QUEZON City Rep. Precious Hipolito-Castelo and her husband, councilor Winston "Winnie" Castelo were linked to alleged irregularities in the implementation of the Tulong Panghanapbuhay sa Ating Disadvantaged/Displaced Workers (Tupad) program of the Department of Labor and Employment (DoLE).

Barangay Holy Spirit Chairman Felicito Valmocina said in a press conference on Monday he decided to cut ties with the Castelos after learning from some Tupad beneficiaries about anomalies in the cash aid program being implemented in District 2 by the lawmaker.

Valmocina said he was furious when the aid recipients told him they had kept silent even if they were shortchanged because they thought he was in league with the Castelos.

"I never received any single centavo out of the Tupad program they implemented in Barangay Holy Spirit," he said, although he admitted he was partly to blame because he allowed the irregularities to continue, especially in 2015 when Castelo was the District 2 congressman.

"But I am now exposing their irregularities because I could no longer stomach what they were doing, especially amid the Covid-19 pandemic when most people are suffering while they are raking in millions of pesos out of the Tupad program," Valmocina told The Manila Times in an interview.

Present at the news conference was DoLE's Joel Petaca, who said Secretary Silvestre Bello 3rd suspended the implementation of the emergency employment program in District 2 following reports of anomalies in the distribution of cash aid.

Petaca said Bello froze the remaining P59 million allotted for District 2, which covers the villages of Commonwealth, Batasan Hills, Payatas, Bagong Silangan and Holy Spirit.

In a virtual briefing on Monday, Bello said he has ordered DoLE-National Capital Region Director Sara Buena Mirasol to look into the beneficiaries' complaints.

Baldr Bringas, who represented the Office of Chairman Greco Belgica of the Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission, said the agency will launch a thorough investigation of the alleged irregularities by teaming up with the National Intelligence Coordinating Council and the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI).

Bringas said the NBI will start by questioning Castelos' coordinators, Jackie Sales, Margie Baron and Sally Buena, said to be in charge of handing out the cash aid in the district.

Valmocina said the 118 complainants claimed they only got P2,000 instead of the P7,518 payout for jobs like street cleaning that never took place.

He said Sales directed a Castelo staffer to accompany the beneficiaries in claiming the cash aid in a remittance center and to deduct P5,518 from the authorized amount.

The same staffer handed over P198,000 in deductions from the salaries of 36 beneficiaries to Sales who was said to have turned over the amount to the office of Hipolito-Castelo.

"There are more than 20 recipients from 2015 and 2018 who already gave their affidavits to prove that they signed a document that they got their salary in full but only P2,000 was actually received by them," Valmocina said.

He figured there are more than 2,000 supposed Tupad beneficiaries in his barangay (village) who were "definitely shortchanged by the Castelos."

Valmocina appealed to President Rodrigo Duterte to order a broader inquiry into the implementation of the program not only in Quezon City but all over the country.

"With what's happening in District 2, it is likely that this Tupad program is also being used by other lawmakers as their milking cow," he said.

A lawyer representing the Castelos, Joselito Blando, said in a statement sent to The Manila Times the couple will coordinate with the authorities who will conduct an investigation.

"We received information that one or some of their office personnel may have received unauthorized cuts from the Tupad assistance given to beneficiaries in Barangay Holy Spirit. The office will carefully and thoroughly investigate the matter and determine whether or not the persons involved should be held liable for any irregularity and/or violation," Blando said.

"The office takes claims of staff wrongdoing seriously. Any person found guilty of any wrongdoing will be subjected to the proper penalty, including termination and legal action, where applicable. The office has been known to terminate and cut ties with personnel proven to have committed abuses and circumventions of Philippine law," Blando added.

Quezon City Mayor Maria Josefina Tanya "Joy" Belmonte gave her full support to the investigation and said those responsible must be held accountable.

"We need to get to the bottom of this because our residents have been shortchanged here," Belmonte said.

Under the Tupad program, displaced, underemployed and seasonal workers will be hired for 10 to 30 days, depending on the nature of work they will do.

Some local government units also implement the same community-based short-term employment for underemployed and seasonal workers.

With Jomar Canlas