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Monday, March 23, 2015

Wasting money given by donors

By Victor Avecilla
In November 2013, Super Typhoon Yolanda caused so much destruction in Leyte, Tacloban City in particular.  Thanks to the extensive news disseminated by the international media, and the numerous pleas for humanitarian assistance made by international celebrities through the Cable News Network, many foreign institutions donated cash through bank accounts opened by the government.  Donations came in quickly because the typhoon victims needed help immediately.  The donors were aware that any delay in the emergency assistance may result in dire consequences.  By the end of December 2013, large sums of money had been sent in by kind donors. 
The Commission on Audit (COA) reported that at the end of 2013, the Office of Civil Defense (OCD) allowed P48.8 million in donations for Yolanda victims to remain dormant in several bank accounts instead of using the money to assist those in dire need of help in Leyte.  The COA added that the sum remained unspent as of June 2014, or more than six months since the super typhoon devastated Leyte. 
Thereafter, the OCD replied that the COA report was outdated because the money had been spent since then.  An official of the OCD added that the delay was caused by a lack of documentation on the part of the typhoon victims.  No elaboration on this excuse was given by the OCD.   
The excuse given by the OCD only underscores the incompetence and callousness of its officials.  If it were a mere documentation problem, then the OCD should have sent the money to the local government in Tacloban City.  City officials could have used the money to buy food and other essentials for the typhoon victims just when they needed the help most.  By letting the P48.8 million mark time in banks instead of spending it on the intended beneficiaries, the OCD also confirmed the refusal of President Benigno Aquino III and his cabinet to provide needed assistance to cities and provinces led by officials who are not affiliated with the pro-administration Liberal Party.  In the end, the typhoon victims suffered needlessly as a consequence of Malacañang politics.
By playing politics at the expense of the typhoon victims, the OCD and its masters in Malacañang did a great disservice to the people in Leyte.  Moreover, institutional donors from here and abroad will start thinking twice before sending help to calamity victims in the Philippines.  The Aquino regime created its own credibility problem, with dire consequences for future disaster victims in the country.  It is simply inconceivable how and why this administration’s officials can allow this tragedy to take place.
Public interest advocates are considering filing anti-graft charges against the pertinent officials of the OCD for this anomaly.  They should do so immediately.    
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Like the OCD, the Roman Catholic Church in the Philippines is unaware of its priorities regarding the funds it receives from donors. Recall that months prior to the visit of Pope Francis in the country last January, the Church was soliciting donations for the papal visit.  As to what specific aspects of the papal visit the solicited funds were to be spent on was not explained by Church leaders in Metropolitan Manila led by Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle.  Nonetheless, the donations poured in.  It appears that the donations exceeded Tagle’s expectations because not all of the funds were spent. 
The unspent funds could have been put to good use by forwarding them, with the consent of the donors, to the disaster areas in Leyte, and having local church personnel help in allocating the money.  That move would have been in accord with the concern demonstrated by Pope Francis to the people in Tacloban City during his visit.  Instead of doing so, Church officials in Manila decided to donate the funds to the Vatican for the pope’s use, even though the Vatican obviously does not need the money.
 When money is solicited from donors for use in a specific undertaking, spending it on something else other than the specific purpose it was solicited for requires the explicit consent of the donors.  Did the donors consent to giving the money to the Vatican?
By the way, top officials of the Church travel around the metropolis in late-model automobiles, complete with security escorts.   
 * * *
 It was reported in the television news that Senator Sergio Osmeña III made a disturbing remark while he was interviewed by the media on the expected increase in electricity rates this summer.  Osmeña said that the public ought to change their consumption habits in order to save on their bills. 
Perhaps the good senator is unaware that the cost of electricity in this country has been so high over the past decade, and consumers have been trying their best to cut costs.  Consumers have no choice.  If they are unable to pay their bills even for just a month, the Manila Electric Company (Meralco) will summarily disconnect their homes from the power lines.  Unlike the senators in this country, consumers cannot pass on their Meralco bills and other expenses to the government.     
 Energy Secretary Carlos Jericho Petilla has not done anything about this problem which chronically ails Filipino consumers.  The last time Meralco lost in a case involving electricity charges, Petilla advised Meralco to seek a reconsideration of the court ruling.  Withal, consumers saw Petilla as an ally of private interest groups.  Since Petilla’s sentiments seem to favor the private sector, consumers will not get any help from him.
President Benigno Aquino III has promised to do something about the looming electricity crisis this summer.  He can begin by finding out what happened to the P136 billion in Malampaya natural gas revenues which went missing when he was already in office.  His budget and finance secretaries, and the former national treasurer failed to properly account for this fund during a congressional investigation in 2013.  The anti-graft case which a civic leader filed against these three officials back in January 2014 was referred by the Office of the Ombudsman to the Commission on Audit – where it is currently slumbering.

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