Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte “joked” on Sunday about throwing a government auditor down the stairs to prevent him from doing his job.
During a meeting with Governor Imee Marcos of Ilocos Norte to coordinate their response to the devastation left behind by Super Typhoon Mangkhut, Marcos complained to Duterte that auditors from the Commission on Audit (COA) were placing caps on local government spending, hurting rescue and recovery efforts.
“Who’s from COA? Push him down the stairs so he won’t be able to file a report anymore,” Duterte responded.
Duterte’s remark was reportedly met with enthusiasm by Marcos, who clapped her hands and said, “Yes, yes!” She went on to complain that she can only file cash advances up to P15,000 ($277) for food, even amid a major natural disaster.
“We’re only allowed to request cash advances for food up to P15,000, even when there’s a calamity,” she said. “We can’t use it for roofing. We can’t request cash advances for everything else and this occurred over the weekend, which made things even more difficult, sir.”
“Don’t believe in COA’s circulars,” Duterte responded. “You know, they just do it by circular and they expect everybody to obey. Why would I care about your circular? That’s yours!”
Philippine government circulars are ordinances or decrees that curtail government behavior.
Duterte also urged Marcos to ignore a COA audit observation memorandum against Ilocos Norte, which stated the region had already exceeded the number of loan applications for monsoon rains.
“Tell him [the auditor] Duterte told him to shut up,” Duterte advised.
Super Typhoon Mangkhut has left 45 people dead and dozens more missing by triggering major landslides that have wiped out entire communities. A further 600,000 individuals are estimated to be affected by the disaster.
Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque later issued a defense of the remarks, arguing that he was simply trying to deliver the necessary humanitarian assistance to those most severely hurt by the natural disaster.
“[The context of the president’s statement] was there were so many limitations in the delivery of assistance in times of crisis,” he said at a press briefing on Monday. “The president said that since COA conducts post-audits, it should just allow the delivery of the needs of the people before addressing the numerous requirements of COA.”
“There should be no bureaucratic red tapes in the release of assistance to the public,” he continued. “The president said that if a COA circular will be violated, so be it. The buck stops with him but he will and he is enjoining and calling all government offices to give people what they need in times of calamities.”
Duterte has developed a reputation, and garnered worldwide condemnation, for outlandish and often violent remarks since assuming the presidency in 2016. Some of his most shocking remarks include suggesting human rights investigators be fed to crocodiles, urging his military to shoot female communist guerilla fighters “in the vagina,” and describing former President Barack Obama as a “son of a whore.”