Audit letters to gov’t aid beneficiaries scare Bulacan lawmaker
A Commission on Audit (COA) practice of sending letters to beneficiaries of government assistance and making them sign to confirm receipt or nonreceipt has scared the wits out of Bulacan Representative Pedro Pancho.
Pancho, who at 77 is one of the oldest and longest-serving members of the House of Representative, asked Social Welfare Secretary Corazon “Dinky” Soliman here on Thursday to stop the internal auditor of her department from sending letters to people who received burial and financial assistance in Balagtas, Baliuag, Bocaue, Bustos, Guiguinto, Pandi and Plaridel towns, all in Bulacan.
He aired his concern during an open forum where Soliman discussed with local officials the government’s National Household Targeting System for Poverty Reduction.
Pancho said he was scared of the COA practice because most aid recipients were afraid or had refused to sign the confirmation letter for fear that it would tie them to a wrongdoing.
According to him, people also ran away whenever the auditors come, fearing they would arrest them.
“These reactions may give the impressions that I didn’t help the people or I misused the money,” said Pancho, who is now on his sixth term as congressman. He completed his three terms from 1992 to 2001 and won a seat again in 2004.
Soliman explained to Pancho that the audit letters were actually directed at local agencies, such as the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), that use the lawmakers’ Priority Development Assistance Funds (PDAF).
Pancho said: “I give the DSWD P30 million each year from my PDAF [to subsidize burial assistance programs]. But this is on top of what I give from out of my own pocket.”
The funeral wakes he visits run to 15 nightly, said the lawmaker, who reported his net worth in 2004 at P75.625 million.
Pancho said his “abuloy” (funeral donations) alone were amounting to P200,000 monthly because of the “high cost of funeral services.” “It’s my poor pocket which gets hurt by these funeral requests,” he said in Filipino.
He claimed to have pioneered a village-based funeral assistance program in Baliuag with the help of a barangay (village) captain there. The program has been giving bereaved families at least P25,000 for funeral services and P3,000 in “pocket money,” he said.
“My district [office] is open as early as 7 a.m. when people start coming to ask for help and we’re open on Saturday because we don’t want to be the cause of the delay of the burial [when we fail to give money for funeral services],” he said.
Not visibly annoyed or amused, Soliman clarified that the COA, not the DSWD, was doing the post audit.
Pancho told Soliman: “Please stop sending those letters, ma’am. I volunteer to lend my own vehicles to bring the auditors to the site and just ask the people. I prefer personal visits by them.”
He also said he would advise bereaved relatives not to sign vouchers during wake. “That’s not appropriate,” he said, adding that this may send the living wishing they were dead and be buried next to their departed loved ones. Tonette Orejas, Inquirer Central Luzon
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.