Makati official belies ‘ghost’ senior citizens

Ryan Chua, ABS-CBN News

Former social welfare OIC accused of getting pork from VP Binay’s daughter

MANILA - The former head of Makati’s social welfare department faced a Senate panel on Wednesday and denied city hall gave out benefits to senior citizens who are either dead or no longer residents of the city.

Ryan Barcelo, who used to be officer-in-charge (OIC) of the department, said all 67,000 senior citizens on the city’s list are qualified to receive benefits, belying claims there are “ghost” senior citizens.

“There is no way by which ghosts may be enrolled into the program,” he told the Senate Blue Ribbon subcommittee, which on Wednesday held its 24th hearing on corruption allegations against Vice President Jejomar Binay.

At the previous hearing on August 20, Makati Action Center officer-in-charge Arthur Cruto alleged that Makati, under the Binays’ leadership, kept on its list of beneficiaries under the Blu Card program senior citizens who could not be found in their addresses.

The city government was said to be losing more than P300 million a year because of it.

Cruto said some 40 to 50 percent of beneficiaries in two of Makati’s smallest barangays do not exist, with some allegedly deceased persons signing as recipients of cash gifts.

Barcelo explained that city hall does not remove beneficiaries from its list until it has verified that they have died or moved out.

“We depend on reports coming from the grassroots,” he said.

“Magpapadala ng tao sa address ng reported senior citizen to confirm kung talagang namayapa na ito. Ang legitimate document na hahanapin namin is the death certificate. If the death certificate is not produced, hindi siya ide-delist, kasi baka later on lumutang ang senior citizen at magreklamo kung bakit siya pinatay.”

(We send people to the address of the reported senior citizen to confirm if he or she has died. The legitimate document we look for is the death certificate. If a death certificate is not produced, we do not delist a beneficiary lest he or she surface later on and complain about being declared dead.)

Barcelo said the same validation process applies to beneficiaries who have moved out of Makati.

PART OF SYNDICATE?

However, Senator Antonio Trillanes IV, one of the senators leading the probe, was incredulous.

He stressed that 33 percent of Makati’s senior citizens below 80 years old are not registered voters and are therefore not entitled to benefits.

Trillanes accused Barcelo of being part of a “syndicate” for claiming Makati has 67,000 senior citizens on its benefits list.

He also said Barcelo used to receive checks from Rep. Abigail Binay’s Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) or pork barrel, based on information from his consultants. Trillanes said the checks indicate Barcelo as recipient.

He said it could be the reason Barcelo has been defending the Binays.

“Maliwanag ito, nakapangalan itong tsekeng ito sa ‘yo. Kahit gaano po paikutin bawal ‘yon (It’s clear this check is under your name. However you spin things, that’s prohibited),” Trillanes told Barcelo. “That’s called malversation.”

Barcelo said he could not recall receiving checks from Rep. Binay’s PDAF, but that he used to received money as special disbursing officer of her medical and financial assistance program.

“I don’t recall receiving a check direct from the DBM (Department of Budget and Management) or national government. If my memory still serves me well, lahat ng tseke na tinanggap ko ay nanggaling sa city government (all checks I received came from the city government),” he said.

Senator Alan Peter Cayetano, however, pointed out that that was “irregular” for the checks to bear Barcelo’s name and not his office’s.