LGUs told: Do not corrupt lockdown aid

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    THE Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) yesterday said barangay officials who would corrupt the distribution of the cash and in-kind government assistance to low-income families in the NCR Plus bubble would be charged and sent to jail.

    Interior undersecretary for barangay operations Martin Diño issued the warning as local government units in Metro Manila and the provinces of Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna and Rizal start today the distribution of the P1,000 per person, or a maximum of P4,000 per family, cash aid or its equivalent worth in food packages to families affected by the two-week enhanced community quarantine ordered by President Duterte.

    “We will not just suspend you. What the President wants is to detain you,” Diño said, addressing his statement to local executives.

    The official said local leaders should refrain from discriminating beneficiaries, demanding a portion of the assistance from the recipients, and dividing the assistance to beneficiaries to include even those who are not qualified.

    The financial assistance is expected to benefit 22.915 million individuals. They will either get cash or food packages, depending on the decision of their local government officials. The DILG has given LGUs 15 days to complete the cash aid distribution, and 30 days for those which opt to distribute food packs.

    The Department of Budget and Management said the budget allocation for the assistance is as follows: NCR, P11.17 billion; Bulacan, P2.97 billion; Cavite, P3.44 billion; Laguna, P2.72 billion; and Rizal, P2.61 billion.

    Diño said the DILG would impose sanctions against local leaders who would engage in anomalies, reminding them how the department meted punishments against barangay officials who corrupted the first and second Special Amelioration Program last year.

    It was Diño, as undersecretary for barangay operations, who investigated and endorsed to the Office of the Ombudsman the public complaints against 89 barangay officials who were accused of questionable acts related to the distribution of the cash aids last year.

    Interior undersecretary and spokesman Jonathan Malaya said 90 percent of the LGUs in the five areas have already received their assistance from the national government.

    “Tomorrow, we will start the distribution in Parañaque City in the morning and Caloocan City in the afternoon,” Malaya said, adding that distribution of the cash aid in the cities of Manila, Mandaluyong and Valenzuela will start on Thursday.

    Malaya reiterated the DILG’s warning against giving political color to the distribution of the cash assistance. He stressed food packages or cash envelopes should not bear the pictures, initials or even logos of government leaders.

    Anyone caught violating this directive will be criminally and administratively charged, Malaya warned.

    SPECIAL SESSION

    Senate minority leader Franklin Drilon said President Duterte should call for a special session of Congress so lawmakers can take up and approve a proposed measure seeking to give emergency cash assistance to poor families and beef up the government’s dwindling pandemic response funds.

    “I urge the President to call a special session of Congress to pass the proposed Bayanihan 3 and expand the government’s cash subsidy program amid the spike in COVID-19 cases. After all, it is the ineptitude of the Department of Health and the IATF which brought us to this situation,” Drilon said in a statement.

    He cited Article VI, Section 15 of the Constitution which allows the President to call a special session at any time since Congress is on a summer break from March 27 to May 16.

    Drilon said the lockdown last year, the longest in the world, left 7.6 million families hungry, while the unemployment rate rose to 17.7 percent, equivalent to around 7.3 million unemployed Filipinos, as of last April 2020 due to the lockdown.

    “This is the situation that we have to prepare for. We cannot let another 7.6 million Filipino families go hungry this year. Our inaction or delayed action can make another 7.3 million Filipinos lose their jobs again this month. We cannot let businesses permanently shut down,” Drilon said.

    In an interview with DzRH, Drilon called for the realignment of some items in the General Appropriations Act to boost the pandemic fund, citing the P19 billion anti-insurgency fund and the P9.5 billion for confidential and intelligence funds.

    Drilon said there is a need to provide more funding for the government’s COVID-19 pandemic response in order to help the poor and the vulnerable sectors of society, as well as small and medium enterprises heavily affected by the pandemic.

    Senate President Vicente Sotto III said he is in favor of holding a special session of Congress if the DBM “can find other source available” to fund Bayanihan 3, which needs around P400-billion funding.

    Former vice president Jejomar Binay said the government could use funds intended for infrastructure and anti-insurgency to increase the cash assistance to low-income families.

    “The government has the money. It’s just a matter of giving priority to the more urgent needs of our people,” Binay said, as he pointed out that government can divert the billions of pesos intended for infrastructure projects and delay the undertakings in the meantime.

    He added the administration can tap the funds of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC).

    “With the extension of the ECQ and the forced closure of many businesses, government should increase the assistance or ‘ayuda’ for affected citizens. Aid should come first, not the red-tagging and infrastructure,” Binay said.

    In Taguig City, Mayor Lino Cayetano said city hall has already received the more than P805.8 million cash aid for its constituents. “The distribution will start in Wednesday, April 7,” Cayetano said. – With Raymond Africa and Noel Talacay