"The people’s anger and frustration can go beyond repair."
Last Wednesday, we noted that Health Secretary Francisco Duque did not have to wait for President Duterte's 10-day deadline to pay the hazard risk allowances and benefits of health care workers which have been pending for months. There was no need for him to even say that, yes, they are scrambling to find ways to meet the President's deadline. The COA report indicated that they actually had P9 billion in their books to pay for these allowances at the time these were due.
What were they waiting for? What were they doing with the money already allocated for such a purpose? Was it being held somewhere? Was it under some kind of an arranged time deposit for special work out with the bank that it could not be pre-terminated or withdrawn at any given time?
This was what the COA report pointed out and no amount of Duque's crying or finger-pointing can justify this unconscionable faux pas.
In any event, as has been splashed all over the place, the DOH is not the only agency which has been called out by the audit body for various " deficiencies” — and I emphasize " deficiencies" — needing proper and responsible explanations. The reports did not say "irregularities" or " fraudulent acts” or even “corrupt acts" just to put things in the proper light.
The audit body also called out the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board for using only one percent of the P 5.5 billion – a measly P59 million – cash assistance for PUV drivers who were temporarily off the road during the lockdown.
That is gross negligence if not incompetence for which the LTFRB has yet to provide an explanation. It is good the drivers did not go on a rampage and ransacked the LTFRB offices as a result. The question now is: Has the agency disposed of the amount to the rightful beneficiaries? We have yet to hear from LTFRB Chairman Martin Delgra and his superior, Transport Secretary Art Tugade.
Also called out was the Department of Education which was asked to explain the billions in unobligated funds provided for under Bayanihan 2 for digital education and information technology infrastructure and alternative modules. The agency was also called out for the reported purchase of billions of pesos worth of overpriced laptops through the Procurement Service (PS/DBM) under then-Undersecretary Lloyd Christopher Lao.
We learned later on that this contract was rescinded, which is quite problematic. Who maneuvered to have these overpriced operations be initiated in the first place? What happened to the allotted funds now? Were these returned to the treasury? Repurposed? Or just laying around ready to be activated for another "favorite" purchase? These and other deficiencies need to be explained sooner rather than later.
Then we have the Department of Social Welfare and Development and Department of Labor and Employment ayuda systems which were also called out by the COA for reported leakages in the billions of pesos. Both agencies were asked to explain complaints about payments to unregistered and/or ineligible beneficiaries, discrepancies in payments made where some beneficiaries got higher ayudas than the others, stranded ayudas as beneficiaries could not be located, non-payments as the payment system never worked — as in the case of the DSWD's Star Pay system which was paid for by government and through which billions of pesos was supposed to be distributed. Up to now, we have yet to hear a squeak from the DSWD on what happened to the billions of pesos, invested in and downloaded through this system, which have yet to be paid out properly.
The DOLE also had a similar problem which Secretary Silvestre Bello mentioned a number of times last year. Apparently, the agency is still holding in deposit some P385 million in ayuda for workers laid off during the pandemic last year, a substantial portion of which remains with the remittance agencies (Palawan Express and Lhuillier).
Were these funds eventually dispensed to the rightful beneficiaries and their families? Still with the DOLE, there was also the billions of pesos in questionable releases made by Technical Education and Skills Development Authority, the government's human resources development and training agency, which is attached to the department. The COA wanted explanations on the numbers of trainees actually enrolled and graduated, amounts downloaded to certain training institutions and even the justification for monies spent by TESDA for equipment, travel and seminars.
Some administration apologists have questioned the timing of the issuance of these reports and their continuing splashing all over the papers. They are extremely concerned (kuno) that these observations came out one after the other in the run up to the forthcoming 2022 elections.
Their beef is that this may be part of an orchestrated effort to waylay the administration's COVID-19 response efforts and, of course, degrade President Duterte's anti-corruption crusade. While the timing of these reports may indeed raise some eyebrows as politically motivated, that does not spare the agencies concerned from coming out with proper and responsible explanations. These deficiencies involve billions of pesos of public funds meant precisely to somehow alleviate our people's already burdensome existence during this pandemic and get the country back on track to a modicum of recovery.
The seeming inefficient and inexcusable negligence by which the people's monies are being spent can only fuel anger and frustration which, if left unattended, can go beyond repair.