Peña: Initial findings on ‘ghost’ Makati senior citizens ‘disturbing’
Acting Makati Mayor Romulo Peña Jr. has described the initial findings of a citywide audit of the BLU card program for senior citizens as “disturbing” and “indicative of a potentially serious anomaly.”
“The initial findings are disturbing. They indicate a potentially serious anomaly in the implementation of the BLU Card program that may turn out to be grossly disadvantageous to legitimate senior citizens of Makati,” Peña said in a statement.
He said he would continue to deploy personnel from the Makati Action Center (MAC) to the remaining barangays of the city for a “complete and thorough audit” of the program.
MAC head Arthur Cruto presented on Thursday his findings in barangays Kasilawan and Pinagkaisahan before the Senate blue ribbon subcommittee investigating alleged anomalies in Makati when Vice President Jejomar Binay was the city mayor.
Cruto said in the hearing that based on projections from his initial audit, 31,280 out of some 68,000 Makati senior citizens were questionable beneficiaries as they were either unqualified for not being registered voters or not found in their listed addresses.
Cruto said some of these beneficiaries were already dead but continued to receive benefits.
Cruto also said the Makati city government has lost around P370 million a year or more than P1 million a day to these questionable beneficiaries.
Peña said that once the audit is completed, “more conclusive findings backed by specific and accurate data will show the full extent of the anomaly.”
He assured Makati residents that the local government “will not tolerate alleged fraudulent practices.”
Under the BLU Card program, senior citizens are entitled to cash gifts ranging from P2,000 to P4,000 each year and free cakes on their birthday and golden wedding anniversary, among other benefits.
But a Makati official on Friday disputed the findings presented at the Senate subcommittee hearing, saying these are based on a flawed and questionable “auditing” procedure.
In a statement, Ryan Barcelo, head of the Makati Social Welfare Department (MSWD), said Cruto’s staff simply went house to house and asked if the senior citizens were there and marked an “X” on the person’s name if they were not around.
He said Cruto’s staff apparently did not bother to ask where the senior citizen was at that time, or if the senior citizen had died.
“There should have been what we call a ‘collateral interview,’” Barcelo said, referring to interviews with relatives and neighbors of the senior citizen to validate claims in the forms submitted to the MSWD office.
He said Cruto did not even provide documentary evidence to back up his claim that 45 percent of senior citizens are “ghosts.”
He said the MSWD, which implements the city’s various senior citizens’ programs, strictly follows procedures to validate reports that a senior citizen has moved to another address outside Makati or has died.
Barcelo said all senior citizens enrolling in the BLU card program are required to be personally present during the application.
He said the MSWD also follows a validation procedure prior to the removal of the name of the senior citizen from the list, which includes the submission of a death certificate and verification by the MSWD upon receiving reports of the death of a beneficiary.
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