By ALEXANDER MARTIN REMOLLINO
MANILA — The recent onslaughts of storms Ondoy and Pepeng in the Philippines have drawn attention not only to the general lack of disaster preparedness in the country but also to how the government’s so-called calamity funds have been spent in the last few years.
The calamity fund, according to Confederation for the Unity, Recognition, and Advancement of Government Employees (Courage) president Ferdinand Gaite, is meant for directly addressing the immediate needs of calamity victims. It is intended, he said, to be used for rehabilitating the victims of calamities and for addressing other human needs that arise amid calamities.
He said the calamity fund is sourced from such agencies as the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation, as well as from particular taxes like the Road Users’ Tax.
It differs from the emergency fund, Gaite said, in that the latter is used for general services that are needed after a calamity. “For example, a bridge collapsed and it needs to be repaired immediately – with the emergency fund, the repair doesn’t have to go through the bidding process and other long procedures,” Gaite said.
The calamity fund, however, like many other government funds, is open to abuse. “This fund is open to being used for things other than its intended purpose,” Gaite said.
In the wake of Ondoy and Pepeng, National Disaster Coordinating Council chairman Gilbert Teodoro informed the Senate and the House of Representatives that the government’s P2-billion calamity fund for 2009 is down to P29 million.
According to former National Treasurer Leonor Magtolis-Briones, the starting balance of P2 billion does not include the transfers and augmentations done this year.
Briones also revealed that even before the onslaughts of Ondoy and Pepeng, the calamity fund has had “a history of being depleted and augmented from various funds. The practice is for the Office of the President to transfer funds from various sources to operating departments purportedly in charge of overseeing disaster relief and rehabilitation.”
Citing reports from the Department of Budget and Management, Briones, in a column for ABS-CBN News Online, 11 departments received transfers from the P2.15-billion calamity fund in 2008. The recipients of the largest slices of the pie included the Department of National Defense with P1.47 million, as well as an additional P120 million for the Office of the Defense Secretary; the Department of Public Works and Highways with P1.77 billion; the Department of Agriculture with P836.4 million; the Department of Social Welfare and Development with P614.5 million; and “special financial assistance to local government units” amounting to P620.6 million.
Aside from these, there were transfers amounting to P375 million for the Philippine National Railways and P250 million for the National Housing Authority, as well as P120 million for the Philippine Veterans Affairs Office.
Other recipients of transfers from the calamity fund include the Departments of Education, Health, Interior and Local Governments, Labor, and Science and Technology; as well as two state colleges in Leyte.
The P2.15-billion calamity fund for 2008 included P152 million from the reenacted 2007 budget. Continuing appropriations for capital outlays and unreleased funds for maintenance and other operating expenses, also from the reenacted budget, augmented this amount.
“This government has been doing that for a long time,” Gaite said. “Funds that are meant for certain agencies or programs are being used for other purposes. That is a process we can call technical malversation. That is the hallmark of the Arroyo administration.”
Since coming to power through a popular uprising in 2001, the Arroyo family and their political allies have figured in no less than 10 cases of large-scale corruption, usually involving overpriced contracts and diversion of funds. The controversial National Broadband Network deal between the government and China’s ZTE Corporation was just among the latest of these controversial deals. Arroyo herself was accused of using the so-called fertilizer funds and the PhilHealth funds for her 2004 electoral campaign.
Gaite said the people should be vigilant about how the calamity fund is being spent. (Bulatlat.com)