Duterte to COA: Allow use of P5-M Marawi funds for Mecca trips | Inquirer News

Duterte to COA: Allow use of P5-M Marawi funds for Mecca trips

/ 05:38 AM June 08, 2019

TOPSHOT – This picture taken on May 31, 2019 shows an aerial view of Muslim worshippers prostrating during prayer around the Kaaba, Islam’s holiest shrine, at the Grand Mosque in Saudi Arabia’s holy city of Mecca, during the holy fasting month of Ramadan. (Photo by BANDAR ALDANDANI / AFP)

President Duterte has asked the Commission on Audit (COA) not to disallow the use of P5 million in rehabilitation funds for Marawi City to finance the pilgrimage to Mecca of its displaced residents.

The President said that for Muslims, the hajj—the once-in-a-lifetime pilgrimage to the holy city in Saudi Arabia required of all able-bodied Muslims—was more important than the prospect of having their houses rebuilt after the 2017 Marawi City siege.


“To Muslims, the pilgrimage is more important than a mansion. You can forget about the housing there that are being planned by the government. But to the individual Muslim believer, a single token of generosity, to allow him to go on the hajj is more important,” Duterte said.


“So I’m asking the COA to reconsider. What is P5 million? Actually, that P5 million is worth billions in terms of your kind—I said generosity—to finance the poor Muslim people to go on the hajj,” he added.

The President made the remarks during Thursday’s celebration in Davao City of Eid al-Fitr, the end of the fasting month of Ramadan.


HUDCC move questioned

The COA earlier questioned the transfer by the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council (HUDCC) of P5 million from its budget meant for Task Force Bangon Marawi (TFBM) to the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos.

The money was sourced from the P500-million fund that the Office of the President (OP) had allocated to the HUDCC for the task force’s operational expenses.


The audit body ordered the HUDCC to return the amount, which was used to finance the annual hajj of displaced residents of the war-ravaged city.

Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo earlier said he would ask the HUDCC to explain the COA findings, as the agency may be held liable for technical malversation.

But Duterte apparently saw no problem with the fund diversion and said he also used to set aside funds for the pilgrimage to Mecca of poor, old Muslims when he was still mayor of Davao City.

“I kept on sending. I started with 10, then 20, since 1988. And Inday (his daughter, Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte) is still doing it. Now, if you tell me to reimburse it, where would I get the money? I’d rather go to jail,” the President said.

‘Pacification campaign’

He stressed the importance of understanding the Muslim culture as he appealed to the COA to consider the diversion of the rehabilitation fund as part of the government’s “pacification campaign.”

“It’s not the financing of a religious journey. Do not take it in that sense, that there is a separation of Church and State. Take it as a pacification campaign, for, after all, we are all natives and we were subjugated,” the President said.

He added: “If you can understand the culture, then there’d be less friction in the society.”

‘Don’t jail Del Rosario’

Duterte also warned the COA that he would resist efforts to punish Eduardo del Rosario, the HUDCC chair and TFBM chief, for the fund diversion.

“I will tell the COA, don’t jail Del Rosario. Because if you jail him, I might also get charged, and also Inday,” he said.

Duterte added: “If my daughter and I get charged and jailed, we will rise up in revolt here in Mindanao. It’s up to you.”

He said it was important to “invest in peace” and that he was open to allocating P15 million from the OP budget for the pilgrimage of Muslim Filipinos to Mecca.

“Let us invest [in] peace. Spend money. You’re not buying it here, you’re just helping your fellow Filipinos who are believers of Islam. Let us invest [in] peace,” Duterte said.

The President said he may start by sending to Mecca members of a major Muslim tribe in Mindanao.

“They won’t go there to take photos. They will go to Mecca to fulfill a religious mandate,” Duterte said. “When the mecca is over, they have no more problem. They can die tomorrow. So maybe we can add P15 million.”


Fund’s real purpose

In its audit report, the COA said the entire HUDCC fund was meant for the “recovery, reconstruction and rehabilitation of the City of Marawi and other affected localities.”

“The purpose of the fund transfer was not among the authorized expenses enumerated … [and] the trust funds shall be available and may be spent only for the specific purpose for which the trust was created or the funds received,” the report said.

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The HUDCC said it used the fund for “social healing” of the victims of the Marawi siege. —WITH A REPORT FROM PATRICIA DENISE M. CHIU

TAGS: COA, Marawi funds, Rodrigo Duterte

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