No room for ayuda anomalies

No room for ayuda anomalies

Into the second week of enhanced community quarantine, local government units have started distributing lockdown aid or ayuda to affected residents in the National Capital Region and the provinces of Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna and Rizal. ECQ in the NCR Plus bubble has again deprived many people of their livelihoods. Last Wednesday, LGUs began distributing the ayuda.

The government has allotted P22.9 billion, with beneficiaries to get P1,000 each, although the amount could be as high as P4,000 depending on the need. LGUs have been given 15 to 30 days to distribute the aid.

Some local executives have warned that the 15-day deadline could encourage crowding at the aid distribution centers, turning into super spreaders even as the ECQ seeks to curb the COVID surge. This valid concern must be properly addressed.

There are also concerns about a repeat of the favoritism and corruption that marred last year’s implementation of the social amelioration program, under which aid ranging from P5,000 to P8,000 was distributed. The government placed 183 barangay officials under investigation in connection with the SAP anomalies; 134 faced formal charges, and 89 captains were suspended for six months beginning in September.

Police also filed graft and other criminal charges against 447 people in connection with the SAP distribution: 227 elected officials, 104 appointed barangay personnel and 132 civilian co-conspirators.

Even those indictments and suspensions, however, may not serve as sufficient deterrent when billions in public funds are involved. This time, the government has ordered all LGUs in the NCR Plus to post the names of aid beneficiaries in barangay offices, city or municipal halls and social media pages.

This ECQ has been especially painful for those who have just started a slow revival of their battered livelihoods. Meanwhile, the government’s capacity for providing aid has become acutely curtailed by the economic contraction. There should be no room for misappropriating or stealing precious public funds in this crisis. Anyone caught doing so must face the full force of the law.