Yolanda funds withheld

Soliman kept P799-m aid in DSWD accounts, two lawmakers affirm

THE national government did not release a single centavo for victims of typhoon Yolanda because Social Welfare Secretary Corazon Soliman resorted to “double accounting” and claimed credit for P779 million in foreign donations released by the World Food Programme, lawmakers said Sunday.

Reps. Jonathan dela Cruz of Abakada and Terry Ridon of Kabataan demanded that Soliman reveal exactly how much in government funds had been released following a report by the Commission on Audit that said the Social Welfare and Development Department had funds sitting idly in its bank accounts.

They also slammed Soliman for failing to give credit to the WFP’s effort to immediately respond to the needs of the typhoon victims.

“It was kind of rude. At the very least, Soliman should have acknowledged that the government conducted relief and rehabilitation operations ‘in partnership with the World Food Programme.’ There was no mention of WFP in her statement,” Dela Cruz said.

When Soliman did use the acronym WFP in a statement issued by the Palace, she used it to refer to the DSWD’s Work Financial Plan.

“The department explained that the cash donations were used based on the approved Work and Financial Plan (WFP),” the Palace-released statement said.

“According to the WFP, the amount was used for the Core Shelter Assistance Program, Emergency Shelter Assistance where families with totally damaged houses received P30,000 each and those with partially damaged houses got P10,000, Supplemental Feeding Program, and livelihood assistance,” the statement said.

But Dela Cruz insisted that contrary to Soliman’s claims, WFP funded even the conditional cash transfer through the DSWD’s 4Ps program.

“To avoid double accounting and for Soliman to correct her claiming credit from the prestigious World Food Programme, we demand that Soliman make a detailed and full accounting of the donated funds,” Dela Cruz said.

In its Philippines Situation Report #24 dated Feb. 27, 2014, the WFP said it released to the Yolanda-stricken areas, some $88 million in food assistance. It also shouldered some $25 million in telecommunications and $1.7 million in food security costs.

Apart from the DSWD, the WFP said it coursed funds through the Departments of Agriculture, Agrarian Reform, local government units, United Nations agencies and non-government organizations.

“As of 24 February, WFP has received contributions for the Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda) response from the following governments: Australia, Austria, Canada, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Kuwait, Liechtenstein, Luzembourg, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Republic of Korea, Russia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom and United States, as well as from the European Commission and the UN CERF fund. Additionally, millions of dollars have been received from generous private donors,” the WFP said in its report.

In contrast to the WFP’s detailed accounting, Soliman could only claim, without providing details, that all the foreign donations had been fully accounted for, Dela Cruz said.

“Where is the full accounting since even the Commission on Audit came out with a report adverse to DSWD?” Dela Cruz said.

“How come also Soliman did not mention which foreign governments donated the funds? Is it because she could not since the funds were coursed through the World Food Programme and not through her DSWD? Then it is only fair and just that the WFP be given credit for what it did for the country,” Dela Cruz said.

In the Palace-issued statement of Soliman, the DSWD clarified that it has “already fully disbursed the P779,486,400.15 local and foreign cash donations it received in December 2013 and that these are fully accounted for.”

The clarification came after news reports mentioned that an audit report of Typhoon Yolanda relief operations cited that DSWD has yet to spend the P782 million in cash donations it received from local and foreign donors.

“At the time the audit was conducted, we were still doing relief operations and were still using the Department’s existing funds and ready supplies, so much of the cash donations would really not have been really touched yet,” Soliman said, adding that the cash donations were really intended for the implementation of rehabilitation efforts based on proposals of affected local government units.

“So what did Soliman do? Reimburse the DSWD when the foreign donated funds came? So how much exactly did Soliman release for the Yolanda victims using government funds? She should face the congressional probe and explain everything,” Ridon said.

Ridon, who filed House Resolution 1492 seeking a probe of the DSWD’s performance in attending to the needs of the Yolanda victims and accounting of the “missing” funds, said 10 months after the

devastation, the national government has yet to make full accounting of the funds intended for the victims.

Dela Cruz also demanded the full accounting of the P14 billion in supplemental budget that Congress appropriated for Yolanda and other calamity-stricken areas.

In House Resolution 1492, Ridon expressed concern over the recent Commission on Audit report, which disclosed that the DSWD has failed to distribute some 128,000 cans of sardines and P69.2 million worth of bottled water.

Ridon said COA also noted that P58 million worth of supplies were wasted due to irresponsible storage.

This includes some 7,527 family food packs valued at P2.7 million, he said.

“According to the audit team, out of the P740.17 million the DSWD received, only P3.88 million was disbursed, leaving a huge balance of almost P737 million in undisbursed amounts,” Ridon said.

“Any reasonable person will be enraged by the fact that our countrymen in Eastern Visayas are going hungry while millions worth of relief goods just rot in DSWD’s storehouses,” Ridon said.

“While many typhoon victims have yet to recover from the disaster, now we find out that DSWD is withholding even the release of cash donations both from domestic and international sources,” Ridon said.

Soliman also noted, “The audit report only covered until December 2013, just a month after ‘Yolanda’. So understandably, the utilization [of the donations] will still be low.”

As of August 28, the DSWD has received a total of P1,121,890,457.41 local and foreign cash donations, the statement said.

Some 90 percent of this has already been utilized including the more than P700 million received in 2013, the Palace-issued statement said.

A portion of the balance of P117 million has already been allocated for ESA, cash-for-work in support for ESA, provision of pedicabs, warehouse rentals, and administrative expenses, the statement said.

“The Department is still also waiting for project proposals of typhoon-affected LGUs for part of the remaining balance in the donations.”

“We cannot easily transfer funds to LGUs without a clear proposal on how the budget will be used,” Soliman said.

The DSWD said the spoilage of relief in Cebu City and Isabel, Leyte was due to the goods getting wet while in transit at sea.

“These were sorted out by the Department, and those found to be unfit for human consumption were reported to COA and were subsequently disposed of,” Soliman said.

Soliman assured the public that those accountable of the incident will be held liable.

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