MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – The Makati city government is allegedly losing an estimated P367 million a year because of “ghost” beneficiaries in its program for the elderly, a city official testified before the Senate blue ribbon subcommittee on Thursday, August 20.
Makati Action Center head Arthur Cruto told senators that the estimated loss is based on the "initial findings" of the special task force mandated to audit and evaluate the BLU card program for senior citizens, which got its name from the blue color of the cards, in Makati's 33 barangays.
The audit, which has covered only 14 barangays to date, followed allegations that suspended Makati Mayor Jejomar Erwin “Junjun” Binay Jr and his father, former Makati mayor and now Vice President Jejomar Binay, overpriced birthday cakes given by the city to its elderly. (WATCH: Lone supplier places bid on Makati's cake-giving program)
Apart from the birthday cakes, BLU card holders receive P11,750 worth of benefits every year, including cash gifts, grocery items for Christmas, and free maintenance medicine and movies at any city theater. To qualify, one should be a bonafide Makati resident, at least 60 years old, and a registered voter.
The program was established in 2002, when VP Binay was still mayor. Binay has flaunted the program in his provincial sorties, promising to do it nationwide if elected as president. (READ: Why Makati seniors want Junjun Binay in city hall)
Cruto said the initial findings of the audit in Barangays Kasilawan and Pinagkaisahan, the two smallest barangays in Makati, showed that 40% to 52% of the elderly-beneficiaries are not on the Commission on Election’s voters’ list, and in the place of residence they indicated in official government documents.
In Barangay Kasilawan, only 660 out of 1,095 listed BLU card holders were located and are registered voters, while 449 out of 938 senior citizens were identified to be truly qualified beneficiaries in Barangay Pinagkaisahan.
Pesenting data he said he obtained from the Makati Social Welfare Department (MSWD) and the City Civil Registry Office, Cruto said the task force discovered that 25 senior citizens supposedly lived in one house located at 1526 A, Mendoza Street, Barangay Kasilawan.
When the task force visited the residence, Cruto said, “Hindi po nila nakita ‘yung 22 out of the 25 (They did not see 22 out of the 25).”
'Cash gifts to deceased beneficiaries'
Cruto also said cross-checking documents from MSWD with the death certificates of senior citizens dated 2013 showed that some deceased elderly allegedly continue to receive cash gifts from the city government.
“Nakakalungkot po makita at natuklasan po namin na may pumirma po at sa pangalan po talaga [nung namatay]…. Nakakalungkot at nakakagulat na bakit po ‘yung mga yumao na po nating mga lolo at lola ay nakakatanggap pa after two years na sila po ay yumao na,” he added.
(It’s sad to discover that there were people who signed for the deceased senior citizens….It’s sad and surprising to know that the elderly who passed away are still receiving the cash gifts two years after their death.)
According to Cruto, MSWD records showed a total of 68,000 senior citizens in Makati.
Applying the 46% mean of the average figures of unregistered and unidentified senior citizens in the two barangays to Makati overall shows that 36,720 out of the total 68,000 elderly are genuine BLU card holders. The other 31,280, or 46%, are allegedly “suspicious," Cruto said.
“So kung atin pong imumultiply ‘yung pong nawawalang 31,280 sa listahan doon po sa average cost per year na inililalaan ng city government ng Makati sa isang senior citizen – that’s P11,750 – P367.5 million po. Mga kagagalang na senador, ito po ‘yung nawawala po sa likod ng senior citizens’ BLU card program,” he said.
(So if we are going to multiply the missing 31,280 with the average cost per year that the city government of Makati allots for each senior citizen – which costs P11,750 – the total will be P367.5 million. Honorable senators, that’s the amount lost in the senior citizens’ BLU card program.)
The Thursday hearing comes exactly a year after the Senate first probe of the alleged overpriced Makati city parking building, which had branched into other corruption allegations against the Vice President and members of his family. The Binay camp has consistently maintained that the probe is meant to derail the Vice President's presidential bid.
The hearing on Thursday is already the 23rd, making it one of the longest in Senate history. (TIMELINE: Binay's plunder case, one year after)
According to Cruto, the auditing process for the rest of the barangays is still ongoing. He said that of the 33 barangays in Makati, the task force has completed auditing 14 so far – 8 barangays in District 1 and 6 in District 2.
Cruto said that while he only presented the findings from Barangays Kasilawan and Pinagkaisahan to the Senate panel, the task force noticed a “common trend” in the 14 barangays it had surveyed so far.
Senator Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III, who is leading the Senate investigation, clarified that the P367.5 million is just a “projection.”
“The total amount lost per year is a projection, but as far as the two barangays na na-house-to-house na po ‘yung auditing, finding nila is that 46% of the alleged beneficiaries do not exist or are ‘ghost,” clarified Pimentel.
(The total amount lost per year is a projection, but as far as the two barangays where the task force already conducted house-to-house auditing, their finding is that 46% of the alleged beneficiaries do not exist or are “ghost.”)
During the hearing, Senators Pimentel, Antonio Trillanes IV, and Alan Peter Cayetano asked Cruto to finish the auditing process for all barangays. Cruto later told reporters that the audit would be done by year-end.
Pimentel also said the Senate blue ribbon subcommittee will invite members of the MSWD and acting Mayor Romulo “Kid” Peña Jr to the next hearing.
Cayetano added that the Binay family is welcome to attend the subcommittee's investigation to defend their side.
The Makati Senior Citizens' Affairs Office brought some Makati elderly from different barangays in the Senate Session Hall on Thursday to witness the hearing as observers.
79-year-old Tharesa Manalo of Barangay Pinagkaisahan said she was surprised by Cruto's testimony.
"Nagulat na po kami doon, kasi kontento na kami na tama iyon (BLU card program). 'Yun pala, pati kami pinagkakakitaan (I was surprised, because we were already content with the BLU card program. Apparently, they're gaining profit from us)," she told Rappler.
"Matutuwa na kami na na-bulgar 'yun. At least, baka 'yun ang maging eye-opener doon sa mga senior citizens [na hindi naniniwala] (We're happy that this was revealed. At least, this might be the eye-opener for the senior citizens who do not believe)," Manalo added. – Rappler.com