No room for thievery

No room for thievery

There are complaints about favoritism in the selection of beneficiaries and in prioritizing the areas for distribution of aid. There are reports of assistance being diverted for personal use, and of relief items such as rice being replaced with cheaper varieties.

Personnel of the Department of Social Welfare and Development were supposed to be in charge of directly handing out financial and other forms of assistance to people who are suffering from the economic impact of measures to contain the spread of COVID-19 or coronavirus disease 2019. But because of the inadequacy of DSWD manpower, the task has been largely relegated to local governments and barangay offices.

Amid the complaints about anomalies in aid distribution, the Office of the Ombudsman has warned barangay personnel that there will be an audit of the utilization of over P200 billion in COVID-related assistance funds and relief goods provided under the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act or Republic Act 11469. Apart from facing penalties provided under RA 11469, those who misuse the COVID funds will face charges for violating laws against graft and plunder, the ombudsman warned.

Allegations of wrongdoing in aid distribution are on top of continuing complaints about barangay personnel, together with some police officers, going overboard in punishing people who violate quarantine rules.

In several areas, local executives and barangay officials who like playing god have also imposed narrow window hours – apart from the nighttime curfew hours – for going to markets and drug stores even in areas that are not under extreme lockdown. This has effectively promoted crowding and difficulty in observing physical distancing. Yesterday, the Department of the Interior and Local Government ordered local executives to stop imposing such window hours. The DILG should see to it that its order is followed, with penalties imposed for defiance.

Amid complaints about officials pocketing COVID funds, there is a sound proposal for the publication of the names of aid beneficiaries, in platforms that can be accessed by the public for verification of identities and qualifications for emergency aid. The government must also provide hotlines where people can report complaints, even anonymously.

Life under quarantine is arduous enough without people being victimized by abusive and crooked public officials. Revenue collection has also been badly hit by the quarantine, and every centavo of that P200-billion COVID relief fund must be utilized judiciously. There is no room for thievery in this pandemic.