THE Department of Education (DepEd) has accounted at least half of the P1.2 billion unliquidated cash advances, the highest figure among government agencies.

In a press conference Tuesday, DepEd Undersecretary for Legal and Legislative Affairs and concurrent Spokesperson Alberto Muyot said the department was able to account for about P653 million unliquidated cash advances.

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“As of this time, initial reports reflected that of the amount mentioned by the Ombudsman, 60 percent were already liquidated as of June 30. When Secretary Luistro came in, only P653 million remain and are being liquidated until this time,” Muyot said.

The amount includes the balance of 2008 of about P276 million plus additional amounts of cash advances carried over in 2009.

Muyot added that they received the letter from the Ombudsman, dated July 27, only on August 5 and that they have directed all responsible personnel to come up with details regarding the report.

The official said they are currently reviewing the recommendations given by the Ombudsman, one of which is withholding of salaries and money of concerned officers.

“This recommendation to withhold salaries to accountable officers and employees is already in effect at the central office. We will be implementing that in the regions as well,” he said.

He also said the DepEd will not shirk from meting punishment to any official found responsible for the mess.

He also said that they are also not ruling out the possibility of misplaced funds, adding that this will also be the focus of their probe.

“Some may have have valid reasons why the amount remains to be unliquidated. We will have to see kung ano pa yung hindi na liliquidate. Gumagalaw na tayo dito para malaman,” he said.

Despite this, he said the DepEd will be able to submit to the Ombudsman their initial findings before Friday as directed by the latter.

The DepEd has topped the government agencies with the highest unliquidated cash advances amounting to P1, 614, 449, 595.32; followed by the Commission on Election with P406, 029, 645.99; Philippine National Police with P313, 272, 983.64; Bureau of Jail Management and Penology with P18, 205, 473.04; Bureau of Immigration with P9, 883, 764.02; Department of National Defense, P6, 329, 521.34; Bureau of Customs, P392, 655.87; Philippine Ports Authority, P368, 487.67; National Police Commission, P226, 889.05, for a total unliquidated advances amounting to P2, 369, 162, 015.94.

Comelec too

Before the Office of the Ombudsman ordered to withhold the salaries of government officials who still have unliquidated cash advances, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) has been practicing it since 2008.

Comelec Chairman Jose Melo said that since he assumed office two years ago, it has been his personal mission to rid the commission with any unliquidated funds.

“We have already been withholding salaries talaga,” he said.

Comelec Spokesman James Jimenez lauded the order, saying that withholding salaries is one of the methods they implemented to ensure swift liquidation of expenses.

On Tuesday, the Ombudsman ordered nine agencies, including the Comelec, to withhold the salaries or any money due some of their accountable officers and employees following their failure to liquidate their cash advances.

Jimenez noted that they already settled previous unaccounted funds, saying that the huge amount may have been caused by the recently-concluded May 10 polls.

“We have just come through a huge election and a lot of times that (cash advance) is the most efficient way of doing things. Give cash advance to people in the field and they can make emergency purchase as the need arises,” he said.

With this, Jimenez assured that the funds of the commission are all accounted for. (AH/FP/SUnnex)