MORE than 80 individuals in Central Visayas, mostly barangay officials and workers, were charged by a police unit for their alleged involvement in shady distributions of financial aid given by the government to households greatly affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) 7 filed criminal complaints against 23 barangay captains, 13 barangay councilors, one Sangguniang Kabataan chairman, three barangay secretaries, four barangay health workers, eight purok leaders, four social workers and 26 civilians for allegedly taking advantage of the Social Amelioration Program (SAP).
In Cebu, the village chiefs who are facing complaints are from Barangays Basak San Nicolas, Zapatera and San Jose in Cebu City; Barangay Linao in Talisay City; Barangay Alang-Alang in Mandaue City; Barangay Baring, Olango Island in Lapu-Lapu City; Barangay Upper Namitao-an in Carmen; and Barangays Kansi, Putat, Bagasawe, Poblacion 6 and Fortaliza in Tuburan.
Two barangay councilors and two tanods from Cebu Province were also charged by the CIDG 7.
They were charged for violating Republic Act (RA) 3019, or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act; RA 6713, or the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees; and RA 11469, or the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act.
The 26 civilians were charged for receiving aid from SAP even though they were not qualified for it, according to Maj. Ronald Alan Tolosa, CIDG 7 deputy chief.
SAP, instituted by RA 11469, aims to mitigate the effects of the crisis brought about by the coronavirus disease 2019. The Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) is the lead agency handling the program.
Tolosa told Superbalita Cebu that they started their investigation on the reported SAP anomalies last May during the first tranche of distribution and concluded it on Aug. 13, 2020.
The CIDG 7, said Tolosa, was tasked by its head office to look into the anomalies regarding the distribution of the government’s financial aid to the poor amid the Covid-19 health crisis.
Tolosa said they have solid pieces of evidence such as documents and testimonies that would prove the anomalies in the SAP distribution.
Splitting of the cash aid and inclusion of undeserving households in the list of SAP beneficiaries during the SAP’s first tranche were the common complaints the DSWD 7 received.
DSWD 7 Assistant Director Shalaine Lucero said their office had been very clear from the beginning about the guidelines and criteria in choosing the beneficiaries.
The government agency, she said, had often reminded local government units and other implementers that they were prohibited from splitting the cash aid, telling them there were other available interventions that can help deserving individuals but were not included in the first tranche of SAP distribution.
As of Tuesday morning, Aug. 18, the DSWD 7 had paid a total of P308.9 million to 51,493 SAP waitlisted families or those eligible families who were not able to receive cash aid last May.
Moreover, a total of 55,383 low-income households have already received the second tranche of their SAP assistance. This totaled P332.2 million.
Ready to defend
The three barangay captains included in the complaint—Norman Navarro of Basak San Nicolas, Francisco Benedicto of Zapatera and Joe Ardaba of San Jose—said they are ready to face the charges and defend themselves.
Benedicto said politics was behind the complaints, as he was not involved in the distribution of the SAP. He said the Cebu City Government’s social welfare office was in charge of selecting the SAP beneficiaries and distributing the aid.
“I’m not afraid (to face the charges) because I did not get a single centavo,” he said.
For his part, Ardaba admitted there was a mistake when a barangay worker received the SAP aid. This problem, however, was eventually resolved when the worker returned the money and a qualified beneficiary received it in turn.
Alang-alang Barangay Captain Patricio Soco said he did not expect the CIDG 7 to file complaints against him. He said he had no direct knowledge about the barangay secretary’s husband’s inclusion in the list of SAP beneficiaries.
He had told the CIDG 7 investigators last June about the matter.
He explained to them he was unable to read all the names on the list of beneficiaries and he only affixed his signature on the document prepared by his trusted focal person of the barangay and the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) personnel.
After the list was released, the complaints came to Soco’s attention. He then told the barangay secretary to return the cash assistance to the City Treasurer’s Office; the latter heeded him and the SAP money was eventually returned last May 22.
Soco said the CIDG 7 investigators who interviewed him last June assured that he was safe from being charged, so he was surprised at the inclusion of his name in the complaints. (AYB / CBQ, PAC/ KAL, KFD, WBS)