Former Supreme Court Associate Justice and former Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales and a transparency and good governance advocate have called on the public to be more vigilant for possible corruption in the disbursement of billions of pesos in public funds intended to bankroll government’s responses to emergencies arising from coronavirus disease and devastations brought by super typhoon Rolly and typhoon Ulysses, which caused destructions in large parts of Luzon, including Metro Manila in recent weeks.
Morales warned that the COVID-19 pandemic, just like during the previous global crisis, “provide a perfect environment for corruption to flourish and that this guarantees further lost of lives, depreciation of public funds.”
“Indeed, the people should remain vigilant now more than ever,” Morales said, in her speech during the webinar held last week on “Opportunities within the COVID-crisis: Towards transparent and accountable governance” organized by Stratbase Albert del Rosario Institute.
“The people should watch closely how power wielders exercise the extended power at their disposal, on top of their vast array of already existing governmental powers. If these leaders seriously fail in their use of power and will go unpunished…,” the former Ombudsman added.
Morales made the call after Malacanang reported that the government has already released nearly P78 billion to 15 agencies for their COVID-19 pandemic response under the Bayanihan to Recover as One Act (Bayanihan 2).
In his weekly report to Congress, President Rodrigo Duterte said P76.22 billion of the released budget came from the fund allocated by the law, while some P1.75 billion are charged from the 2020 budget allocations of the respective government agencies.
Morales noted that corruption or mal-administration of public funds in times of calamity would ultimately result to sufferings of the people.
“Corruption in governance constraints will undermine the responses and will result into unsustainable lockdowns and massive economic deprivation,” the former Ombudsman said, citing a research conducted in University of London, which also “cautioned about procurement contracts, emergency food supplies and cronistic appointments in newly formed response agencies.”
The former SC magistrate also cited a United Nation report recognizing that “there is the need to urgent action to economic and social collapse but the lack of sufficient accountability and oversight mechanisms in the allocation and distribution of economic stimulus packages increases the risks of fraud” and “will weaken the impact of the measures being taken.”
For his part, Dindo Manhit, Stratbase ADRi President, lamented that transparency and accountability in the utilization of government funds are mostly likely being abandoned in the guise of “emergency powers.”
“In this time of pandemic, democratic procedures and practices are the most likely victims of emergency situations and responses that would involve the urgent allocation and release of public funds,” Manhit said.
“The lingering impact of the current health crisis on the people and the economy should not blindside us to the threat of the abandonment of democratic governance procedures and practices in the name of expediency,” he added.
According to the ADRi executive, the COVID-19 health emergency has given governments the opportunity to skip accountability measures and democratic procedures under the guise of “emergency powers.”
“We need responsive governance founded on the principles of transparency and accountability to surmount the economic and health challenges we face in the wake of the `Wuhan Virus’,” Manhit said.
He also expressed serious concern on the rising threat of fake news, misinformation campaigns, and misrepresentation in digital spaces during the COVID-19 public emergencies.
“Securing data is not only a matter of private safety, but a matter of general public security. These threats must be addressed if we are to move forward to the use of digital tools to facilitate transparency,” he said.
The P78 billion released to 15 agencies from the Bayanihan to Recover as One or Bayanihan 2 law to respond to the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) pandemic constituted 54.45 percent of the P140 billion appropriations under law.
The Department of Health received the biggest chunk of the budget at P20.57 billion for funding programs meant to mitigate the spread of Covid-19, followed by the Department of Labor and Employment with P13.1 billion for programs to help workers displaced by the pandemic, and the Department of Agriculture with P12.03 billion for its agriculture stimulus package.
Around P9.5 billion went to the Department of Transportation for interventions for the transport industry while the Department of Finance got PHP8.08 billion for the implementation of the Covid-19 Assistance to Restart Enterprises program and other lending and subsidy programs.
The Department of Social Welfare and Development received P6 billion for its Covid-19 response and recovery interventions, while the Department of the Interior and Local Government acquired P2.52 billion for the hiring and training of contact workers.
Some P2 billion pesos has been downloaded to the Department of Finance as subsidy for the payment of interest on new and existing loans secured by local government units from the Development Bank of the Philippines and Land Bank of the Philippines. DOF also acquired another PHP451 million to support the priority programs of local government units.
The Department of National Defense-Office of Civil Defense received P855.1 million for the operating requirements of Covid-19 facilities, while P820 million went to the Department of Foreign Affairs to augment its assistance to Filipinos overseas.
Philippine Sports Commission was given P180 million for the allowances of athletes and coaches while the Department of Trade and Industry secured P100 million for the Balik Probinsya program through the shared service facilities project.
The DOLE-Professional Regulation Commission received P2.5 million to implement the computer-based licensure examination.
On top of the P140-billion appropriations under Bayanihan 2, the government also released an additional PHP1.7 billion for agencies from the 2020 national budget.