Budget Watch

P22 million cash aid for workers sitting in remittance centers

Aika Rey

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P22 million cash aid for workers sitting in remittance centers

UNCLAIMED ASSISTANCE. This file photo shows workers of Cavite Export Processing Zone Authority in General Trias, Cavite on August 9, 2021.

Dennis Abrina/Rappler

The labor department’s spokesman says the only means of communication they have between the remittance centers and the recipients were their mobile phone numbers. ‘If [their phones] got lost, we have no way of tracking them.’

State auditors found that some P22.43 million worth of cash aid for workers remained unclaimed in money remittance centers.

In its latest report, the Commission on Audit (COA) said some intended beneficiaries of the financial assistance programs of the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) did not receive the much-needed aid.

Here is the breakdown:

  • P8.24 million – COVID-19 Adjustment Measures Program (CAMP) for local workers
  • P9.05 million – DOLE’s Abot Kamay ang Pagtulong (DOLE-AKAP) for displaced overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs)
  • P5.15 million – emergency work program Tulong Panghanapbuhay sa Ating Disadvantaged/Displaced Workers (TUPAD)

The DOLE programs were under the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act or Bayanihan 1.

CAMP was meant to provide a one-time P5,000 assistance to workers while DOLE-AKAP gave out $200 or about P10,000 for displaced OFWs. TUPAD, meanwhile, provided minimum wage jobs for up to 30 days.

This meant that some 2,500 Filipinos – 1,600 local workers and 900 OFWs – failed to receive aid from the government. This simple computation does not include those who worked under TUPAD.

State auditors said that DOLE should continue informing the beneficiaries of the unclaimed assistance. If the aid could no longer be claimed, COA said, that the DOLE should require the “immediate refund of the amounts intended for unknown beneficiaries.”

DOLE Spokesperson Rolly Francia said in a briefing on Monday, August 16, that some beneficiaries failed to receive the text message containing the reference number needed when claiming at remittance centers. This was among the constraints of the chosen mode of distribution, he said.

Francia said some beneficiaries either changed phone numbers or used another person’s phone number when they applied for aid. Others, he said, may have lost their phones.

“That’s the only means of communication we have between the remittance centers and the recipients. If [their phones] got lost, we have no way of tracking them,” Francia said.

“We don’t have a choice but to return the funds [to the Treasury] that we could not remit,” he added.

Workers receiving reduced aid

In tracking the beneficiaries, COA said that five workers claimed to receive less than the P5,000 assistance.

Another worker from a security agency in Metro Manila claimed that the P5,000 assistance he received was later deducted from his salary.

COA also surveyed 26.33% of the beneficiaries, 221 of which denied receiving aid. More than half of them were OFWs.

“The non-receipt by the affected workers of the one-time financial assistance defeated the main purpose of the Bayanihan I Act, thru the DOLE programs, for the immediate assistance that could help the affected workers on their financial struggles brought by the COVID-19 pandemic,” COA said.

DOLE agreed to conduct further investigation into the matter. DOLE Metro Manila was also tasked to verify if the beneficiaries who responded to COA were part of those who were supposed to claim their financial assistance at remittance centers.

In a statement on Thursday, DOLE said that it had already responded to and complied with COA’s recommendations.

DOLE will also submit an updated compliance report 60 days after receipt of the COA report, which was on July 29.

Multiple payments

State auditors also flagged some P1.02 million in “excessive or multiple payments” to 213 beneficiaries under CAMP, TUPAD, and DOLE-AKAP programs.

COA said that multiple cash aid for a beneficiary could be avoided if there was a master list of prior receipt of financial assistance.

“The above excessive payments to the beneficiaries were mainly due to the lack of control measures in the processing of claims, thus to the detriment of other qualified applicants who have not availed of any financial assistance that could immediately help them alleviate their economic struggles brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic,” said COA.

In the report, DOLE said that demand letters were sent to some workers who received the excess P5,000 aid.

Some workers, meanwhile, availed themselves of the different programs of DOLE – CAMP for aid and TUPAD for emergency work.

In the auditor’s rejoinder, COA maintained that there should not have been an overlapping of assistance “to promote an equitable sharing of limited resources during these trying times.”

“It has to be noted that based on the audit of the utilization of funds of CAMP under the Bayanihan I, there were still numerous establishments and affected workers who were not accommodated due to lack of funds,” COA said.

The labor department on Monday maintained that it adhered to rules and regulations on fiscal matters.

DOLE said COA gave them an “unqualified opinion” on June 9, in response to the latter’s financial report in 2020. Receiving an unqualified opinion means that the agency got the highest audit rating from state auditors. – Rappler.com

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Aika Rey

Aika Rey is a business reporter for Rappler. She covered the Senate of the Philippines before fully diving into numbers and companies. Got tips? Find her on Twitter at @reyaika or shoot her an email at aika.rey@rappler.com.