Editorial: Bound to be messy

·3 min read

Early in the pandemic last year, one of the first challenges that hit the distribution of social amelioration funds came as an uncertain rule on who gets to identify beneficiaries—the local government units or the regional Department of Social Welfare and Development (DWSD). The national agency already had its existing database of 4Ps beneficiaries, but some LGUs protested, saying the local lists weren’t accurate and updated. While officials were trying to resolve this, public pressure was already mounting. There must have been a lot of arbitrariness that proceeded thereafter, and that was apparently red flag right off the bat.

It must be noted that the Bayanihan Heal As One Act directed the LGUs to provide a list of families that qualified under the emergency subsidy program.

To recall, in 2020, the Lapu-Lapu City Government reprimanded one of its social workers for handing out P6,000 each in SAP assistance to her mother, two sisters, sister-in-law, and her son’s girlfriend. The social worker had in her power to insert names into the SAP list; she only had to justify the names later to the infuriated Mayor Junard Chan. That incident only had the misfortune of getting caught in limelight. There were certainly a lot of confusion and deliberate insertions in the SAP lists elsewhere. There was cash and everyone simply jumped into the fray.

Turns out Cebu City’s bragging rights over the Commission on Audit’s “unmodified” opinion over its 2020 financial transactions fizzles in the face of the more detailed COA report. And not just Cebu City (632), but including the cities of Mandaue (5,827) and Talisay (2,629), which have in total distributed SAP funds to over 9,000 ineligible individuals. Lapu-Lapu City has yet to remit P638,000 to the DSWD 7, representing unused funds from the SAP distribution.

Mandaue City enumerated its reasons for mistakenly handing out the funds to ineligible individuals: 1) The barangays have to come up with a new list supplied by the beneficiaries themselves; 2) There was no procedure to verify which ones in the list may be excluded; 3) The listing process was done under pressure of deadline. Essentially, the City did not have the chance to have a clean list.

The confusion also started when the initial instruction was that the funds should be distributed to indigent families, and later shifted to job order workers and irregular workers, who later became direct beneficiaries of the Department of Labor and Employment’s cash-for-work program.

The City, finding no better way for barangays to accurately identify beneficiaries, created a grievance procedure through which complaints would be raised. The DSWD would have to validate individuals within 15 days and should there be any irregularity, the agency would have to report to the LGU within 72 hours.

Mandaue City distributed P334,650,000, but had included 5,827 ineligible beneficiaries for aid amounting to P34,962,000, the COA said. Some P3,402,000, which some ineligible beneficiries returned, was handed back to the DSWD, though.

Cebu City, on the other hand, distributed P836,892,000, but had included 632 ineligible beneficiaries, totaling to P3,792,000. The city’s Department of Social Welfare Services said it was baffled why it should be sending the demand letters to the ineligible individuals when it merely encoded the names sent to them by the barangays.

Talisay City agreed to COA’s recommendation for the city to review its list. It handed out cash aid to some 2,629 ineligible individuals.

What all these entanglements show is how public funds have been inequitably distributed in some parts, depriving rightful beneficiaries of the much needed help during the pandemic. The case of the social worker who distributed cash aid to close family members may have found varying versions in many other places during the health crisis. The sad part is that amid all these layers of complications, it would be near impossible to pin accountability on anyone. There goes your taxes.

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