Romualdez bloc pushes probe into Yolanda aid
The House Independent Minority Bloc will initiate an immediate audit and congressional investigation into the status and disbursements of both local and foreign donations as well as national government assistance to victims of super Typhoon “Yolanda.”
The Bloc’s leader Rep. Ferdinand Martin Romualdez of Leyte said a huge amount of funds had been given to help the Yolanda victims and survivors and yet they are still having a hard time coping.
“Ninety percent of our constituents were materially devastated when ‘Yolanda’ struck almost two years ago. Billions of local and foreign donations in cash and kind, plus separate allocations from the national government, poured in for the relief and rehabilitation of the survivors,” Romualdez said at a news conference.
“But to this day, not only our constituents but the Filipino people as a whole still don’t have a clear picture of the ‘Yolanda’ aid,” he added.
Romualdez said nobody knows how much exactly are the donations, in cash and in kind, which were sent to the Yolanda survivors. “Nobody knows who got what or how much, what is the exact number of survivors who have received assistance; where, when and on what were the cash donations spent or are being spent and where are the papers proving that all the donations indeed went to or were disbursed for the needs of the survivors,” Romualdez said.
“We are talking of billions here,” Romualdez said, noting that Congress alone approved P14 billion in last year’s national budget for Yolanda aid and rehabilitation of the survivors.
He said the Commission on Audit has reported in media that P382.072 million in local and foreign cash donations for ‘Yolanda’ victims were kept idle in the Department of Social Welfare and Development’s bank accounts.
“The DSWD management replied that it had reduced the idle donations but they admitted that it was still an astronomical P338.519 million as of June 15 this year. They also said DSWD Secretary Dinky Soliman has ordered that all cash donations should be spent before July this year. Was this carried out? If yes, where are the records of the disbursements?” Romualdez asked.
Romualdez pointed out it has been almost two years since the Yolanda tragedy in November 2013 happened and yet “no detailed breakdown of the donations has been made public by any disaster relief agency of the government.”
“Instead, what we continue to see are the turtle-like speed of the construction of homes for the survivors, children holding classes in tents because their schools have not been fixed yet, and as much as P141 million worth of relief goods which have expired or are about to expire uncovered in an audit last year by no less than the COA itself. This can’t go on forever,” Romualdez said.
In pushing for a congressional probe into billions of peso Yolanda funds, Romualdez said his group would want specific agencies of government to be invited to shed light into the matter.
They included the Department of Social Welfare and Development, National Housing Authority and all the government agencies involved in ‘Yolanda’ relief and rehabilitation operations.
“And to ensure transparency and single accountability in managing disaster relief funds and resources, we appeal to the House leadership to prioritize for deliberations my bill which proposes the creation of a Department of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Managemen,” Romualdez said.
Romualdez said the DDPEM will be the lone agency responsible for all disaster relief and management efforts. Sole accountability will be ensured, finger-pointing will be eliminated when questions arise and red tape will be minimized, if not totally eradicated.
“Related to this, measures must be drawn up to make government officials accountable for all local and foreign donations from the private sector as well as those from foreign governments and international relief agencies.
“All disaster relief and rehabilitation donations, whether local or foreign, sent through the national government should be deemed automatically and strictly appropriated for the same purpose,” Romualdez said.
He said there should be a mechanism which would authorize a government agency to issue tax-free disaster rehabilitation bonds to the general public to help raise funds for post-disaster operations and programs.
“Proceeds from the sale of the bonds can also be utilized as disaster rehabilitation loans for victims whose homes, offices or businesses were destroyed or severely damaged by natural calamities like ‘Yolanda.’
“To this day, there are still no clear indications as to when the plight of ‘Yolanda’ victims will end. The least that can be done by anyone is to help ensure that they get all the relief ad assistance due them. That we will do to the best that we can,” Romualdez pointed out.