New exposé vs Binay claims ghost stories
Ghost or dead beneficiaries constituted half of the senior citizens who received benefits from Makati City before Mayor Junjun Binay was suspended, according to an initial local audit released on the eve of the first anniversary of the hearings by the Senate blue ribbon subcommittee looking into corruption allegations against the Binay family.
A house-to-house survey conducted by the Makati City Action Center headed by Arthur Cruto in two barangays (villages) showed that at least 52 percent of the names of senior citizens listed there in the city’s Social Welfare Department were either nonexistent or deceased.
The center is a division of City Hall under the Office of the Mayor that receives complaints and requests for assistance by residents. Its survey report was made available to the Inquirer on Wednesday.
Cruto, a former barangay official, was appointed by acting Makati Mayor Romulo Peña Jr., who temporarily took over from Junjun Binay after his six-month preventive suspension by the Office of the Ombudsman in July while it conducts an investigation into corruption allegations in the city under his watch.
Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV, who has announced he has more ammunition to support his corruption allegations against Vice President Jejomar Binay and his family, will present Cruto as a resource person at the continuation of the hearings in the Senate. Trillanes told reporters on Wednesday that the Binay family made millions of pesos out of the purported senior citizens’ benefits.
The hearings against the Binays started a year ago today (Thursday), sending the popularity ratings of the Vice President plummeting. Thursday’s session is the 23rd. An initial report issued by the subcommittee in May recommended the filing of plunder charges against the Binays.
The Vice President has denied wrongdoing and has filed a P200-million damage suit against each of his accusers hoping to bring to an “impartial” court the litigation of corruption allegations against him.
He said the Senate hearings were nothing more than an attempt to derail his bid for the presidency in next year’s elections.
Gifts in cash, kind
The report by the action center said that each senior citizen—60 years old and above, a bonafide resident and a registered voter—was allocated P11,750 in annual benefits broken down as follows: Cash gift of P3,000, birthday cake P300; special groceries for Christmas P1,500; free maintenance medicines P6,600; and free movies at P350.
The survey showed that of 1,095 listed senior citizens of Barangay Kasilawan only 660 were actual persons, while at Barangay Pinagkaisahan out of 938 listed, only 449 actual persons were found.
The budget allocation for the nonexistent 435 ghost senior citizens in Barangay Kasilawan, according to the report, was estimated to be at least P5.1 million.
“The money involved in the anomaly is expected to balloon as soon as all the 33 barangays in the city are audited,” Peña told the Inquirer.
He added that the audit was meant to determine the actual cost of benefits of the city’s senior citizens under his plans to increase their benefits.
The audit also yielded several names of persons who had been dead at least a year ago and who were still receiving benefits.
The report cited a certain Roberto Lualhati who died on Jan. 22, 2014, but continues to receive the benefits using his supposed signature. A certain Lydia Cruz, who died on May 28, 2015, also continues to receive the benefits.
‘Lies and vilification’
The Vice President said while on a visit in Davao City on Wednesday that he would mark the first anniversary of what he called the “Senate inquisition” by hearing Mass with his supporters in Makati. He said he expected more “lies and vilification” in Thursday’s hearing.
Binay’s spokesman Joey Salgado said Trillanes should provide proof of his latest allegations against the Vice President.
“The burden is for Senator Trillanes to prove his outlandish conclusion that 45 percent of senior citizen beneficiaries are nonexistent. Can he produce actual death certificates and other documents? We doubt it. We expect more half-truths and lies in (Thursday’s) hearings,” Salgado said in a statement.
Makati City’s Social Welfare Department, he said, monitors the delivery of cakes to senior citizens and do spot-check reports of fraud.
Trillanes told reporters that he would have another exposé against Binay in the next hearing on Aug. 26 and that more hearings would be held next month.
Trillanes also dismissed as a “hatchet job” and “petty talk” the attempt of Binay’s camp to make a big deal out of the fees paid by the Senate to his consultants, including his brother.
The Senator said the Commission on Audit had not said there was an irregularity in the consultancy fees.
“They give me funds that we use properly and allow me to do my legislative work,” Trillanes said.
He said his brother, who served as his consultant, got a net monthly income of P60,000 as consultancy fee from the Senate.
Trillanes also said he had consultants getting a monthly P70,000 in consultancy fees and these included, legal consultants and financial analysts.
“This is just a distraction so that my focus will lose direction, but this has only challenged me more,” Trillanes said.–Nancy C. Carvajal and Christine O. Avendaño
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