DSWD cries foul over online allegations of 'hoarding'

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Oct 24 2009 03:55 AM | Updated as of Oct 24 2009 08:07 PM

MANILA - The Department of Social Welfare and Development on Friday cried foul over a blog that purportedly showed a DSWD warehouse full of relief goods that have yet to be distributed to hundreds of victims of Typhoons Ketsana and Parma.

In an interview, Social Welfare Secretary Esperanza Cabral admitted that the DSWD's four warehouses still contain relief goods donated by various foreign governments and relief organizations. She, however, denied that the department was hoarding the relief goods.

"It is true that the warehouse is still filled with relief goods and that is thanks to the generous hearts of individuals and organizations both here and abroad...Just because the warehouse is full does not mean there is hoarding. We have to have calibrated release. When we receive requests from the regional office or evacuation center or local government unit, then we release goods to them. Every day we release goods and every day we receive donations," she said in an ABS-CBN interview.

Cabral said the DSWD had already given out P60 million worth of relief items including 500,000 family packs of food, 200,000 clothing packs, thousands of sacks of rice, blankets, mats, beddings, water and water jugs.

She said the government was practicing judicious use of resources by sending relief goods first to areas that were badly affected by Typhoons Ondoy (Ketsana) and Pepeng (Parma). She said municipal welfare officers usually assess how much relief goods are needed per area before the goods are released.

"Relief response is not just emergency assistance. There will come a time when we have to do recovery work and rehabilitation work and when that time comes there will not be many volunteers left. There will be large NGOs that we usually work with but mostly it will be the government that will provide relief to these people who are starting to recover and who need to be rehabilitated. We need to keep some resources for them because when that time comes, there will be no more donations coming in," she said.

"Some [of the goods] will be reserved. It depends on whether we've fulfilled the emergency needs. If those goods are required for emergency release, then it will all be released for emergency relief. If some goods are left behind, then they will be used for recovery and rehabilitation."

Cabral said the DSWD warehouses were empty until Tropical Storm Ondoy (Ketsana) struck Metro Manila and parts of Central Luzon on September 26. She said the DSWD received "plane loads" of donations from Malaysia, Japan, Taiwan and other countries, which are then repacked and given out to the typhoon victims.

She said a list of all the donations received by DSWD can be found in the department's website. She said the donations include 4,800 tons of rice from Unicef and one million packets of noodles from Indofoods.

She also noted that the DSWD recently sent out relief goods to Ilocos, Cagayan Valley and Cordillera Administrative Region after receiving requests for assistance ahead of the onslaught of Typhoon Ramil (Lupit).

Cabral denied that there were rotting relief goods in DSWD warehouses "as we do not keep perishables there and the relief goods that are there, save for the donated old clothes are quite new since they have been either recently purchased by us or have been just donated."

She admitted, however, that volunteers are disallowed from taking pictures of the DSWD warehouse because of a possible security risk.

Calibrated release of relief goods

Filipino Internet users on Friday castigated the DSWD after a blogger wrote an entry and uploaded pictures about foreign relief goods allegedly not being distributed by the agency. In her latest entry in the blog ellaganda.com, the writer said she visited the DSWD warehouse as a volunteer and found that imported canned goods, cookware, mineral water and blankets were not being given away to typhoon victims.

Writer Ella said that at the time of her visit, only one DSWD employee and one security guard was at the warehouse to accommodate eight volunteers. She said volunteers could take 4-hour or 6-hour shifts but had to register in advance before being allowed in the warehouse.

She noted, however, that an acquaintance had tried to volunteer at the DSWD but was repeatedly turned down "because there were too many volunteers."

"The relief goods are not moving. By the way things look, they are not going anywhere. [These donations will not walk by themselves to the] evacuation centers," the blogger noted.

She said that among the goods that were yet to be distributed were imported Coleman camp beds, canned pork and beans and imported sardines.

The blogger said that while she did not want to accuse Cabral of corruption "at the very least she is showing signs of being totally incompetent. We are in a state of calamity where every second counts. Someone is dying every day because of illness."

"You already know that no one is volunteering so why don't you hire? Pay them daily to repack [relief goods]. So many people are jobless, and it would be a help," she noted.

She said the DSWD should tap the military to pack goods or even ask for help from nongovernment organizations, churches, private charities and TV stations. "I’m sure they are more than willing to help. Time is of the essence. Don't be greedy. It's obvious, you can't do it."

"You are the government. You have the power, the resources and the money. You just have to really care."