Soliman blasted over CoA report
LEFTIST lawmakers denounced Social Welfare Secretary Corazon Soliman Monday, after a report from the Commission on Audit took her department to task for failing to immediately distribute cash donations and food packs to survivors of Super Typhoon ‘‘Yolanda.’’
“The DSWD has been repeatedly criticized for mismanagement… The latest COA report only reaffirms such observations,” said Kabataan party-list Rep. Terry Ridon, a member of the leftist Makabayan bloc in the House of Representatives.
In its 2014 audit report, the COA said P382 million in local and foreign cash donations for Yolanda victims, representing a third of the P1.15 billion that the Department of Social Welfare and Development received remained in the agency’s bank accounts.
“Those who committed gross inefficiency and criminal neglect—especially the Aquino administration and its line agencies—must be held accountable. We cannot simply let this pass,” Ridon said.
The COA report also said the DSWD failed to distribute P141 million worth of family food packs for the typhoon victims, as the agency did not consider the “absorptive capacity and condition of the warehousing facilities and personnel” leading to the spoilage of the perishable goods.
Ridon also disputed Soliman’s claim that there was nothing irregular about the COA findings, saying “the lackadaisical deployment of donations constitute criminal negligence.”
“Any reasonable person will be enraged by the fact that our countrymen in Eastern Visayas suffered hunger in the aftermath of Yolanda, while millions worth of relief goods just spoiled in DSWD’s storehouses,” Ridon said.
Gabriela party-list Rep. Luz Ilagan said the COA findings proved the government’s mishandling of Yolanda funds and said Soliman and other government officials involved must be held accountable.
Another bloc member, Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Carlos Zarate said it was time Congress exercised its oversight function to compel the government to account for the Yolanda funds down to the last centavo.
On Monday, administration ally Iloilo Rep. Niel Tupas Jr. sought a full-blown congressional inquiry into Soliman and her agency’s handling of relief operations in his district.
“I have been receiving numerous individual complaints in my district regarding the alleged incompetence and anomalies by DSWD and other agencies in the implementation of the calamity fund,’’ Tupas said in a statement.
‘’I was informed that DSWD would like to investigate the matter. But I said that the personnel of DSWD are themselves subjects of the complaint and the agency must be investigated,” Tupas added.
Tupas denied suggestions that his call for an investigation was to get even at Soliman, who complained about his presence during a distribution of grants in Iloilo.
“Of course not. The reason I attended the distribution is... the numerous complaints I received. As representative of the district, I cannot just turn a blind eye on this. It’s my duty to monitor and make sure that the funds allocated by Congress should reach their intended beneficiaries,” he said.
Soliman earlier said it was “unethical” for government officials, except elected local officials such as mayors, to show up during the distribution of Emergency Shelter Assistance.
Soliman said she would bring her complaint to the ruling Liberal Party to which Tupas belongs.
In Tacloban City, a coalition of storm victims blasted the Aquino administration for allowing 500 wooden boats donated by the private company DMCI to rot in Palo, Leyte, while fishermen who lost their means of livelihood when Yolanda struck in November 2013.
“No kind of excuse can justify the callousness, insensitivity and heartlessness of the government when they failed to distribute these boats that could have helped storm survivors alleviate their economic condition,” said Dean Lacandazo, a convener of the People Surge alliance.
The Department of the Interior and Local Government, which was in charge of distributing the boats, said in a statement that it was “exercising due diligence” to ensure that the boats were seaworthy.
Pedro Noval Jr., DILG regional director in Eastern Visayas, said his office had sought the help of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources regional office for a list of fishermen-beneficiaries in March 2015, but the agency gave them a list only for Babatngon, Leyte.
They also asked to confer with the DILG on the guidelines, schedule of distribution and other specifications such as materials for the keel, measurements, and whether the boats would be motorized or not.
An inspection of the boats was scheduled on April 20, 2015, during which the BFAR cited several problems with the boats and suggested that the Maritime Industry Authority (Marina) inspect them for seaworthiness.
In July, the DILG asked Marina to inspect the vessels, but the agency said their office could only do so after the beneficiary applies for boat registration. Marina added that it would be all right to distribute the boats, which could be inspected after they were registered by the beneficiaries.
Reacting to criticism that the boats were allowed to rot, Noval said they were “of the opinion that the boats are simply of low quality.”
He also said the boats were completed in June 2015, not December 2014 as reported by some news outlets.
He also said there was no formal turnover of the boats, and that the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, which has custody and stewardship over the boats in its compound in Palo, Leyte, had asked the DILG for assistance in distributing the vessels.