Her father once said to push state auditors down the stairway for red flagging him.

It would seem that the Commission on Audit is one of the handful few not afraid of Duterte vengeance. And this time they have done it again for daughter Sara when she was mayor of Davao City. It certainly was not her first time to be red-flagged.

For Sara’s last full year as Davao city mayor, the COA audited donations to the city government meant for Covid-19 pandemic relief aid. A copy of the report was sent to her on May 20, 2022, only days after she had won the elections as vice president.

For starters, a review of the definition of red flag in auditing science is in order. When auditors see a red flag, it means they have observed an unusual pattern of circumstances or anomalies that can be a sign of possible misconduct. A red flag is an alert. At the very least, and depending on the financial transactions being flagged, the concerned government office is tasked to respond by conducting due diligence on the patterns being questioned. As a rule, serial red flags are never any sign of good governance.

The COA noted that the Davao city government made adjustments to its 2021 property inventory list by twice removing some P188.814 million worth of local government property. Was it an attempt to sanitize where the money and goods had actually gone?

COA found several donated vehicles and grants and donations in kind unlisted as of Dec. 31, 2021. For instance, Sara received ten JAC vans from the Chinese embassy (no wonder she tried to greet the Chinese in Mandarin on their national day). She also received one land ambulance with medical supplies and accessories from Pitmaster Foundation Incorporated. Where did the vehicles go?

COA said the vehicles were covered with deeds of donations, yet were unrecorded in the city’s book of accounts. The response of the Davao city hall: finger-pointing among the concerned departments.

COA also noted that relief goods during the pandemic meant for health frontliners and constituents were undocumented. Neither were the expiry dates and storage maintained. Again, there was finger-pointing. The City General Services Office blamed the City Mayor’s Office and the City Social Welfare Office, saying that it was these two offices that received the donations. In short, there was a deficiency in record-keeping and transparency. The City Mayor’s Office, the COA noted, did not make disclosures about donations it received.

Red flags for Sara appear to be habitual. In 2020, state auditors also raised alarm over the city government’s inventory account balances worth P97,086,499, saying these were  “doubtful and unreliable” due to the absence of actual count and failure to submit appropriate documents to validate the recorded balances. It also found that the procurement of goods meant for pandemic relief aid in the amount of P199 million had no transaction documents.

Is being red-flagged a mark of Duterte governance? In the last year of the Rodrigo Duterte presidency in 2021, all COA red flags reached nearly every corner of his government’s bureaucracy: Health, Commission on Higher Education, Education, Labor and Employment, Foreign Affairs, Social Welfare and Development, Interior and Local Governments, Transportation, Energy, and agencies such as the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board, Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office, Presidential Communications and Operations Office. It can be said, at the very least, that the Duterte brand of governance is not exactly a crusader against graft and corruption that it packages itself to the taxpaying public.

Impact leadership in disaster response has never been the forte of Sara Duterte. Her office’s “Disaster Operation Center” announced it gave 100 sacks of rice to the victims of Typhoon “Paeng” in Laguna early this month. It will be doubly difficult for her to match her predecessor Leni Robredo who had more than ample testimonies of responding to disasters, as many local government units have attested, sans a single centavo of confidential funds. Sara’s forte is confidential funds and her militarism fetish. That cocktail makes her an unaccountable and nontransparent – and a dangerous — chief executive.


ANTONIO J. MONTALVAN II is a Mindanao anthropologist and ethnohistorian. He is a Ford Foundation scholar for the doctorate in anthropology on Mindanao Studies with the Mindanao Anthropology Consortium. Montalvan has written articles about Mindanao history and culture in academic journals.