• Probe of ‘irregularities’ in shelter program urged

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    A party-list lawmaker is backing a congressional probe of alleged irregularities in implementation of the Emergency Shelter Assistance (ESA) program for typhoon victims.

    Rep. Arnel Ty of the LPG Marketers’ Association (LPG-MA) is throwing his support behind the investigation after his attention was called by the case of a municipal scocial welfare officer in Panay in the Visayas.

    The social welfare officer “pretended that the money for the ESA won’t be arriving for months, even if the cash was already there, and then offered beneficiaries early payment in exchange for a 16-percent cut,” Ty, also House deputy minority leader, said in a statement on Sunday.

    The program grants P30,000 to victims of Typhoon Yolanda (international name: Haiyan) whose houses were completely destroyed and P10,000 to those with partly damaged houses.

    “In effect, a number of beneficiaries may be getting scammed out of their ESA—by the individuals themselves directly overseeing the distribution of the money at the local level,” Ty said.

    According to the lawmaker, the municipal social welfare officer told the beneficiaries that the ESA was delayed and introduced a lender who offered quick cash loans equal to 84 percent of the ESA with the 16 percent withheld as interest payment for the supposed advance.

    “It is also fairly possible that ESA-related scams like this involve or have the blessings of higher local officials trying to raise cash to pay for their election campaign-related expenses,” Ty said.

    “This Panay incident tends to disprove reports of loan sharks preying on ESA beneficiaries. Loan sharks are not needed, because in many cases, the cash for the ESA may already there,” he added.

    Last month, Rep. Fernando Hicap of Anakpawis party-list sought a congressional inquiry into alleged irregularity in the implementation of the government’s ESA program, saying there were “unreasonable restrictive guidelines, cases of political abuse and anomaly” in the program’s implementation.

    Under the Department of Social Welfare and Development’s Memorandum Circular 24, according to Hicap, those eligible to receive ESA include families who are already renting and had availed of the DSWD Disaster Family Access Card (DAFC), contractual government employees who have no housing loans and regular workers from the public and private sectors who earn below P15,000 a month.

    “[M]any calamity victims on the islands of Samar, Leyte and Panay have been deprived of the ESA on the mere account of their residence location, receipt of aid however little from local officials and the discriminatory salary cap provision as if those earning a little over P15,000 are no longer in dire need of assistance,” he said.

    Hicap asked the House Committee on Good Government and Public Accountability in House Resolution 2322 to invite officials of the DSWD and non-government organizations (NGOs) in the calamity areas to shed light on the matter.

    Also, the lawmaker cited an alleged modus operandi wherein “usurers” would lend cash to ESA applicants equivalent to the sum, which the DSWD is supposed to grant each beneficiary but with an added 16-percent interest.

    “The DSWD would then in turn release the shelter assistance not to the grantee but directly to the loan shark or financier,” Hicap said.

    Typhoon Yolanda hit the Visayas in central Philippines in November 2013, displacing tens of thousands of people and leaving more than 7,000 dead or missing.

    The country is lashed by about 20 storms a year.

    The DSWD has distributed P14.6-billion worth of ESA to 753,750 families in communities affected by Yolanda, according to Ty.

    REINA TOLENTINO

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