Yolanda funds to be used in polls, CBCP exec warns

AN OFFICIAL from the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines on Wednesday expressed alarm over the possible use of the government’s Typhoon Yolanda funds in next year’s elections.

NASSA/Caritas Philippines Executive Secretary Edwin Gariguez expressed this view following recent studies supposedly showing the Aquino administration’s prolonged delays in releasing the funds under its Comprehensive Rehabilitation and Recovery Plan for Super Typhoon Yolanda.

“The problem here is that 2016 is fast approaching,” Gariguez said.

“When are they going to release the funds? Are they waiting to release it until 2016? What is sad is they may be waiting for 2016 before they release the funds. That’s not good. They may be waiting for 2016 so they could give away this big money. That should not happen.”

Gariguez made his statement even as the Department of Budget and Management said the  releases of money for the rehabilitation of the areas devastated by Yolanda were made as urgently as possible, and that former Senator Panfilo Lacson’s basis on the slow releases was wrong.

The agency said Lacson’s allegations on the slow Yolanda releases were untrue and based on incorrect data.

Lacson was the head of the Office of the Presidential Assistant for Rehabilitation and Recovery until he resigned in December 2014.

“Lacson’s points do not give an accurate picture of the government’s efforts to help the Yolanda survivors. Not only that—his claims are based on erroneous information,” Budget Secretary Florencio Abad said.

Lacson claimed that the P80-billion requirement for the Comprehensive Rehabilitation and Reconstruction Program was not included in the 2014 budget.

Data from a recent study by NASSA/Caritas Philippines, Development & Peace and other advocacy groups showed that only P73.51 billion or 41.61-percent of the total P170 billion in funding requirements had been released as of March 2015.

The study further said that only P2.4 billion of the targeted P26 billion for social services was funded in 2014. This was apart from the P13.6 billion released for the resettlement of the required P75 billion, P2.4 billion of the P26 billion for target social services, P9.8 billion of the P33 billion funds for livelihood, and P21.5 billion of the P35 billion budget for infrastructure.

Gariguez also cited the lack of transparency on how the funds for Yolanda were used.

A report from the Department of Budget and Management apparently showed that the budget for the Yolanda reconstruction was shared with other rehabilitation efforts for other calamities such as the Bohol earthquake.

“This is another cause for concern. Why do they have to mix up the funds for the rehabilitation efforts of different calamities? This is a clear disregard of basic accounting principles. Again, this clearly shows the government’s super inefficiency,” Gariguez said.

The priest also raised alarm over the indebtedness incurred by the government as the “financial requirements of the rehabilitation have become the government’s pretext in accessing loan obligations with multilateral financial institutions.”

So far, the government has incurred a total of P126.2 billion i9n debts.

“These are the issues that we wanted President Aquino to clarify during his last State of the Nation Address. Unfortunately, this did not happen,” Gariguez said.

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