The Department of Justice (DOJ) said it will investigate complaints against local officials tagged in the fraudulent distribution of cash aid, through the social amelioration program (SAP), meant to help the poorest families cope with the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.
“The DOJ is giving priority to the investigation of complaints against barangay and other local government officials for irregularities or fraudulent acts relative to the distribution of SAP (social amelioration program),” Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said.
“These cases take on a sinister and disgraceful character, considering that money intended for poor hungry people is unlawfully taken away from them,” he added.
The government has allocated P200 billion for emergency subsidies ranging from P5,000 to P8,000 for at least 18 million poor families affected by COVID-19 pandemic in April and May.
A total of 1,370 out of 1,634 local governments met the May 10 deadline to hand out the first tranche of the aid, President Rodrigo Duterte said in his report to Congress on Monday.
The payout is equivalent to P77.55 billion or 94.43 percent of the P81.68 billion downloaded to local governments, Duterte said.
Duterte said 183 village officers are under investigation while 43 mayors were asked to explain anomalies including alleged pocketing of funds.
Twenty-three barangay or village officials are facing criminal charges, Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque said.
Given the number of officials under investigation, Guevarra said he would let the Prosecutor General “decide whether these cases should be consolidated and/or handled by a panel of prosecutors or individual prosecutors.”
In a separate message, Prosecutor General Benedicto Malcontento said he has instructed local prosecutors to immediately conduct their probe.
“Cases are all over the country not only here at Main (DOJ in Padre Faura, Manila). I instructed all heads of office all over the country to set these for preliminary investigations asap, to monitor progress and report to us,” he said.
“Hindi lang isang kaso ‘yan. Marami ‘yan all over the country, so it is up for every city prosecutor to schedule the hearings (It is not just one case. That’s several all over the country, so it is up for every city prosecutor to schedule the hearings.),” he also said.
Duterte earlier this month offered P30,000 for information on SAP-related graft and corruption.
A 2-month lockdown of most of the country to arrest the spread of COVID-19 has forced some people to line up in community centers for hours to register as beneficiaries of the program, only to be told to come back for the cash aid distribution./Stacy Ang