Tacloban City, Philippines – Former mayor Alfred Romualdez decried accusations that the city government “misspent” almost P1-B in Yolanda funds as alleged by an online report of a major news media agency.
In a statement, Romualdez expressed his disappointment with the online article and appealed for a more responsible journalism by “observing elementary ethics” in the news agency’s reporting.
“It is unfortunate that an online media agency such as Rappler would resort to such a misleading story that is far from what the actual audit report actually says”, Romualdez said.
According to the news article, the city government’s rehabilitation efforts on major projects concerning public infrastructure, the rebuilding of local fishing industry through the Mariculture Park Rehabilitation Program as well as the Emergency Shelter Assistance (ESA) program for the relocation of residents, were tainted with irregularities and unexplainable delays.
The report, according to the news agency, cited some outstanding violations. For instance, auditors from CoA found out that 1 out of 5 recipients of the million-peso (ESA) program were not eligible. In addition, the City Social Welfare and Development Office (CSWDO) did not follow some program implementation guidelines which include physical inspections of the recipients’ homes.
In response, the CSWDO pointed out that some beneficiaries did not give “true information” during their assessment. However, the office stressed that since the city suffered the most devastation, all families in Tacloban should be considered eligible.
On Sunday through an online press release, Barangay Affairs Office representatives dismissed these allegations as untrue and unfounded, emphasizing that the publishing of the said article is “an instance of irresponsible and malicious journalism”.
In addition, former Mayor Romualdez emphasized that the delays were caused by the unreasonable rigidity of guidelines imposed by the national government particularly for rehab efforts in the city.
“Ang masakit pa po dito, ang tagal na nga bago pa nagrelease ng pondo para sa mga beneficiaries na mga biktima ng Yolanda sa Tacloban na umabot ng mahigit sa isang taon pa, ay mas pinapahirapan pa at pinadaan sa butas ng karayom para lang makatanggap ng perang inilaan naman talaga para sa kanila. “ (What is upsetting about all these is, it took a long time for the funds (for the beneficiaries of the victims of Yolanda in Tacloban) to be released. It even took them over a year. Aside from that, it was made more difficult that we had to go through the eye of a needle just to receive the money which was basically allocated for the victims in the first place.)
According to the former mayor, the release of the funding of the Emergency Shelter Assistance program for instance, was late and that the national government set extremely strict requirements for Yolanda victims.
Romualdez stressed that the city government thoroughly followed the guidelines to its highest standards in auditing procedures in the expenditure of Yolanda funds to achieve genuine transparency and accountability.
The former mayor also encouraged both his critics and supporters to read the actual CoA report found online, which is readily accessible to the public.