The last major structure along Commonwealth Avenue is the Commission on Audit (COA) Central Office Complex, before the road stretches on for kilometers with residential and business establishments of the Novaliches distinct of Quezon City. The COA is the government agency tasked to examine, audit and settle all accounts and expenditures of the funds and properties of the Philippine Government.
First established as the General Auditing Office (GAO), in 1935, the changed its name to the COA in 1973, along with a transfer of homes from Manila to Quezon City. The COA was first housed at the Quezon City Hall, while the building complex was being constructed. Completed in 1977, the COA Complex is a quietly a cornucopia of Philippine art, which is only hinted by the 1977 COA Monument at the front garden, by the National Artist for Sculpture, Napoleon Abueva.
Napoleón Isabelo “Billy” Veloso Abueva (1930-2018) studied at the U.P. School of Fine Arts, under National Artist, Guillermo Estrella Tolentino (1890-1976), who was then the director of the school. Although trained in the classical style of sculpting, Abueva broke from its mold and began experimenting on modernist styles and techniques. Soon he became known as and Godfather of Philippine Modern Sculpture. Aside from the many historical monuments that are found all over the Philippines, Abueva has also been commissioned to create sculptures around the world. In his youth, he was awarded the Ten Outstanding Young Men of the Philippines (TOYM) award; which would herald more awards and distinctions in his life. He was proclaimed National Artist for Sculpture in 1976, making him the youngest recipient of this distinction. And just like his mentor, Abueva also served as dean of the U.P. College of Fine Arts.
Behind the main building is the wide parking area, which is named the Auditor General Pedro M. Gimenez Plaza, after the 1957-1965 Auditor General and Masonic Grand Master, Pedro M. Gimenez (1895-1970). At the far end of the plaza is the COA Green Park, which was established in 2007 as means for the COA to promote an environmental consciousness among its employees and visitors.
However, before anyone enters the COA Green Park, a statue of the 320 BC Greek philosopher, Diogenes, greets the visitor. Known as a cynic who lived an austere life, the statue of Diogenes is meant to remind the employees of the COA to life and work with the uncompromising principles, and a “zeal for exposing vice and conceit among and stirring men to reform”.
At the entrance of the main building of the COA is flanked by two marble walls with speeches of President Ferdinand Marcos etched on the walls. These speeches: “State Auditing, An Indispensible Tool of Government” and “We Must Get the Full Value for Our Money” were delivered during his Keynote Address during the 11th INTOSAI (International Organization of Supreme Audit Institutions) Congress, held in Manila, in 1983.
At the right side of the COA lobby is a large brass scroll, in which the constitutional provisions of the COA are stated. Flanking the brass plaque are two 1980 wooden reliefs by Manuel Baldemor, where he depicts “Mangingisda” (Fishermen) and “Higantes Festival”, all cultural expressions of his adopted hometown of Angono.
Manuel Dalao Baldemor (1947) is a painter and sculptor from the wood carver’s town of Paete, Laguna Province. Baldemor took his fine arts studies at the University of Santo Tomas (UST), while working in various business, including the Philippine Graphic publication as an editorial cartoonist. Baldemor took inspiration of his home town, painting colorfully abstracted images of the rural life, which soon won him awards in various competitions. Soon Baldemor was experiment on printmaking as well as using elements of the traditional Paete taka (papier maché) into his artworks. Soon he was representing the Philippines in many international expositions; such as the 2004 10th Asian Biennale in Bangladesh, the 1994 Internationale Austausch Ateliers Region Basel in Switzerland, and the 1989 First ASEAN Symposium on Aesthetics in Malaysia. Baldemor’s colorful and joyous paintings have been a constant in the UNICEF cards. In 1992, Baldemor was awarded the Thirteen Artists honor by the Cultural Center of the Philippines.
At the end of the COA lobby is a 1979 mural celebrating the “History of the Commission on Audit”, by the classicist master, Carlos Valino Jr.
Carlos Perez Valino Jr. (1930s-2008) is a noted classical painter of historical scenes, as well as his illustrations of various books and publications. Valino started teaching at the U.P. School of Fine arts in 1958, and even served as the College Secretary from 1965 to 1969. He retired from teaching in 1991, and continued his pursuits in painting and illustration, until his death in 2008.
Behind the COA main building is another wide garden foyer, which leads to the COA Information Technology Center (built in 1990) and the north wing, which was renamed the Mathay Hall, after First Acting COA Chairman (1974-1975), Budget and Finance Commissioner for the War Cabinet (1944-45) and Secretary of the Budget (1945-46), Ismael Mathay Sr.
Exploring the artworks around the COA complex and its lobby is just scratching the surface of the COA collection. Former First Lady, Imelda R. Marcos, invested a great amount of money in making the COA a place of business and cultural appreciation, as there are close to a hundred artworks found throughout the COA complex. The next article explores the lobbies of the 2nd, 3rd and 4th floors, viewing the artworks in these areas. I was only allowed to document the artworks in the public areas of the COA complex, and not the paintings in display in the offices, as these are no longer public spaces.