By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA – The deliberation for the 2017 budget of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) was suspended in the House of Representatives on Thursday Sept 1. This followed a heated discussion as some lawmakers expressed displeasure at Social Welfare Secretary Judy Taguiwalo’s changes in the agency’s procedures.
These changes are embodied in Memorandum Circular 9. It aims to stop the influence of political patronage in dispensing with assistance programs and projects of the government.
Memorandum Circular No. 9 supplants the 2015 Memorandum Circular No. 4 issued by former Social Welfare Secretary Corazon Soliman which identifies beneficiaries as constituents of a congressional district or are referred to the department’s field crisis intervention units and satellite offices.
Taguiwalo said that qualifications of beneficiaries must comply with agency standards.
The memo drew praises from the Makabayan bloc of lawmakers. But it did not sit well with other lawmakers who have been demanding DSWD funds for their chosen beneficiaries.
Taguiwalo said the (DSWD) memo was also aimed at stopping the practice of certain lawmakers claiming they still had DSWD funds for their constituents.
“The context of the debate is that there are some representatives, even those who lost, approaching us to say they still have a balance. I was taken aback. As the new secretary, I don’t have any idea there are allocations for representatives in the department,” Taguiwalo said.
A long list of interpellators, estimated to be over 50, greeted the DSWD secretary at the Sept. 1 budget hearing, according to Bayan Muna Rep. Karlo Zarate.
Ilocos Norte Rep. Rodolfo Fariñas at one point warned the social welfare secretary about her securing confirmation in her post.
DSWD assistance and funds for the poor and in need
Taguiwalo said that in the past, lawmakers did allocate funds from their pork barrel to different departments that could be tapped for assistance to their constituents. But that practice, she said, has to be ended after the Supreme Court declared the Priority Development Assistance Fund unconstitutional.
She also said the DSWD issued that memo as a way of complying with the Commission on Audit Memorandum dated March 1, 2016. The latter said letters were not binding on government agencies.
In a press conference following the sudden suspension of the budget hearing, Gabriela Women Rep. Arlene Brosas said her party is “fully supportive” of Memo Circular No. 9 Series 2016 of DWSD.
Brosas agreed that the memo will help quash aid patronage and make DSWD more effective in delivering services. Citing the people’s experience with the politicians’ “referrals,” she said these are being used to buy votes of poor families.
“DSWD is right to make procedures professional,” said Brosas.
“The Protective Services Program should be given to as many beneficiaries as program budget allows without forcing people to seek blessings and referral letters from politicos. We should support Taguiwalo for this positive step towards eliminating all forms of secret pork barrel allocations,” Brosas said.
ACT Teachers Party Rep. Antonio Tinio said his group is also supporting the DSWD’s issuance of Memo Cicular No.9.
Reacting to other lawmakers’ questioning of the unliquidated DSWD funds – even when most date back to the term of Soliman — Tinio said these can be also traced to the use of government aid for patronage politics.
“At the root of the complaints on how government aid was being used (or misused) was the past administration’s treatment of the DSWD funds,” said Tinio. He said the Liberal Party, for instance, had used the DSWD for its campaigns.
That anomaly is the reason and basis for the DSWD’s issuing MC9, Tinio concluded.
Probe Dinky, Praise Judy
At the budget deliberation, some congressmen took Taguiwalo to task over unliquidated DSWD funds from the past five years.
“They are pinning the blame on Secretary Judy. Not even once did we hear the excuse that she’s only newly appointed. That the issue happened in the past,” said Tinio. He asked why the unliquidated funds were allowed for the past six years.
“How was Dinky able to get away with questionable inclusions, unliquidated DSWD funds? How was Secretary Soliman allowed to get away with it for so long?” asked Tinio.
For his part, Zarate said that they have been pointing out those unliquidated funds and questionable lists by the DSWD. He said it is an old issue and that the government has only been passing the buck.
Tinio further praised DSWD Sec. Taguiwalo for having taken full responsibility of even the DSWD’s past record.
“She took responsibility for it saying she is now the secretary and so she has the responsibility over it. That deserves commendation,” said Tinio.
Taguiwalo is now conducting investigation and audit of what happened to the DSWD services and unliquidated funds.