MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.”
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Francis Escudero quoted this saying as he vowed that the Senate will put safeguards to ensure that funds for victims of super typhoon Yolanda will not go to the pockets of corrupt public officials.
In a press briefing on Monday, November 11, Escudero said the Senate is studying the creation of a special fund in the 2014 budget that will finance the rehabilitation of areas in the Visayas hit by Yolanda and the magnitude 7.2 earthquake in October. Senate President Franklin Drilon proposed the fund to be worth P10 billion.
“The funds for [typhoon victims] have once been misused and wasted, including the Malampaya Fund. We will make sure that if we are allocating funds [for the victims], we will put safeguards to ensure that does not happen again. If we allow ourselves to be fooled again like what happened before, we are the ones who are embarrassing and not the corrupt officials,” Escudero said in Filipino.
Escudero was referring to the P900-million Malampaya fund allocation intended for victims of Typhoons Ondoy and Pepeng in 2009 allegedly plundered in a recent series of scams. Alleged mastermind Janet Lim Napoles supposedly connived with agrarian reform officials to channel the money to her fake non-governmental organizations for purely ghost projects.
The senator said the planned safeguards include limitations on expenditures and realignment, reportorial requirements, and the participation of the Commission on Audit (COA) “at the earliest possible stage of disbursement.”
“We will likely create a commission and guidelines for the use of the funds to prevent the abuse in the past where they used the calamity as an excuse for corruption.”
Escudero and Senate President Franklin Drilon said the president’s calamity fund for 2013 is enough to provide relief to the victims but what is needed is money for rehabilitation.
Drilon said he will ask Budget Secretary Florencio Abad to submit a new budget proposal that will be turned into an amendment when the Senate tackles the budget.
“We will propose for the next year budget that we should create a special fund amounting to at least P10 billion only for the rehabilitation of public infrastructure including roads and bridges, and damaged houses and power utilities,” Drilon said in a speech before Philippine Dental Association on Monday.
“There is time to recast the budget because when this budget was crafted at the start of the year, certainly nobody could have predicted the severe damages caused by the recent typhoon Yolanda, the 7.2 magnitude earthquake in Bohol and Cebu and the siege in Zamboanga City.”
The world’s strongest typhoon of the year, Yolanda hit Eastern Visayas and other regions in the Visayas on November 9. Officials said 10,000 are feared dead in Leyte alone. Also one of the most powerful typhoons to make landfall ever, Yolanda affected 9.5 million people, flattening houses and leaving many missing and wounded.
Appeal to banks, BIR for moratorium
Besides the special fund, Escudero said Congress will also augment the P7.5-billion calamity fund of the Office of the President in 2014.
“It is clear that is not enough to address the disasters in 2013. What more those coming in 2014?”
The senator said the Senate is also studying a measure to ask both public and private financial institutions to declare a moratorium on payables of the victims in disaster-hit areas.
“For example, the Bureau of Internal Revenue can freeze the payment of certain taxes and datelines. The Monetery Board can give regulatory relief to banks so they will not be considered as having non-performing loans and won’t be penalized if their clients cannot pay their loans.”
Escudero said Congress can also look into asking the financial institutions not to impose interests on those who cannot pay for a certain period. He said this will include payments to the Pag-ibig Fund, Social Security System (SSS), and Government Service Insurance System (GSIS).
“We also call on government banks like Land Bank and the Development Bank of the Philippines to lead in giving moratoriums for affected individuals and local government units, not to penalize or impose interests on those who cannot pay loans because where will they find the money?”
“This is the least we can do in the spirit of bayanihan, including the private sector.”
Escudero said ideally, the moratorium will be for two to 3 years.
Yet he clarified that for now, the moratorium remains an appeal to the financial institutions.
“We are studying if we can legislate it because it might be treated as an impairment of contracts because the banks and their clients have an agreement. Hopefully, we can find a way to make it mandatory. We hope to find a legal way to do it,” he said.
‘Looting not justifiable’
Both administration allies, Escudero and Drilon backed the decision of President Benigno Aquino III not to declare martial law in Tacloban, Leyte amid reports of widespread looting. Local officials asked the President to make the declaration.
They said it is enough for the government to send fresh troops and policemen to the area. The senators though did not condone the theft.
“Definitely, [looting is not justifiable.] In times of crisis, you see the character of a person. It just shows that some of our countrymen take advantage despite the suffering of many. That’s not justifiable. We saw other calamities and people did not do that.”
“Even pawnshops kasi tinitira na at ATM,.” Escudero said. (They steal even from pawnshops and ATMs). – Rappler.com
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