On November 8, the nation will be reliving the tragedy that befell our countrymen in Samar, Leyte and other Eastern Visayas provinces that were destroyed during Super Typhoon Yolanda (international name “Haiyan”) exactly two years ago. Yolanda unleashed its devastation that caused massive loss of lives and properties. To date, the total count of casualties is still based on estimates running to as high as 6,000 individuals, many of whom remain missing and unaccounted for.
On the typhoon’s second anniversary, it is unfortunate to learn from no less than official reports of the Commission on Audit (COA) that millions worth of cash donations from here and abroad for Yolanda reconstruction have been laying idle in government banks.
Contained in the 2014 COA report, the Office of Civil Defense (OCD) turned out keeping more than P384 million in cash donations merely stashed in its bank account. The COA auditors took to task the OCD for keeping these cash donations deposited instead of spending them for relief and rehabilitation works needed by the victims of calamities and disasters, especially those in Yolanda-stricken areas.
State auditors discovered the biggest chunk of the money totaling P137 million was received by the OCD from various government agencies and other sources for victims of Yolanda. Records showed the donations remain deposited in a trust account of the Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP) where it has grown by P1.709 million due to interest earnings.
The COA noted with concern these unspent funds have been accumulating even since 2008. Obviously, due to its low utilization rate of about 17.39 percent, or only P81 million of P466 million was spent in the last six years. Thus, there is as much as P384 million unutilized funds for relief and rehabilitation aid that government should have disbursed for these purposes that donors gave their cash contributions for.
“Utilization of the donations from foreign and local donors in the total amount of P81,068,471.49 was low, depriving the calamity victims of the much needed assistance to alleviate their difficulties,” the COA report stated.
Aside from typhoon Yolanda, other calamities listed in the COA report where cash donations were either unspent or underspent include the 2013 Zamboanga siege, P158,924; and the 2013 Bohol earthquake at P4.983 million.
In their explanation to the COA, the OCD conceded to their failure to immediately release assistance intended for calamity and crisis victims. The OCD contended it was not deliberate but largely due to the aid beneficiaries or claimants’ lack of compliance with the requirements of the COA rules and regulations, among other things.
The OCD explanation naturally did not fly with the state auditors. The COA instead directed the OCD to review and overhaul its system so that the money would reach its intended recipients. As correctly pointed out by state auditors, the OCD has imposed too many requirements that are difficult to produce by these calamity/disaster aid claimants.
Commonsense dictates many of these calamity or disaster victims have lost their homes and property – which included their personal documents. Yet, the government still requires them to submit these official papers to support their claims for aid or assistance.
The OCD is an agency attached to the Department of National Defense (DND) and is the designated operating arm of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC). The OCD is currently headed by former Philippine Navy Flag-Officer-In-Command retired Commodore Alexander Pama. Thus, Pama is concurrently executive director of the NDRRMC.
By functions, Pama pointed to the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) as the agency responsible for relief goods, particularly food items. The job of OCD, on the other hand, is to spend for non-food items using its Quick Reaction Funds (QRF).
Speaking of QRF, the COA also reported as much as P923,153,721 as of Dec. 31, 2014 of this fund “was not utilized as envisioned and became idle.” State auditors further noted with concern there was clearly “no planned action of activities for the releases of funds resulting in the low rate of utilization.”
Making a positive spin on the COA report, Pama cited this proves the cash donations for Yolanda victims are intact.
“I think there is no question about the accounting of the funds because they are placed in a trust fund,” pointed out Pama.
Well and good if these cash donations are intact. But that was not the point of the COA report.
Trying to wiggle out of the COA report on slow disbursement of calamity/disaster donations, Pama insists the OCD is merely complying with the government’s policy that says donated funds cannot be used to buy relief goods, repair damaged houses, among others.
Pama explained the cash donations received by the OCD could only be used for burial and medical assistance to victims of calamities and disasters. But how much is this? As far as this existing government policy is, P10,000 in burial assistance is given per family for a victim who died during calamities/ disasters. A medical assistance worth P5,000 is given per victim who gets injured.
The OCD chief stressed: “For us to bend the policy is like violating the law.” Yet in another vein, Pama disclosed the NDRRMC is in the process of revising this policy that will allow them to spend the cash donations more comprehensively.
Incidentally, NDRRMC is chaired by whoever is the incumbent DND Secretary, which in this case is Sec. Voltaire Gazmin. The Council is composed of the respective heads of member-government agencies.
We invited Pama to join our Kapihan sa Manila Bay weekly breakfast forum today to shed light on these issues on the occasion of the status of Yolanda rehabilitation. He declined due to previous appointments.
But DSWD Secretary Corazon “Dinky” Soliman and former Yolanda-rehab czar, ex-Sen. Panfilo “Ping” Lacson confirmed their appearance in today’s The Kapihan sa Manila Bay from 9:30 to 11 a.m. at the Filomena Garden, sixth floor of Luneta Hotel in T.M. Kalaw St., Manila.
Two years after Yolanda, our government officials are obviously still in a state of denial.
Source: Nov 4 Philstar