MANILA — Task Force Bangon Marawi is urging the Commission on Audit to allow the diversion of P5 million in rehabilitation funds for a pilgrimage of Marawi conflict survivors to Mecca it had earlier barred.
Eduardo del Rosario, head of the task force and the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council (HUDCC), issued the appeal Wednesday after the auditing body flagged the transfer of P5 million in rehabilitation funds to the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos (NCMF) for the annual Muslim pilgrimage or Hajj of some evacuees from the conflict-stricken Islamic city.
“Hajj is a solemn obligation and fervent wish of every Muslim. It is so important to them that social healing is envisioned in the process,” Del Rosario said in a text message.
“We are writing an appeal to COA not to disallow this vital transaction since the P5 million was properly dispensed by NCMF. Besides, the funds used came from the President’s Social Fund and not from the funds appropriated by Congress,” Del Rosario said.
The Hajj is an annual pilgrimage of Muslims to the holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia.
Del Rosario explained that 27 Muslims from Marawi were sponsored for the pilgrimage, noting that a raffle was done to identify those included.
The NCMF, meanwhile, handled the processing of travel documents and billeting of the pilgrims while in Saudi Arabia, Del Rosario said.
The fund diversion is also covered by a memorandum of agreement with the NCMF, he said.
State auditors in its annual report said the transferred amount came from the P500-million fund allocated by the Office of the President to HUDCC for rehabilitation expenses of the Marawi task force.
The fund, according to COA, should only be used for the “recovery, reconstruction and rehabilitation of the City of Marawi and other affected localities.”
Sponsorship of trips is not allowed, COA said.
Malacañang on Tuesday said it would ask the housing body to explain the fund diversion.
“We will ask HUDCC to explain why it was that way,” Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said.
“That would be technical malversation if proven true,” he said.
Islamic State-inspired militants took siege of Marawi in May 2017, prompting President Rodrigo Duterte to declare martial law in Mindanao. The military rule is set to expire in December this year.
The siege left at least 1,000 people killed, including terrorists, soldiers, and civilians. Thousands of residents were displaced as the firefights decimated much of the city.