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Where did the cash aid go?

"Take this case, for example."

 

Rodrigo Duterte ran for the presidency in 2016 on an anti-drug and anti-corruption platform. While the administration can claim some measure of success in the campaign against narcotics in the past five years in the number of drug suspects neutralized and arrested and the drug haul running into billions of pesos worth, it’s the drive against corruption that appears to have achieved far less salutary results. 

This has prompted Duterte to admit, not just once, that wrongdoing and irregularities in government are too ingrained and too widespread as to be well-nigh impossible to eradicate, nor even to just reduce in intensity and scope.  

With the government decision to provide financial assistance to those who have lost their jobs or suffered economic difficulties due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Duterte has emphasized that he would not tolerate any shenanigans on the distribution—or non-distribution—of the multi-billion pesos worth of ayuda to distressed families under the Social Amelioration Program (SAP).

Duterte had earlier warned on TV that erring public officials involved in the misuse of  SAP funds would be dismissed outright if found guilty by the Office of the Ombudsman and automatically suspended while their cases are being heard.   

But it seems that the Chief Executive’s stern warning has gone unheeded by certain public officials.  

Take the case of Iriga City Mayor Madelaine Alfelor, who is now facing over 16 criminal, civil and administrative cases before the Office of the Ombudsman and the regional trial court (RTC) involving  the alleged misuse of some P397 million in public funds, including the SAP subsidies.

Many in Iriga and the rest of Camarines Sur are said to be wondering why despite the graft charges against her over the past two years, the mayor continues to hold office in City Hall as she has not been suspended up to now by the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG).

The charges against her, mostly lodged before the Office of the Ombudsman, involve several complaints for malversation of public funds and violations of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act. Many of these cases pertain to anomalies in the release of ayuda or cash grants to unqualified recipients under the national government’s  SAP.

The Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) of the Philippine National  Police (PNP) has filed  criminal and administrative  complaints against Alfelor and other respondents before the Office of the Ombudsman for violations of  the  Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act and the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act (Bayanihan I) for disbursing SAP funds  to unqualified beneficiaries.

At a hearing last year by the House committee on good government then chaired by Rep. Jose Antonio Sy-Alvarado, at least three witnesses admitted to probers that it was the mayor herself who had handed out the cash subsidy (P5,000) to each one of them, with one witness telling the committee that the mayor confided to her that it was a “secret” grant.

Apart from the case filed by the PNP-CIDG against the mayor  for  distributing the SAP cash grants to unqualified individuals, Alfelor is also facing an administrative complaint before the Office of the Ombudsman for  obtaining a P275-million loan from the Land Bank of the Philippines (LandBank) to build an amusement park with a huge ferris wheel at a time when mobility restrictions continue to be imposed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Alfelor is said to have ignored two Sangguniang Panlalawigan resolutions against this questionable initiative and proceeded to obtain a bank loan to finance the project, when the money could have been better used for Iriga City’s Covid-19 medical response efforts or for providing financial assistance to pandemic-hit households and businesses in dire need of government assistance.

She is also facing criminal and administrative complaints before the Office of the Ombudsman for malversation and graft involving P32.84 million in unliquidated cash advances, and another set of complaints involving  P27.89 million.

The Ombudsman will also investigate a graft complaint against her and several other respondents for procuring P13.51 million-worth of seedlings without competitive bidding, and for undocumented procurement transactions totaling P17.25 million.

Moreover, Alfelor has also been charged with malversation and graft for releasing scholarship funds amounting to P2.78 million to only one beneficiary.

The other charges against Alfelor involve P14.19 million in unsupported/undocumented advances to contractors; entering into a memorandum of agreement with the national basketball league where she bound the city to pay an P800,000 participation fee and paid a P50,000 bond without the knowledge and consent of the Sangguniang Panlungsod of Iriga city; the non-release of P6.48 million each to Barangays San Antonio and La Medalla as their legitimate share in the real property tax; the unlawful appointments and compensation to unqualified personnel; and an invalid expropriation case.

Alfelor has stoutly denied any wrongdoing. She maintains that there were no irregularities in the distribution of the SAP in her city. “All funds were given and successfully distributed to all the qualified Irigueños and were liquidated with the DSWD. All the beneficiaries who received the cash grant were validated and verified as (coming from) low-income families,” she said.

That’s her side of the story, but it’s the Office of the Ombudsman and the courts that will rule on her cases.  

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Topics: Ernesto Hilario , President Rodrigo Duterte , anti-drug , anti-corruption , financial assistance , COVID-19 pandemic , Social Amelioration Program , SAP
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