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‘Calamity underspending’ hit

Congressmen are up in arms against the failure of government to spend over P1 billion in emergency funds coming from foreign and local donations and from a portion of the calamity funds for quick response to natural disasters.

Negros Occidental Rep. Alfredo “Albee” Benitez called for an immediate congressional inquiry into the report of “calamity underspending” brought to the open by the Commission on Audit.

“This merits a full blown investigation,” said Benitez. “Our country has been hit by calamity after calamity. There is no explanation and certainly no excuse that will justify why the money was not given to those who needed it most.”

Reps. Rodel Batocabe (Ako Bicol Partylist); Lito Atienza (Buhay Partylist); Anton Lagdameo (NUP, Davao del Norte); Rodito Albano (NP, Isabela); Ben Evardone (LP, Eastern Samar) and Leah Paquiz (Ang Nars Partylist) were equally irate after receiving the report.

In its recently-released 2014 annual audit report for the Office of Civil Defense, CoA noted that at least P1 billion has been stashed by the agency despite the devastations brought by many natural disasters that killed and rendered homeless millions of Filipinos.

The OCD has received a total of P466.019 million in donations for various calamities since 2008 but spent only P81.068 million as of December 31, 2014, for a “very low” utilization rate of only 17.39 percent, CoA revealed.

“The QRF (Quick Response Fund) which accumulated to a huge amount of P923,153,721.00 as of December 31, 2014 was not utilized as envisioned and became idle, thus, depriving the intended beneficiaries of the benefits that could be derived therefrom and unnecessarily tying up the fund in the custody of the OCD which could have been used to fund other important projects of the government,” the audit report disclosed.

Included in the list of events that received donations that were either unspent or underspent were the 2013 Zamboanga siege, P158.924; Bohol earthquake, P4.983 and supertyphoon Yolanda, P98.242 million out of P136.9 million in local and foreign donations.

“It is regrettable that there is now a paradigm shift from the usual excuse of lack of government funds to under spend allocated funds, when there is a failure of implementation of projects or delivery of social services,” said Batocabe, chairman of the House Committee on Climate Change.

Atienza chided the “insensitivy” of government officials in charge of spending the money to extend help to calamity victims.

“Can you imagine not providing help when they have much money . They don’t seem to feel what has to be done to help the needy,” the former Manila mayor stressed.

Lagdameo, a senior administration congressman, supported Benitez’s call for investigation.

“We owe the donors and the public, especially those affected by calamities, a complete, thorough and transparent accounting of these donations,” he said. (Ben Rosario)