A Makati City official has debunked alleged findings presented at the Senate sub-committee hearing on Thursday by a fellow city official appointed by acting Mayor Romulo Pena.
Ryan Barcelo, head of the Makati Social Welfare Department, said allegations of Arthur Cruto, officer-in-charge of the Makati Action Center (MAC) that more than 45 percent of senior citizens listed in the Blu Card Program of the MSWD are “ghost senior citizens” are based on a flawed and questionable “auditing” procedure.
Barcelo disclosed that in conducting their “audit,” Cruto’s staff simply went to the house of a senior citizen, asked if the senior citizen was there, and if told the senior citizen was not around, simply put an “X” across the name of the person.
He said the staff apparently did not bother to ask where the senior citizen was at the time, or if the said senior citizen had died.
“Magkaiba ho ang umalis ng bahay sa namatay. Hindi po nila ito inalam [There is a difference in a person leaving house and one who has died. The staff did not bother about this],” Barcelo added.
“There should have been what we call a ‘collateral interview.’ They should have asked where the senior citizen was and not simply put an X beside the person’s name when they found out the person was not around. There are a number of reasons a person is not in his house at a certain time,” he said.
“Hindi din malinaw kung anong ‘validation process’ ang ginawa nila para talagang walang duda na masasabi na wala na ang senior citizen sa Makati address nito [It is also not clear what validation process they employed to establish that a senior citizen is no longer at his Makati address],”according to Barcelo.
He said Cruto did not even provide documentary evidence to back up his claim that 45 percent of senior citizens are “ghosts.”
Barcelo added that the MSWD, which implements the city’s various senior citizens’ programs, strictly follows procedures to validate reports that a senior citizen has moved to another address outside Makati or has died.
He said MSWD does “collateral interviews,” meaning they talk to relatives and neighbors of a senior citizen to validate claims in the forms submitted to their office.
The validation process involves the president of the barangay (village) association of senior citizens and the barangay chairman.
It is only after actual confirmation that the senior citizen has left Makati and has no intention to return that he or she is removed from the list, Barcelo said.
If the said senior citizen’s whereabouts cannot be confirmed, his or her name is marked in the database as “Hold,” meaning that the MSWD will suspend release of benefits pending further investigation, he added.
According to Barcelo, all senior citizens enrolled in the Blu Card Program are required to be personally present when they apply.
On the alleged inclusion of dead senior citizens, he said, the MSWD also follows a validation procedure prior to the removal of the name of the senior citizen from the list.
This includes submission of a death certificate, and verification by the MSWD upon receiving reports that a beneficiary has died.
Barcelo also took issue with Cruto’s use of the voters’ list to validate the names of beneficiaries.
He said senior citizens who are no longer on the list of registered voters at the time of audit can not just be removed from the Blu Card program.
Barcelo added that senior citizens aged 60-79 who applied for the Blu Card Program submitted their voter’s ID or voter’s certificate when they applied, which means they were alive and were registered voters when they applied for their Blu Cards.
Because of their age, however, many senior citizens have failed to vote and have been delisted by Comelec.
Barcelo said benefits of senior citizens cannot be put on hold or revoked simply because they did not register again.
“We respect our senior citizens here in Makati. We value them. We take care of them,” he added.
Barcelo said Cruto apparently did not read the guidelines for the Blue Card program where residents aged 80 and above are no longer required to present their voter’s IDs. They are asked to submit their senior citizens’ white card, Makati yellow card or any valid ID bearing the Makati address.
Barcelo said there are indeed ”isolated cases “wherein relatives hide the fact the senior citizen has died to continue receiving the benefits due the old Makati resident.