DSWD under fire for ‘irregularities’
TACLOBAN CITY—Truckloads of food aid that had gone bad was buried in an open dump in Barangay San Jose on Feb. 5 and March 6, a municipal officer of Palo, Leyte, admitted Monday.
Municipal Social Welfare and Development Officer Nina Balderas said biscuits, cupcakes, canned goods and rice were declared unfit for human consumption and were buried after they began to smell. Even used clothing was dumped, she said.
Residents said the food aid was buried in haste in a remote village that could be reached only through an unpaved road.
“It was raining almost every day here in Leyte, and when these goods were delivered to us, the entire shipment was drenched in rainwater, so that even the canned goods were spoiled,” Balderas said.
Balderas also said some of the goods were already about to expire when they were delivered.
But the residents near the dump said that they suspected some irregularity because of the haste with which the goods were buried.
Barangay San Jose Councilman Eubejeldo Amolo, who lives near the dumpsite, said that last Thursday, March 6, he saw two garbage trucks of the municipality of Palo dumping sacks of rice and assorted goods in a pit. A bulldozer immediately filled in the pit.
This was the second time food aid was buried by the municipality of Palo, he said. The first was some time in February.
After the garbage trucks left, residents near the dumpsite dug up the discarded goods and brought them home. Some said that they will feed it to their dogs, hogs and chickens while others said that there are items they salvaged that could still be eaten.
Baldersas said relief good remained stacked in their office because those allocated to specific barangays had not yet been claimed by their barangay chairmen.
Palo, Leyte, 18 kilometers north of Tacloban, was one of the hardest hit by super typhoon Yolanda with more than 1,000 reported dead and more than 200 still missing.
Meanwhile, residents of Tacloban who received a 25k-kilo pack rice from the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) complained that it was 5kg lighter.
Mark Simbajon, secretary general of Alyansa han mga Biktima han Bagyo Yolanda ha Tacloban (ABBAT), said upon hearing the complaint, his group launched an investigation to find the truth.
The group went to Barangay 65, Paseo de Legaspi and weighed the still-sealed sacks of rice.
“After three repitions, one weighed close to 20kg, one a gram above 20kg, and one with 21kg, but none weighed 25kg,” Simbajon said.
The DSWD also came under fire at the House, where members of the independent minority accused Secretary Corazon Soliman of bribing Yolanda survivors with P1,200 in cash grants in exchange for “favorable feedback” about her department’s relief and rehabilitation operations.
“We caution the government against resorting to bribery to solicit favorable feedback. They should do their job without asking for anything in return,” Leyte Rep. Ferdinand Martin Romualdez, leader of the bloc, told a news conference.
Manila Standard repeatedly tried to contact Soliman, presidential spokesmen Edwin Lacierda and Herminio Coloma Jr. for comment, but only Coloma replied.
“Secretary Soliman categorically states that there is no such solicitation or offer being done by the DSWD. Hence, DSWD urges citizens to report impostors so that this anomaly may be stopped. DSWD continues to perform its duties in accordance with its mandate and the President’s guidance,” he said in a text message.
Bagong Alyansang Makabayan secretary general Renato Reyes said Soliman had invited the Yolanda survivors, led by officials of the People Surge, for a dialogue to clear the air on March 12, 4 p.m. at the Department of Social Welfare Office.
Reyes said Soliman sought an audience with the People Surge after the members complained that they were being compelled to sign a petition drafted by DSWD, commending Soliman for doing a “good job.”
“After she had repeatedly snobbed the plea of the People Surge and berated them for coming to Manila instead of using the money to look for livelihood in Tacloban, Soliman had the nerve to make the survivors sign a self-serving petition,” Reyes said.
Reyes said the Yolanda survivors vehemently refused to sign the petition because it was the “opposite of what is actually happening on the ground.”
“The petition was commending Soliman and it says that Soliman and the DSWD were taking care of the survivors and that they were doing their best to uplift their plight and help them recover from the onslaught of Yolanda,” Reyes told the Manila Standard.
Romualdez said he hoped the reports about Soliman were untrue, as these would add insult to injury.
From the Palace, Lacierda said the government will soon launch version 2.0 of its Foreign Aid Transparency Hub website to allow the public to track where international donations went.
Many have observed that the FAiTH website was not as transparent as the government promised it would be as it did not contain an accounting of the billions of pesos of foreign aid, both cash and non-cash, that have entered the country.
“If you look at the FAiTH website, a bulk of the pledges of assistance has not gone to government. We need to also know how many of the pledges have been converted to actual donation,” Lacierda said.
“We will also track those that went to multilateral organizations. The impression is that all the P23 billion went through government and that is not true,” he added.
The Aquino administration has so far received P643.2 million in cash from foreign donors, representing about 21 percent of the P3.08 billion cash pledge made by various international donors.
This has prompted presidential assistant for rehabilitation and recovery Panfilo Lacson to appeal to foreign governments to make good of their promise.
The FAiTH website showed that the total aid pledged has now reached P24.636 billion.
Of the amount, P21.55 billion were in non-cash donations, but there was no information available how much of these have actually been turned over by foreign donors.
While Lacson’s office does not have anything to do with relief pledges, he said the PARR is now in the process of collating data on pledges for reconstruction and rehabilitation.
“We have been continuously collating all the resources poured in by all stakeholders—multilaterals, bilaterals, private sector, non-government organizations, among others—and where these resources went,” Lacson said.
“Right now we have substantial albeit incomplete data,” he added.
All foreign donations coursed through the government have to be examined by the Commission on Audit.
Donations through independent organizations and the private sector, however, are not subject to COA audit. With Christine F. Herrera and Joyce Pangco Pañares
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