Comelec urged to clarify ban on release of public funds
Jess Diaz (The Philippine Star) - February 14, 2013 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - The Commission on Elections (Comelec) was urged yesterday to clarify its Resolution 9585, which prohibits the “release, disbursement and expenditure” of public funds starting on March 29 or 45 days before the May 13 congressional-local elections.

House Minority Leader Danilo Suarez said the resolution is a reiteration of Section 261 of the Omnibus Election Code.

However, he said that while the section focuses on the release of public funds, the prohibition also pertains to the “Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) and any other office in other departments of the government performing functions similar to said department.”

“This provision may become problematic since almost half of congressmen’s priority development assistance funds are used to augment social services, most notably medical assistance for indigent patients,” he said.

He added that lawmakers have entrusted such funds to the DSWD and public hospitals in Metro Manila and the provinces.

Suarez pointed out that “laws and the rules implementing them should serve the needs of the people and not the other way around.”

“Diseases do not have a 45-day waiting period. We cannot tell sick people to postpone their sickness. We cannot tell the sick to just wait after the elections for them to get the needed medical assistance,” he stressed.

He said the Comelec resolution is “so general that it covers basically every disbursement of public funds, including those for basic social services.”

“While I do concede that this is a good law to prevent the use of public funds for campaign purposes, it should also be tempered by man’s empathy towards his fellow men,” he said.

He said as worded, the resolution covers the release of funds for the administration’s conditional cash transfer (CCT) program.

The opposition leader reiterated his appeal for the administration to advance the disbursement of CCT funds to avoid accusation that it is using the money for the campaign of its Team PNoy senatorial ticket.

The DSWD is administering the CCT program, for which there is about P45 billion in the P2-trillion 2013 budget.

The program gives monthly cash assistance of up to P1,000 to “poorest of the poor” households, provided parents send their children to school and attend family development sessions.

The administration is targeting at least three million CCT beneficiaries this year.

If the money is paid in advance before the election campaign, Suarez asked the DSWD to ensure that it goes to the intended beneficiaries.

He said an audit of CCT funds in previous years showed that a large part of it went to usurers, from whom beneficiaries borrowed funds at high interest.

In fact, he said, in many cases, it was the usurers who withdrew the money from the Land Bank using the beneficiaries’ ATM (automated teller machine) cards.

CCT COMELEC DEPARTMENT OF SOCIAL WELFARE AND DEVELOPMENT FUNDS HOUSE MINORITY LEADER DANILO SUAREZ LAND BANK METRO MANILA OMNIBUS ELECTION CODE SUAREZ WHILE I
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