House balks at ‘absurd’ Senate allegations about cash aid program

Cristina Chi - Philstar.com
House balks at �absurd� Senate allegations about cash aid program
Residents of Batasan in Quezon City receive cash aid at Quezon City Polytechnic Univesity from the government's social amelioration package.
The STAR / Michael Varcas, file

MANILA, Philippines —  The House appropriations committee chairperson has denied allegations of possible irregularities in the P26.7-billion cash aid project of the Department of Social Welfare and Development, saying that its alleged use for the people’s initiative (PI) campaign is “unfounded.”

House Senior Deputy Speaker Aurelio Gonzales has also insisted that senators approved the Ayuda sa Kapos ang Kita Program (AKAP) during the budget legislation process, calling their line of questioning about its “sudden” appearance in the 2024 budget “absurd.”

In a statement on Wednesday, Rep. Elizaldy Co (AKO Bicol) said that Sen. Imee Marcos’ allegations about the AKAP program — which the department said was not in the proposed budget — had “tarnished” the intention of the cash aid program.

“Dinudungisan po ni Senador Imee Marcos ang malinis na intensyon ng AKAP na tulungan ang mga kababayan nating may trabaho ngunit kapos ang kita. Taumbayan na po ang bahalang humusga sa kanyang pamumulitika sa isang programang pantulong sa mahirap,” Co said.

(Sen. Imee Marcos is tarnishing the clean intentions of AKAP to help our compatriots who have jobs but have low income. It's up to the people to judge this politicization of a program to help the poor.)

Co issued the statement after Sen. Imee Marcos and other senators on Tuesday questioned the inclusion of the project in the 2024 budget and expressed their “surprise” and lack of knowledge about a program with billions of funding.

This was raised during the Senate hearing on the people’s initiative (PI) campaign for Charter change — proponents of which face allegations of vote-buying and using government aid to clinch enough signatures. House leaders and Speaker Martin Romualdez has denied orchestrating the campaign but have repeatedly expressed support for it.

While the AKAP program is not an exclusive program for Congress, DSWD Undersecretary Fatima Aliah Dimaporo said during the Senate hearing that the cash aid program is “technically foreign in the sense that it has no guidelines yet.”

Dimaporo added that the AKAP program was not part of the National Expenditure Program for 2024.

Meanwhile, Gonzales said that “one or two senators expressing ‘surprise’ over the presence of AKAP in the 2024 national budget” were part of the bicameral conference committee that reconciled the two chambers’ version of the 2024 budget.

“It would be absurd now for senators to be questioning the AKAP and other assistance funds included in the national budget and administered by the DSWD because they approved it,” Gonzales said. 

During a press conference on Wednesday, House lawmakers, including Gonzales, also shared a copy of the bicameral committee report that added a special provision for the funding for the AKAP program in the national budget.   

Rep. Rodge Gutierrez (1-Rider Partylist) said that senators' allegations that the funding was covertly inserted by House lawmakers is "surprising." 

"We were shocked to find out that they're unaware of this AKAP, but then it seems very clear, nakita po namin, may special provision pa nga po doon sa ating GAA 2024 (we saw there's a special provision in the GAA 2024," Gutierrez added. 

Whose signatures?

Lawmakers also pointed out that the report contained signatures of the members of the House-Senate committee who greenlighted the special provision during a bicameral conference meeting.

Rep. Raul Angelo Bongalon (AKO BICOL) said these signature — including his — should "prove" that lawmakers read the report and "understood" its contents. 

"So, malinaw po dito na alam po nila dapat ang nilalaman ng bicameral conference committee report at pangit naman po na sasabihin nila na nabibigla sila dahil meron daw po na 27.6 Billion na pondo para sa AKAP. When in fact, malinaw po last December, dalawang beses po nagmeet ang bicameral conference committee at napag-usapan po itong programang AKAP ng DSWD," Bongalon said. 

(So, it is clear here that they must know the content of the bicameral conference committee report and it is wrong that they will say that they are shocked because they say there is 27.6 Billion funds for AKAP. When in fact, it is clear that last December, the bicameral conference committee met twice and discussed the AKAP program of the DSWD.)

House lawmakers furnish reporters a copy of the report approving the special provision for the AKAP program, February 14, 2024.
Office of Speaker Martin Romualdez

A press release issued by Romualdez' office on December 22 mentioned that Congress had funded for the first time the AKAP program, under which 12 million poor and low-income families would get a one-time cash grant of P5,000.  

“They are estopped from speaking against or criticizing what they have approved, unless they tell us now that voted ‘yes’ without reading the budget or at least the conference committee report, which is a summary of the outlay,” Gonzales added.

Meanwhile, DSWD Secretary Rex Gatchalian has defended the AKAP program under the department and explained that no funds have yet to be spent for the program as the department is still crafting the guidelines for its implementation.

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