AT the outset, local officials, especially in Metro Manila, have aired their problem concerning the distribution by the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) of the social amelioration program funds for poor households — some 18 million Filipino families.
The mayors of Navotas, Valenzuela and Quezon City were the first local officials to point out the intrinsic problems of distributing these dole-outs. This is because the funds allocated by the national government for each city or municipality are not enough for the intended beneficiaries. Valenzuela, for instance, has 100,000 families that should receive the cash assistance of P5,000 to P8,000 but its allocation would be good only for 60,000 families. This was pointed out by Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian who used to be mayor and congressman of the city.
Yesterday, Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles, who is also spokesman of the Inter-Agency Task Force directly handling the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, said local officials will have to give a refund to the national government if they distribute cash aid to ineligible beneficiaries under the two-month emergency subsidy program.
Secretary Nograles said the local officials may also face criminal, civil and administrative liabilities in case of fraud and other irregularities in the distribution of financial aid to low income families despite the refund.
There are several categories of citizens who are excluded from the emergency subsidy program. Nograles said these are elected and appointed government officials or personnel contracted in a memorandum of agreement, contract of service, job order or other similar schemes in national government, government corporations and local government units; employees in the private sector or those in the formal economy; retired persons receiving pension; and families with independent financial capacity.
The local officials need to be reminded of the proper and equitable distribution of the doleouts because if they fail, or if they deliberately cheat, the Commission on Audit (COA) will haunt them in the future, along perhaps with the Office of the Ombudsman.
Nograles warned that if the distribution is not properly conducted, the “LGU is constrained to refund if there is a mistake in giving the funds. And refund does not absolve you from any criminal, civil or administrative liability.”
The Palace warning about mass distribution of the subsidy is a welcome move to deter corruption among local officials. We recognize, however, that many towns and cities would find it difficult to comply, what with the surging number of poor and impoverished middle-income families now wanting to receive government aid.