Senate testimony: P370M lost in Makati seniors’ benefits
“Every month is ghost month in Makati.”
The Makati City government lost close to P370 million a year, or more than P1 million a day, to supposedly questionable beneficiaries of the BLU Card program for senior citizens, according to a city official.
Arthur Cruto, head of the Makati City Action Center, said Thursday that based on projections from his initial audit of the program, 31,280 out of some 68,000 Makati senior citizens were questionable beneficiaries.
They were either unqualified for not being registered voters as required by the rules of the city, or could not be found in their supposed address. Some of them were dead but allegedly continued to get benefits, he said.
Acting Makati Mayor Romulo “Kid” Peña has tasked Cruto with auditing the BLU Card program. (Mayor Junjun Binay is serving starting July 1 a six-month preventive suspension by the Office of the Ombudsman over allegations that the Makati City Science High School building was overpriced.)
Cruto’s audit is still ongoing, but he presented initial findings as well as his projections from these.
Speaking at the 23rd hearing of the Senate blue ribbon subcommittee, Cruto said each of the BLU Card holders was receiving benefits amounting to P11,750 a year on average.
To qualify, one must be at least 60 years old, a registered voter and a bona fide Makati resident. If any of the conditions are not present, one could not become a beneficiary.
Benefits include a cash gift, a birthday cake, special groceries for Christmas, free maintenance medicines and free movies.
Based on Cruto’s initial findings, only 54 percent, or 36,720 senior citizens were qualified under the program. The rest, numbering some 31,280 beneficiaries, were questionable.
Multiplying the number of allegedly questionable beneficiaries to the P11,750 set aside for their benefits would amount to P367.5 million, he pointed out.
“Honorable senators, this is what gets lost every year from the BLU Card program for senior citizens,” he said.
Audit of two barangays
Cruto also presented his findings from the audit of two of the smallest barangays (villages) in Makati—Barangay Kasilawan and Barangay Pinagkaisahan.
In the two areas, 40 to 52 percent of senior citizens could not be found or were not registered voters.
In Barangay Kasilawan, only 660 of 1,095 listed BLU Card holders were located and were recorded as registered voters. In Pinagkaisahan, only 449 out of 938 were located and listed as registered voters.
25 seniors, one address
The audit also found 25 senior citizens who shared the same address. But when this was checked out, only three of them were actually living in the place.
Cruto said deceased senior citizens were also not removed from the list and continue to get benefits. The figures were checked using official documents.
In one instance, a resident who died in January 2014, as per the death certificate, received a P2,000 cash gift in June 2015. The list of recipients bore the senior citizen’s name as well as a signature using her name.
It was possible these deceased were also listed as receiving the other benefits, he said.
Based on data
Asked if he was convinced that there was an anomaly in Makati’s program for senior citizens, he said the documents were hard to ignore.
“It’s hard to deny that if there are data or records. Everything that I said this morning is based on data,” he said.
Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano believes there was a conspiracy in this case.
P799M for 68,000 seniors
Cayetano noted that P799 million had been allocated for an estimated 68,000 senior citizen beneficiaries in Makati.
The budget, before being approved by the city council, has to be based on something and is not plucked out of thin air. There would have been an estimated number of beneficiaries.
“That is why there is that P799 million. So in that, there is already an intent for an anomaly, because if there are only 40,000 or 36,000 senior citizens, the appropriation should be P400 million not P700 million,” he said.
He said he was not saying that the city councilors were involved. They might have been fooled, he said.
“What I’m saying is that there is a conspiracy here. Because this is not one or two out of 100 or 1,000 senior citizens where one might have been deceased and someone thought to get his benefits,” he said.
“It’s a whole conspiracy because this is 40 percent. There is a system in doing this,” he added.
He said there was enough evidence to believe that there was an anomaly.
“I don’t believe in the ghost month, but it appears that every month is ghost month in Makati,” he added.
Cayetano later told reporters that since there was a conspiracy, the situation was not like an instant photo where one could immediately pinpoint who was guilty.
“This is like a puzzle being completed to show what the system in Makati is and who benefits from it,” he said.
Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV said Vice President Jejomar Binay and his family were fooling Makati residents by saying that they were helping them.
But the findings in the senior citizens program showed that the Binays had to cook up such a scheme so that they could allegedly amass P100 million, said Trillanes.
“I hope the people who are playing blind to this would open their eyes,” he said.
Trillanes told reporters that the subcommittee hearings, now running for a year and counting, had shown the people who Vice President Binay really was and whether he should remain in government.
In Makati, acting Mayor Peña said he was determined to weed out ghost senior citizens in the BLU Card program.
Peña said purging the list of beneficiaries would give better benefits to the real elderly in the city.
The Office of Senior Citizens Affairs (Osca) started going to barangays two weeks ago to verify if there were indeed ghosts among the senior citizens in the city, said city information officer Gilbert de los Reyes.
“We have started looking into that issue and whatever our findings are, we will share them with the public,” De los Reyes added, noting that they need to complete first checking big barangays in the city.
He said the city government, under Peña’s leadership, would cooperate in the Senate investigation of the alleged ghost seniors.
Suspended Mayor Binay’s spokesman, Joey Salgado, dismissed the allegations against the Binays as “wild and sensational statements to drum up interest in their inquisition of the Vice President and his family.”
“They want to undermine the exemplary programs and services of Makati. The senator’s latest statement is no different,” Salgado said, referring to Trillanes.
Salgado said that under Binay’s administration, all senior citizens were required to personally apply for their benefits.
“Those listed as beneficiaries are actual persons who have submitted the required documents and have passed the verification process. The city’s Social Welfare Department monitors the delivery of cakes,” he added.
Salgado said the elderly personally received their cash gifts during Christmas.
“The office also conducts spot checking to check reports of fraud. It also has a validation process to purge deceased senior citizens from the list. After one year, we cannot really expect Senator Trillanes to be truthful and transparent,” he said.–Leila B. Salaverria and Maricar B. Brizuela
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