MANILA (UPDATE) – An official working for Makati City acting mayor Romulo Peña on Thursday said the city could be losing about P367.5 million annually due to ''ghost'' senior citizens.
Makati Action Center chief Arthur Cruto said the result of a three-week, house-to-house investigation in two barangays in Makati revealed that 924 senior citizens receiving benefits from the city government could not be found in their addresses.
Cruto's testimony is the latest anomaly being investigated by the Senate Blue Ribbon subcommittee, which is focusing on alleged corruption committed by former Makati mayor and now Vice President Jejomar Binay.
The BLU Card program for senior citizens provides various perks and privileges to the city's senior citizens such as free birthday cakes, groceries, maintenance medicines, movie passes and cash gifts. The program started under the administration of then Mayor Binay and continued under his son, suspended Makati Mayor Junjun Binay.
Cruto said his team estimated that some 40% to 52% percent of the beneficiaries in two of Makati's smallest barangays – Kasilawan and Pinagkaisahan – were non-existent.
In Kasilawan, 1,095 beneficiaries were listed in the records of the Makati Social Welfare Department. However, after the audit, only 660 of them were located while the remaining 435 were not found in the addresses stated in the city's records.
In Pinagkaisahan, Cruto said there were 938 senior citizens listed in the records, 449 of whom were located and 489 were not found in the addresses in the records.
Cruto told Senator Antonio Trillanes IV that the Makati Action Center has finished conducting an audit on 12 other barangays and the investigators found the same pattern.
Cruto said another startling finding was that in one address in Kasilawan, there were 25 card holders. However, upon audit, only 3 were residing in the address.
There were also instances when the signature of a deceased person was found on the records of the recipients of cash gifts.
''Natuklasan namin na may pumirma po at sa pangalan po talaga niya. Ito ay sa cash gift pa lang po. Maaaring sa ibang benepisyo, sila ay nakalista pa po roon,'' Cruto said.
Cruto said the validation was done by comparing the lists from the Makati Social Welfare Department, the voters' list of the Commission on Elections, and the list of deceased persons from the Makati civil registry.
A senior citizen has to be a registered voter and a bona fide resident of Makati in order to be qualified for the BLU Card which, according to Trillanes, supposedly means ''Binay Loves U" Card.
P367.5-M LOSSES ANNUALLY
According to Cruto, a senior citizen card holder on average receives P11,750 worth of items and cash gifts yearly. He said based on the city's latest records, there are about 68,000 senior citizens in the city.
Cruto said if the initial findings of the audit were to be applied, only 36,720 or 54% of the 68,000 are qualified to become card holders, while the remaining 31,280 or 46% are ineligible.
Cruto said if the 31,280 questionable card holders will be multiplied by the ''conservative'' average of P11,750 worth of benefits, then the city government could be losing P367.5 million annually.
Trillanes minced no words when he reacted to Cruto's presentation.
"All these years, itong sila Vice President Binay at ang kanyang pamilya, nililinlang ang taumbayan, lalo na ang mga residents sa Makati, na tumutulong naman daw sila. Pero dito, example, na kailangan nilang gumawa ng ganyang programa para makakabig sila ng daang milyong piso," the senator said.
"Kasi kapag wala kang programang ganito, 'di mo mapapaliwanag yan sa Commission on Audit kung saan mo gianstos, so kailangan nilang gumawa ng mga ganyang programa para makapagnakaw sila."
Senator Alan Cayetano, another fierce critic of the Binays, said Cruto should also check Makati's data on the population of its senior citizens with the data from the National Statistics Office (NSO)
Cayetano said the number of senior citizens in the city based on the NSO 's 2010 data is 36,752.
''Wala pa naman akong nakikitang syudad na dumoble ang senior citizens in 5 years,'' Cayetano said.
''Sa 2010, mas malapit ang NSO sa findings niyo, kesa doon sa listahan."
Cayetano added that the 2015 census will verify if the 68,000 senior citizen population of Makati is true.
Subcommittee chair Senator Aquilino Pimentel III, meanwhile, was not entirely convinced with Cruto's initial figures, citing how the latter simply multiplied the average cost of benefits to the number of Makati City's listed senior citizens.
Pimentel suggested that Cruto search for the ordinances supposedly indicating the exact budget for the program.
Former Makati Vice Mayor Ernesto Mercado, however, said this would be impossible since the budgets for certain programs in Makati are in the form of a lump sum allocated in the Office of the Mayor.
''Ang cover-up na ginagawa dyan, naka-lump sum ang mga budget na iyan sa Office of the Mayor… Nakalista lang po ng line by line ang item pero walang nakatapat na amount doon sa project na pagkakagastusan,'' he said.
'MISLEADING, PURE CONJECTURES'
Joey Salgado, head of media affairs division of the Office of the Vice President, said the figures presented by Cruto in today's hearings were "misleading" and the conclusions "pure conjectures".
"Dahil unverified ang beneficiary, ghost na kaagad. Senior citizens who have moved to other localities but who are registered voters remain beneficiaries. Mr. Cruto had no objection to this when his mother was living in Cavite but remained a senior citizen beneficiary," Salgado said.
Salgado insisted that Makati senior citizens personally apply and submit documents before they are enrolled to the program. He added that the program is subjected to regular audit by COA and there has never been any adverse findings.
"They go through verification. Benefits are received personally. The Social Welfare Department has a system to delist deceased beneficiaries. Assuming without conceding the existence of fake beneficiaries, where is the evidence to show any link to the Vice President? None, because this is another tall tale," Salgado said.
Salgado also chided Trillanes for assuming that a deceased person still receiving benefits can already be considered anomalous.
"Mr. Senator, a death certificate is not proof of corruption. If the senior citizen died within the release period for their benefits, said benefits are released to the beneficiary. That is allowed under our guidelines," he said.