PITC had “shortchanged” the government by holding on to the interests generated by the money it had received from various state agencies for purchasing goods and services in violation of the Government Auditing Code of the Philippines, or Presidential Decree No. 1445.
“We are being taken for fools. What they are remitting to the government is loose change compared to the billions of pesos that they are able to rake in,” he said.
It was the latest disclosure of alleged irregularities by the PITC made by Drilon in the course of his scrutiny of the proposed P4.5-trillion national budget.
The senator earlier questioned the P33.3 billion that the PITC was also holding. That is money meant for various purchases the trading company was supposed to make on behalf of government agencies, he said.
Drilon said he had documents showing that the PITC remitted only P392,575,316.00 for interest income it had derived from fund transfers from various agencies from 2016 to 2019.
That amount is equal to only 28 percent of the total interest earnings of P1,406,727,544.00, he said.
According to Drilon, the Commission on Audit (COA) said these funds were placed in the PITC’s consumer deposits, held in various trusts and money market instruments.
The COA said that the interest earnings were recorded by the PITC as its income, he said.
According to its website, the PITC is mandated to “engage in exports, trade services and special trading arrangements” while ensuring the “most efficient and cost-effective procurement services for the government.”
Its functions also include helping stabilize price and supply of goods and services, and create “strategic alliances” that promote the sustainability of enterprises.
Auditing Code violation
When sought for comment on Drilon’s statement, Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez, who is also the PITC chair, said that he had “asked PITC to submit to the senator the reports needed.” He refused to comment further.
Drilon said the PITC’s failure to remit its interest income to the government coffers violated Section 55 of the Auditing Code, which mandates that all interest earnings from fund transfers be remitted to the national treasury.
Declaring the interest income as its earnings instead of remitting it also violated a Department of Finance (DOF) circular, he said.
“PITC, out of sheer greed or negligence, is holding on to the huge sum of public funds that could be used by the government for more urgent needs, such as [coronavirus] and calamity response,” he said.
“It’s a devious scheme. They remit funds to make it appear they are compliant but, in reality, what they remit is loose change compared to the amount that they are holding back from the government,” Drilon said.
‘Only held in trust’
According to the senator, the PITC is now acting “more like a network marketing and a money remittance agency, taking money from across the bureaucracy rather than a trading corporation, which is its primary mandate.”
Drilon said the recording of the PITC’s interest earnings as its corporate income was “illegal” and “disadvantageous to the national coffers” and “must be stopped.”
While the opposition senator conceded that the PITC charter allowed the trading firm to invest its own corporate funds, the interest income from the money coming from other agencies was a different matter as these were not the corporation’s funds.
“These are deposits from source agencies, transferred to it for a very specific purpose—for the sole purpose of purchasing various products authorized under the appropriations law,” Drilon said.
The COA has also stated that these funds from other agencies were “only held in trust” by the PITC, he said.
Any benefit derived from holding the funds or any interest from money market placements and investments “technically accrues to the fund owners,” or the concerned agencies, Drilon said.
“PITC does not have the authority or right nor the power to retain any portion of the interest income,” he said.
—With a report from Roy Stephen C. Canivel
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