"According to Año, at least 50 village chiefs are facing preventive suspension over the alleged misuse of the funds."
We distinctly remember President Duterte saying in his 5th State of the Nation Address (SONA) last month that he would not hesitate to put behind bars errant public officials found guilty of fraud in the distribution of cash grants worth over P200 billion under the Social Amelioration Program (SAP).
Duterte conceded that the implementation of the SAP was far from perfect, pointing out that "some opportunists" have "turned the crisis into opportunity," referring to the instances of irregularities in the distribution of the cash grants. He then warned: "We will catch up with you sooner than you think."
In June, Deputy Speaker LRay Villafuerte disclosed during a hearing conducted by the House committee on good government and public accountability chaired by Rep. Jose Antonio Sy-Alvarado a glaring example of hanky-panky in the distribution of cash grants under SAP.
Villafuerte presented before the committee photos and documentary evidence to prove his allegations of corruption against Iriga Mayor Madelaine Alfelor, who he said distributed SAP grants to unqualified individuals while shutting out several rightful beneficiaries in the city.
Villafuerte is the main author in the House of the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act as well as the House-approved Bayanihan to Recover as One bill (Bayanihan 2). He alleged during the committee hearing that some employees of an academic institution, which he claimed is owned by the mayor's family, were given P5,000 in SAP grants although they were not residents of Iriga City and were not qualified to receive the cash assistance from the government.
Villafuerte cited another case where a barangay captain's six relatives were able to receive the cash aid of P5,000 apiece. So what's wrong with that? The lawmaker pointed out that the barangay captain owned a luxurious home with several SUVs parked in the garage, and owned several profitable enterprises.
The lawmaker said he had also received copies of affidavits of disgruntled officials and residents of Iriga City who complained that their mayor and her political allies had excluded from the distribution of Social Amelioration Cards (SAC) certain barangay officials that the mayor publicly acknowledged to be her political opponents.
One of the complainants lamented that only the mayor's chosen beneficiaries and political supporters were able to receive the SAP grants, "while residents, who are in dire need of aid, are being refused help, by reason of their political affiliation or inclination."
Meanwhile, a long-time Iriga City resident also submitted a sworn affidavit that described as "an atrocity that while qualified beneficiaries were deprived of much needed-assistance, unqualified recipients were given Emergency Subsidy Program assistance." He called for the preventive suspension of the mayor and a barangay captain for grave misconduct and dishonesty. He sent copies of his affidavit to the Presidential Complaint Center, Social Welfare and Development Secretary Rolando Bautista and the Bicol Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) on the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases.
Mayor Alfelor has denied any wrongdoing. She maintained that there was no violation committed 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 part of the 18 million low-income families,” she said.
But it's her word against the word of those who feel aggrieved and deprived of what assistance they should have received from the government.
Villafuerte is entirely correct in calling on Interior and Local Government Secretary Eduardo Año to take immediate and decisive action against abuses committed by local government executives in the distribution of over P200 billion worth of cash grants for those adversely affected by lockdowns due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
To demonstrate the Duterte administration's resolve in upholding transparency and good governance, the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) should immediately move to impose preventive suspensions on erring officials, and then prosecute them.
According to Año, at least 50 village chiefs are facing preventive suspension over the alleged misuse of SAP funds. The PNP's Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) has already lodged 155 criminal complaints against barangay captains accused of SAP anomalies.
The complaints, he said, have been submitted to the Ombudsman. “We expect that initially, 50 barangay captains would be slapped with preventive suspension while the Ombudsman is investigating the administrative aspect of their cases,” Año said.
With the House committee on good government and public accountability having opened a can of worms in their probe of misuse of SAP funds, the DILG and the DSWD should have enough reason to go after wayward barangay officials and errant local chief executives and file both administrative and criminal charges against them.