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Sunday, May 19, 2024

‘Imee’s fault 4.3m in 4Ps didn’t get P13b in ayuda’

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NEARLY 900,000 households or 4.3 million Filipinos in the “poorest of the poor” bracket did not receive cash grants totaling P13 billion from the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps) last year after Senator Imee Marcos redirected these funds to another social amelioration program, according to a congressman.

This developed as House of Representatives leaders questioned thetiming of issues Senator Marcos raised against the P5.768-trillion 2024 national budget.

Meanwhile, Marcos charged that this year’s national budget defunded billions of pesos in pensions for retired military and uniformed personnel, as well as retirement and separation benefits for government workers while giving way to the controversial Ayuda para sa Kapos ang Kita Program (AKAP).

Ako Bicol Rep. Jil Bongalon made this observation as he claimed the P13-billion budget cut in the 2023 budget at the behest of the senator, a sister of President Marcos, deprived 4Ps beneficiaries of critical support, as funds intended for them were diverted to the Assistance to Individuals in Crisis Situations (AICS) program.

“If we do the math, P13-billion divided by P15,000 per household per year, means 867,000 families or 4.3-million poor individuals got zero cash assistance from the Department of Social Welfare and Development’s 4Ps program last year, thanks to Senator Imee,” Bongalon, vice chair of the House committee on appropriations, stressed.

Bongalon, an advocate of the 4Ps program which provides conditional cash grants to the most impoverished families to improve health, nutrition, and education of children aged 0-18, described the budget realignment as “cruel and unconscionable.”

The party-list lawmaker also said he began inquiring about the budget cuts after his office received numerous complaints from 4Ps beneficiaries.

Some criticized delays in aid distribution while others complained of not receiving cash grants last year.

“As vice chair of the Committee on Appropriations, I learned that it was Senator Marcos – as head of the Senate finance sub-committee in charge of DSWD’s budget – who slashed P13-billion from the 4Ps budget.

This left the most vulnerable sectors without financial aid last year, possibly until the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) receives its 2024 budget,” he said.

By tinkering with the 4Ps budget, Bongalon said the reallocation allowed Marcos and select political allies like Vice President Sara Duterte to distribute aid to their chosen beneficiaries instead of the real intended recipients of the 4Ps program.

He said the P13-billion budget realignment was just a ‘tip of the iceberg.”

“I understand that Senator Imee has been realigning significant portions of the 4Ps budget every year since 2021, but we’re still compiling the data,” he said.

“Senator Imee takes issue with AKAP or Ayuda para sa Kapos ang Kita Program of the House of Representatives which will provide cash grants to our ‘near poor’ kababayans. It’s ironic that she even wants a Senate inquiry into AKAP when she should be the one investigated for depriving the ‘poorest of the poor’ of P13-billion last year,” Bongalon stressed.

The 4Ps operates in all the 17 regions in the Philippines, covering 79 provinces, 143 cities, and 1,484 municipalities. Beneficiaries are selected through the National Household Targeting System for Poverty Reduction (NHTS-PR), which identifies who and where the poor are in the country.

Under 4Ps, each household with three children may receive P1,400 every month, or a total of P15,000 every year for five years.

At a news conference, Rep. Margarita Nograles of PBA party-list, Rep. Zia Alonto Adiong of Del Sur’s 1st District, and Rep. Rodge Gutierrez of 1-Rider party-list said Imee should have raised her concerns during the Senate plenary deliberations and the bicameral conference (bicam) on the budget.

“The GAA (General Appropriations Act) was signed in December. It’s almost the end of February, why only question now? It should have been raised during the bicam especially if they feel there are really irregularities,” said Nograles, a lawyer.

“And why is it being questioned now amidst the timing of the big issue. The scary thing here is that every aid we give to the people that is part of our job as public servants is being linked maliciously to PI (people’s initiative),” she added.

Marcos was part of the bicameral conference committee that reconciled the versions of the budget of the House and the Senate. She signed the committee report.

Adiong said he did not see any irregularity in the budget enactment process followed by the House and the Senate.

Adiong said the new AKAP program was questioned only in relation to the people’s initiative.

For his part, Gutierrez said Marcos’ claim that the bicam on the budget did not go through the normal process is a “grave accusation.”

“For some of our stakeholders to claim that the bicam did not go through the process, that is something to be studied. It’s a grave accusation that should be studied carefully and investigated,” Gutierrez, also a lawyer, said.

“How can we say that you did not go through the process, you are the one who signified, you show approval of the same by giving that signature?” he asked, referring to the senator’s signature in the bicam report on the budget that was ratified by both the Senate and the House.

Nograles said Marcos was making it appear that it’s bad for lawmakers to allot funds for the benefit of the people such as the P26.7-billion Ayuda sa Kapos ang Kita (AKAP).

Nograles said that legislators should not be prevented from giving the much needed assistance to their constituents, and that Marcos should not put malice to it.

“So again, the DSWD (Department of Social Welfare and Development), it’s within their prerogative to also implement this and this is welcomed by our DSWD Secretary as he announced this morning,” she said.

Nograles also said the House deliberations on the budget were transparent.

She said by including AKAP in this year’s outlay, the House was just returning to the people the money they paid to the government in taxes.

A comparison between the National Expenditure Program (NEP) submitted to Congress and the General Appropriations Act for 2024 shows that the Pension and Gratuity Fund suffered a P110.25-billion cut, from P253,205,826,000 to P142,956,826,000.

The senator also lamented the Php5.4-billion cut in the Php15.31-billion budget proposed in the NEP for the Department of Migrant Workers and the complete deletion of programmed funding for foreign-assisted flagship projects of the Department of Public Works and Highways.

Marcos, who chairs the Senate Committee on Social Justice, Welfare, and Rural Development, reiterated that the P26.7-billion AKAP, which also has more than Php33 billion in unprogrammed funds, was a Lower House insertion in the 2024 budget’s final version.

She said the e-signatures of senators were attached to it after the fact.

“The President did not mention AKAP in the NEP, nor was it in the bicameral version of the GAA, yet it appeared in the final, printed version,” Marcos explained.

“A fuzzy 60 billion was allotted. We don’t know if it’s for rice, jobs, or outright cash assistance,” she said.

The senator is consulting with the DBM and DSWD ahead of a possible Senate investigation of AKAP, apart from the ongoing probe by the Senate electoral reforms committee to verify the authenticity of a so-called People’s Initiative to revise the Constitution.

“I am not against AKAP, but its misuse for political ends. We all know this year’s national budget is an election budget,” she said.

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