Hontiveros seeks 'special audit' of Bayanihan funds amid COVID-19 surge

Job Manahan, ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 05 2021 07:03 PM

Hontiveros seeks 'special audit' of Bayanihan funds amid COVID-19 surge 1
Volunteers repack truckloads of donated and purchased vegetables coming from the provinces on April 30, 2021 at the Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish in Diliman, Quezon City. The goods have been reapportioned for distribution to different community pantries around the area as donations continue to pour in for the thousands who continue to line up for food aid. Jire Carreon, ABS-CBN News

MANILA— Sen. Risa Hontiveros on Wednesday urged the Commission on Audit (COA) to look into the government's expenses under the "Bayanihan" laws, the emergency measures passed to provide critical aid to Filipinos as the COVID-19 pandemic persisted. 

In a video message, Hontiveros said her resolution in the Senate is seeking a "special audit" for the government's P570 billion expenditure under the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act (Bayanihan 1) and the Bayanihan to Recover As One Act (Bayanihan 2). 

This also came as the country continued to battle a new wave of COVID-19 cases, which even peaked at 15,000 in early April, as hospitals in Metro Manila and nearby provinces are still declaring critical occupancy more than a month since stricter lockdowns were reintroduced. 

"Hanggang ngayon, napakarami pa ring health workers ang hindi nakakatanggap ng hazard pay, maraming pamilya ang hindi pa nakakatanggap ng ayuda, at kulang pa rin ang mga health facilities," the senator said, noting that Filipinos are still appealing for government's help more than a year since the pandemic hit the country. 

(Until now, many health workers have yet to receive their hazard pay, while many families have also yet to receive financial aid from the government. Health facilities are still lacking.) 

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"Kung kailan matindi ang pagsirit ng mga kaso ng COVID-19, saka naman hindi makita ng mga Pilipino kung saan na napupunta ang pera nila," she added. 

(During this new surge of COVID-19 infections, Filipinos do not know where taxpayers' money goes.) 

The Bayanihan 1 granted President Rodrigo Duterte additional powers during the health crisis, such as the authority to realign government funds, to respond to the pandemic.

The Bayanihan 2, meanwhile, is set to expire in about 2 months, but Congress has yet to craft a new measure that could extend the validity of the Philippines' second COVID-19 aid and response package.

In February, Malacañang said a quarter of the funds under the Bayanihan 2 has yet to be used up.

Because of these, Hontiveros also urged Malacañang to release financial reports under Bayanihan 2, which she said is mandated by law. 

Keeping these reports, she added, was "irresponsible and illegal" during the crisis. 

"Ang huling report nila ay January 4, 2021 pa. Pero ayon sa Section 14 ng Bayanihan 2, dapat may public financial report ang Pangulo tuwing unang Lunes ng buwan," she said. 

(Their last report was on Jan. 4, but Section 14 of Bayanihan 2 said the President should have a public financial report every 1st Monday of the month) 

The opposition senator also urged her colleagues to "immediately" adopt the resolution so they could "exercise our power of the purse judiciously." 

The Philippines' total COVID-19 infections last week topped 1 million, while deaths also just recently breached the 17,000-mark, over a year since the virus reached the country.

The Philippines was the first country in Asia to go under a nationwide lockdown, and broad restrictions and movement curbs saw its economy slump 9.5 percent last year, its worst economic contraction on record.

The government's failed coronavirus response also paved the way for the rise of community pantries in several parts of the Philippines, as many Filipinos lacked essentials in their homes as the health emergency dragged on. 

— With reports from Katrina Domingo, ABS-CBN News