House probe sought over SAP funds flagged by COA

RG Cruz, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Aug 19 2021 06:02 PM

Residents line up outside a covered court in Barangay Payatas, Quezon City hoping to receive the cash assistance under the DSWD’s Social Amelioration Program (SAP) on May 12, 2020. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News/File
Residents line up outside a covered court in Barangay Payatas, Quezon City hoping to receive the cash assistance under the DSWD’s Social Amelioration Program (SAP) on May 12, 2020. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News/File

MANILA— The Makabayan bloc in the House of Representatives on Thursday filed a resolution seeking a legislative investigation into allegedly anomalous transactions in the distribution of the social amelioration program flagged by the Commission on Audit (COA).

The bloc, composed of Bayan Muna Party-list Representatives Carlos Zarate, Ferdinand Gaite, and Eufemia Cullamat; ACT Teachers Party-list Rep. France Castro; Gabriela Party-list Rep. Arlene Brosas; and Kabataan Party-list Rep. Sarah Elago filed House Resolution 2146 to investigate the distribution of SAP funds under the Department of Social Welfare and Development.

The bloc said the previous distribution of the billions-worth SAP was awarded to a dubious company Starpay, as exposed recently by Sen. Manny Pacquiao. 

Pacquiao earlier bared that some P10.4 billion in SAP funds are missing, with about 1.3 million beneficiaries supposedly unable to get critical pandemic aid. He questioned the use of Starpay for the program.

“Among others, he (Pacquiao) claimed that only 500,000 SAP-beneficiaries received the aid through Starpay, an e-wallet application contrary to the DSWD report that it completed its payout to 1.8 million beneficiaries. According to him, failure to download the online application deprived around 1.3 million beneficiaries the needed aid that they supposedly receive amid the COVID-19 pandemic,” Makabayan said in the resolution.

Zarate said that while the latest enforcement of the enhanced community quarantine in Metro Manila and other parts of the country is supposed to end on Friday, "not even half of the SAP for this lockdown has been distributed to its beneficiaries."

The bloc's resolution also cited that several quarters also questioned the contract entered into by the DSWD with Starpay, whose starting capital is allegedly only P62,000 to facilitate the payout of SAP to 1.8 million Filipinos.

Based on the 2020 DSWD annual audit report released by COA, of the total P47,987,981,030 SAP fund transfers to financial service providers (FSPs), the department channeled P33,210,630,470 or 69.21% to Starpay. 

The DSWD reportedly channeled only 0.01% to 11.48% of the total SAP funds to five other FSPs which are more established, namely G-Xchange, Inc.; PayMaya Philippines, Inc.; Rizal Commercial Banking Corporation; Robinsons Bank Corporation; and Union Bank of the Philippines.

The bloc also pointed out that the COA bared there are 135 out of the sample size of 6,761 identified SAP beneficiaries who have not received second tranche benefits, but the release was tagged as "paid" in the database. 

“COA further noted that this is due to poor implementation on the supplemental guideline of the memorandum of agreement between the DSWD and the FSPs. Upon verification with intended beneficiaries, (35) of them changed their cellphone numbers while the other 100 claimed that they have same cellphone numbers," the resolution read.

The bloc also cited the DSWD's failure to post the complete list of SAP beneficiaries paid through FSPs and the special disbursing officer payout on its official website, "which raise the possibility of double payment of the Emergency Subsidy Program (ESP) to same beneficiaries."

Pacquiao earlier accused the DSWD of allotting P50 billion pesos for the Starpay application despite its low capital.

He has filed a Senate Blue Ribbon Committee investigation on Starpay, saying he has "strong evidence."

In an earlier statement, the department said it is open for investigation. 

DSWD Spokesperson Irene Dumlao said their department went to Congressional hearings to answer queries on the cash aid distribution. 

"DSWD is willing to face any investigating body and present the necessary evidence/documents to clarify those raised by the good Senator," said Dumlao. 

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