Not looting, but retrieval of relief good, says Kabataan urging congress probe in Mindanao

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Photo grab from Facebook
Photo grab from Facebook

By Joey Natividad
Special Correspondent

CITY OF NAGA, Bicol Region (BicolToday.com/27-Feb-2013) – Reacting to reports on Tuesday, February 26, regarding the widespread looting of food stuffs by typhoon victims at the government relief distribution center in Mindanao, Kabataan Partylist Representative Raymond Palatino called for deeper investigation, suspecting that widespread corruption in hoarding and “ghost distribution” of relief goods among welfare officials might have trigger the looting.

Kabataan Partylist Representative Palatino called on Congress to immediately investigate the issue, following reports of alleged corruption and mishandling of over P18 billion worth of calamity funds and international aid pouring in for victims of Typhoon Pablo in Mindanao.

“While the Aquino administration continues to harp about its anti-corruption thrust, Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) – the very agency vital for relief and rehabilitation during calamities – now appears to be one of the dirtiest and most heartless of all government institutions,” Palatino said.

Palatino avoided using the word “looting” over the widespreading looting of relief goods by typhoon victims at the DSWD region 11 office, and instead called it as “retrieval”, on his belief that the victims had the right to claim the relief goods which are theirs, but were hoarded and were not purposely distributed to the calamity victims.

“Unlike what media reports say, what transpired that Tuesday morning was not looting but the result of DSWD’s ruthless hoarding of relief. The organized retrieval of relief goods stored by DSWD is not only just, but also the right thing to do. The people of Compostela Valley and Davao Oriental have painstakingly waited for the goods to be distributed, but DSWD chose to turn a blind eye on the suffering of the people,” Palatino said.

Palatino is set to file a resolution calling on Congress to probe reports of corruption and mishandling of calamity funds and international aid pouring in for victims of Typhoon Pablo, an issue that has contributed to the delay in the distribution of relief goods to thousands of Typhoon Pablo victims in Compostela Valley and Davao Oriental.

“Reports from former employees and typhoon victims in Region 11 have shown that DSWD is “systematically” siphoning off millions of pesos from calamity funds through falsification of liquidation forms, purchase of overpriced goods and services, and hiring of “ghost employees’,” Palatino informed Bicol Today.com on Wednesday.

Inefficient distribution of relief goods
Reports from Barug Katawhan, an organized group of Pablo victims, have revealed that almost three months have passed after Typhoon Pablo had hit Region 11, DSWD has yet to distribute relief goods to the victims.

The Barug Katawhan group led a 10-hour road block in Monte Vista last January 15 to express rage over the inefficiency of DSWD in distributing relief goods to the typhoon-ravaged region.

At that time, DSWD Secretary Dinky Soliman promised the victims that relief would be provided immediately, Palatino explained to Bicol Today.com.

However, DSWD was not able to deliver its promise despite the downpour of international donations. Instead of immediately distributing goods, the DSWD Region 11 Office only stockpiled the goods in its storehouse, leaving thousands of victims hungry and waiting for weeks on end, Barug Katawhan had reported.

The delay in the delivery of relief, coupled by the growing discontent of thousands of victims, became the driving force for Pablo victims to again storm the DSWD Region 11 office yesterday (Monday, February 26).

On Tueday morning, over 5,000 typhoon victims who gathered in the DSWD Region 11 office, have decided to enter the agency’s stockroom and retrieve thousands of sacks of rice and other relief goods.

Large-scale corruption
To add insult to the injury, several reports have shown that funds intended to provide relief and rehabilitation for Pablo victims are being “systematically siphoned” to the pockets of DSWD officials.

Barug Katawhan has documented several incidents involving DSWD personnel selling relief packs to victims in Baganga, Davao Oriental at P200 each. DSWD also purchased overpriced equipment and bunkhouses, the group reported.

On February 15, reports said June Sanchez-Obenza, a former community development assistant under the government’s Kapit Bisig Laban sa Kahirapan-Comprehensive Integrated Delivery of Social Services (Kalahi-CIDSS) program allegedly filed formal charges against DSWD-Region 11 acting director Priscilla Razon, human resource department chief Loreta Anas, Kalahi-CIDSS regional financial analyst Annabelle Jabla and regional community infrastructure specialist Santos Eusebio Jr for alleged “corruption and mishandling” of relief funds.

Obenza, who worked as a disaster response team leader during Typhoon Pablo, reported that the said DSWD officials allegedly were accomplices in forging liquidation documents for the relief funds, and even got kickbacks from DSWD infrastructure projects and the construction of overpriced bunkhouses.

The former DSWD employee also disclosed that there are “ghost laborers” pay-rolled by DSWD for ongoing rehabilitation efforts.

“Hindi na nagkasya ang DSWD sa usad-pagong nitong pagresponde sa kalamidad. Ngayon, kinukurakot pa nila ang perang laan para sa relief. This is an abomination of the highest order, a travesty so outright that it spurred large mobilizations in the area,” Palatino said.

“This issue should be addressed immediately. There are lives at stake, and there are people that need to be held accountable,” Palatino concluded. [BicolToday.com]

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