6 LGUs flagged over COVID-19 spending
In six separate annual audit reports for 2020 recently uploaded on its website, the COA called out the municipal governments of San Marcelino in Zambales, Bacolor in Pampanga and Bauko, Natonin, Tadian and Barlig in Mountain Province.
The STAR/Walter Bollozos, file

6 LGUs flagged over COVID-19 spending

Elizabeth Marcelo (The Philippine Star) - March 25, 2021 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — At least six municipalities have so far been flagged by the Commission on Audit (COA) over irregular or questionable fund disbursements as the agency has started scrutinizing local government units’ spending in connection with the COVID-19 pandemic.

In six separate annual audit reports for 2020 recently uploaded on its website, the COA called out the municipal governments of San Marcelino in Zambales, Bacolor in Pampanga and Bauko, Natonin, Tadian and Barlig in Mountain Province.

San Marcelino municipality was specifically called out over lapses in choosing beneficiaries of the Emergency Subsidy Program (ESP), fund for which came from the national government under Republic Act 11469 or the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act (Bayanihan I).

Based on the COA’s records, the San Marcelino Municipal Social Welfare and Development Office (MSWDO) received a total of P20,494,500 from the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) Regional Office 3 on April 7 last year for the first tranche of the Social Amelioration Program (SAP)-ESP.

The fund was intended for 3,153 target beneficiaries with a cash subsidy of P6,500 each.

The COA, however, said validation by the audit team of 38.78 percent or 1,215 of the total paid beneficiaries revealed several lapses.

For one, the COA said at least two of the listed paid beneficiaries denied receiving the cash assistance, while 95 beneficiaries admitted receiving cash assistance even when their work or income were not affected during the implementation of community quarantine.

The state audit body said at least 33 beneficiaries also admitted that they do not belong to poor households or the informal sector who were not able to work due to community quarantine.

Some beneficiaries also admitted that they were granted cash assistance despite not being interviewed by MSWDO staff or barangay personnel.

The COA said 13 beneficiaries answered that they or their household member were also recipients of the DSWD’s Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program or 4Ps, “which may mean duplication of benefits granted.”

The agency added that 17 other beneficiaries admitted receiving financial assistance for COVID from other government agencies such as Department of Labor and Employment, Department of Agriculture and Social Security System, “thus, they should be excluded from the qualified beneficiaries of the first tranche of SAP-ESP.”

“The foregoing observations indicate lapses of local officials in assessing the qualifications of some recipients, which resulted in the payment of the first tranche of SAP-ESP to ineligible recipients,” the COA said.

Meanwhile, the municipal government of Bacolor was flagged for payments of COVID hazard pay amounting P157,470 to several public health workers and P16,238 to some MWSDO personnel despite the lack of supporting document to show their exposure to hazards.

“The absence of proof showing actual exposure to health hazards and occupational risks or hardships before the COVID-19 pandemic may render the hazard pay claims doubtful,” the audit report read.

The municipalities of Bauko, Natonin and Tadian were scolded for failure to observe procurement requirements while Barlig was faulted for failure to record the receipt and utilization of cash and in-kind donations it received from several organizations and government agencies.

The COA noted that Bauko resorted to emergency procurements for P1.782 million worth of supplies, materials, equipment and other critical services in connection with its pandemic response.

The agency, however, said minimum requirements for such mode of procurement, such as a bids and awards committee resolution recommending the award of contract and a purchase order duly approved by concerned official, were not complied with, making it hard to monitor “abuses and corruption in the procurement process.”

As for the municipality of Natonin, the COA said it procured several medicines, food, fuel and construction supplies for its quarantine facility under a lump sum COVID fund allocation amounting P565,673.

The COA added that the municipality’s lack of specific projects, programs and activities for its COVID-19 response makes it hard to monitor and determine if there was a valid basis for each fund disbursement or procurement.

Tadian was scolded for P5.2070 million worth of emergency procurements of medicines, equipment, supplies and materials charged under its Bayanihan I grant from the national government, despite incomplete supporting documents. – With Cecille Suerte Felipe, Paolo Romero

The COA noted that Barlig received P250,000 cash donation from Okada Foundation for the procurement of food supplies in connection with its pandemic response as well as information technology equipment amounting P269,240 from the Department of Information and Communications Technology.

The state audit body said Barlig also received various in-kind donations from other government offices, private organizations and several individuals such as personal protective equipment (PPE) and relief goods, among others.

The agency, however, said Barlig did not prepare any “Summary/List of Donations Received, Distributed and Balances for In-kind Donations,” “Report on the Receipt and Utilization of Cash Donations,” “Report on the Receipt and Distribution/Issuance of Donated Relief Goods” and “Report on the Receipt and Distribution/Issuance of Donated PPE.”

The COA added that this “precluded the audit team and other oversight agencies in the conduct of timely evaluation of the utilization of the aid and donations received by the municipality.”


Appeal for add’l SAP

Sen. Bong Go has appealed to President Duterte, Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III, Budget Secretary Wendel Avisado and other concerned national government agencies for additional SAP for Filipinos, following the reimposition of tougher quarantine restrictions in Metro Manila and nearby provinces due to the rapidly rising number of new COVID-19 cases.

“Let us work together to find the funds needed to further help our people, especially those whose lives and livelihoods are adversely affected by tighter restrictions, which we imposed to stop the spread of COVID-19,” Go said.

The senator emphasized that concerned agencies must already provide the baseline data to determine the needed resources in order for the government to be able to provide more aid to struggling Filipinos.

“I am also urging the DSWD to determine how many of our kababayans nationwide should receive additional social amelioration, so we can have a clearer picture of how much resources are needed to implement this program,” he said.

“Let’s work together to provide additional assistance based on the funds we have. Because the policy had to be tightened again, some of our people have been imprisoned again. Let’s give them the help they need,” he added.

Go asked concerned government agencies to help all poor Filipinos overcome the difficulties caused by the rising number of COVID-19 cases and ensure that all sectors needing government assistance are prioritized.

“Let us find a way to give extra help to all our countrymen in need. Many are suffering today. Most have lost their jobs or their livelihoods are difficult, and there are families to support, so let’s do all we can to alleviate the pain they cause,” he said.

Fresh aid

Senators pressed yesterday for fresh emergency financial aid and other forms of assistance to sectors most affected by the pandemic.

Sen. Manny Pacquiao filed Senate Bill 2123 or the proposed Expanded Stimulus Package Act of 2021 that seeks to allocate P335 billion for cash grants, wage subsidies and internet allowances to low-income families and students, among others.

“We continue to be challenged by the COVID-19 pandemic, and the global economy is plunging. But despite the lack of certainty on when this will end, we need to take certain steps immediately,” Pacquiao said in Filipino.

Under the bill, P100 billion is allocated in the form of SAP for low-income individuals, families and the homeless; P100 billion as worker subsidies; P100 billion as capacity-building for critically impacted sectors; P30 billion for displaced workers; P3 billion internet allowance for the Department of Education for K-12 teachers and students; P2 billion as internet allowances for tertiary level teachers and students.

Pacquiao said the measure seeks to augment the COVID-19 response funds mandated by Republic Act 11494  or the Bayanihan to Recover as One Act and  RA 11525 or the COVID-19 Vaccination Program Act of 2021. – Cecille Suerte Felipe, Paolo Romero

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