Anakpawis files resolution for congressional probe on the DSWD’s Yolanda shelter assistance debacle

Anakpawis Party-list Representative Fernando “Ka Pando” Hicap filed today House Resolution No. 2322 that calls for a congressional investigation, throug the House Committee Good Government & Public Accountability, into the delays in the implementation of the emergency shelter assistance program for yolanda victims allegedly brought about by the department of Social Work and Development’s unreasonably restrictive guidelines as well as cases of political abuse and anomaly.

In 2014, an amount of P18 billion has been earmarked for the government’s emergency shelter assistance (ESA) program drawn up for the specific and urgent purpose of providing financial aid to millions of Filipinos in Eastern Visayas, Panay, Central Visayas and some parts of Palawan whose houses were devastated by super typhoon Yolanda in November 2013.

The ESA program, a major and priority national endeavour administered by the Department of Social Work and Development (DSWD) is supposed to grant P30,000 to Yolanda victims from whose houses were completely destroyed, and P10,000 to those with partially damaged houses.

As of May 2015, according to the DSWD, of the P18.6 billion ESA budget allocation, P14.72 billion has already been released by the Department of Budget and Management.

“The resolution calling for conggressional inquiry into the ESA issue was prompted by the overwhelming complaints coming from thousands of Yolanda victims, mostly farmers and fisherfolk coming from the groups Paghugpong sang mga Mangunguma sa Panay kag Guimaras (Pamanggas-Panay, Alliance of Small Peasant Organizations in Panay and Guimaras), Samahan han Gudti nga Parag-uma ha Sinirangan Bisayas (Sagupa Eastern Visayas, Alliance of Small Peasants in Eastern Visayas), and the People’s Surge Movement, as regards the dismal performance of the DSWD in implementing the ESA program,” Hicap said.

The groups said poor typhoon victims are being doubly distressed as they are being effectively disqualified en masse from availing of the ESA mainly because of the inordinately stringent conditions set by the DSWD’s Memorandum Circular No. 24 such as the automatic delisting of farmer and fisherfolk families living along shorelines, farms and hillsides that are considered “hazard zones” or “no-build- no-dwell zones.

The memo sets only the following as qualified ESA recipients: families who are already renting, and had availed of the DSWD Disaster Family Access Card (Dafac); contractual government employees with no housing loans from government and private groups; regular workers from the public and private sectors earning lower than P15,000 a month, provided that they have not received the same aid from other agencies; lone survivors who are issued with Dafac; and families who have initiated self-repairs.

According to the People Surge Movement, the Alliance of Small Peasant Organizations in Panay and Guimaras, and the Kusog San Katawhan ng Panay, many calamity victims in the islands of Samar, Leyte and Panay have been deprived of the ESA on the mere account of their residence location, receipt of aid however little from local officials, and the discriminatory salary cap provision as if those earning a little over P15,000 are no longer in dire need of assistance.

According to a People Surge Movement petition, signed by 22,000 Yolanda victims,

“The delays in the granting of shelter assistance funds brought about by the DSWD’s restrictive guidelines, the agency’s glaring display of incompetence and negligence, and reported cases of abuse and irregularity, flagrantly defeat the emergency and humanitarian nature of the ESA program,” Hicap said, citing a People Surge Movement petition signed by 22,000 Yolanda victims

The People Surge Movement has documented reports pointing to various instances of political abuse in the disbursement of the ESA fund involving local bureaucrats in Yolanda-affected municipalities and that there are likewise alleged efforts by the DSWD and some local government units to hide the fact of the delays such as the case of fallacious documents circulating in Dapdap town in Leyte showing the list of thousands of beneficiaries who have already availed of the ESA.

The People’s Surge Movement assert that they have also gathered reports regarding how some loan sharks and financiers, in cahoots with unscrupulous local DSWD officials, have been taking advantage of the bureaucratic chaos that the ESA program has spawned. Through the so-called “kase-kase” modus, usurers would allegedly prey on poor ESA applicants by lending the latter, on a 16 percent interest, cash amounts equivalent to what the DSWD is supposed to grant each beneficiary. The DSWD would then in turn release the shelter assistance not to the grantee but directly to the loan shark or financier.

“The ESA debacle has further aggravated the vulnerability of calamity victims considering that after November 2013, Seniang, Ruby and other typhoons have in fact successively hit the very same areas where Yolanda had previously struck,” Hicap said.

According to the independent grassroots assessment of the People’ Surge Movement, the damages of Ruby and Seniang on Region VIII alone could have amounted to roughly P27 billion, or nearly half of the damages caused by Yolanda on the same region, yet the government’s relief and rehabilitation efforts have not been correspondingly and proportionally forthcoming. ###