Cagayan de Oro City

Councilors sue ex-Cagayan de Oro mayor for COVID-19 aid maldistribution

Herbie Gomez

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Councilors sue ex-Cagayan de Oro mayor for COVID-19 aid maldistribution

COMPLAIN. Cagayan de Oro Councilor James Judith (center) announces he and Councilor Malverne Esparcia (left) are filing a graft complaint against ex-mayor Oscar Moreno and two other former city hall officials during a news conference on Friday, May 12, while lawyer Sylvan Geraldo Sabio looks on. The complaint was filed on Monday, May 15.

Herbie Gomez / Rappler

The two councilors say no funds were pocketed, but the administration of ex-mayor Oscar Moreno bungled the distribution of P767.8 million in cash aid in 2021

CAGAYAN DE ORO, Philippines – Two city councilors filed a graft complaint on Monday, May 15, with the Office of the Ombudsman against former Cagayan de Oro mayor Oscar Moreno and two others. They alleged that the respondents mishandled P767.8 million in COVID-19 pandemic cash aid meant for underprivileged families in the city in 2021.

The complaint stemmed from the exclusion of numerous residents and the duplicate entries in the city hall’s list of COVID-19 emergency aid beneficiaries during the critical months of the pandemic.

Councilors James Judith and Malverne Esparcia accused Moreno, former city administrator Teodoro Sabuga-a Jr., and former Cagayan de Oro City Social Service Office overseer Michael Christopher Fabello of malversation of public funds, falsification of public documents, and violation of the anti-graft law.

Judith submitted the complaint to the ombudsman’s office in Cagayan de Oro with assistance from lawyer Sylvan Gerald Sabio at 12:04 pm on Monday.

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Judith and Esparcia alleged that Moreno and the two other former officials were responsible for the maldistribution of P767.8 million, provided by the national government to aid impoverished families during the most challenging months of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2021.

“The funds were received by Moreno, and we hold him accountable based on the principle of command responsibility,” Judith said during a news conference on Friday, May 12, ahead of the complaint filing.

The two councilors said the funds were intended to be distributed at P1,000 per person or a maximum of P4,000 for each family listed by the local government and the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), but city hall bungled the listing process and the distribution of cash assistance.

They pointed out instances when Cagayan de Oro residents received more than their entitled amount, while many others complained of not receiving anything.

No stealing involved

Judith and Esparcia, however, clarified that their complaint did not accuse any of the former officials of pocketing public funds.

Judith chaired the ad hoc committee established by the city council to investigate the 2021 fund distribution in Cagayan de Oro, based on the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act of 2020.

Councilors sue ex-Cagayan de Oro mayor for COVID-19 aid maldistribution

The complaint was based on the committee’s findings, which Judith submitted to the city council on February 27.

In a previous interview, Judith said at least P50 million of the P767.8-million fund was lost due to the alleged manipulation of the beneficiary list, which he described to be systematic.

Earlier, Moreno acknowledged the presence of duplicate entries and pointed out that the local government discovered beneficiaries who received cash assistance multiple times. He said that the local government had requested the return of the extra funds.

Moreno said the errors had been anticipated because city hall decided to optimize the initial shortlist from the DSWD. 

Under time pressure

He explained that the local government was under time pressure due to the emergency situation, and they needed to meet a deadline; otherwise, the funds would revert to the national government.

To maximize the number of beneficiaries, Moreno said, city hall hurriedly combined the DSWD’s list with the list of Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps), senior citizens, persons with disabilities, and even the barangays’ own lists.

He said city officials were aware that optimizing the list could lead to errors, and the lapses were never kept a secret.

Councilor Joyleen Mercedes Balaba, chairperson of the city council’s social services committee, said a grievance committee and the Department of the Interior and Local Government were aware of the discrepancies, such as misspelled names and incorrect addresses, which were unintended but happened because of time constraints. –

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