MORE THAN 400 people were charged for corruption involving state subsidies to the poor — the biggest in the country’s history — amid a coronavirus pandemic, the Interior and Local Government department said on Sunday.
Corruption charges were filed against 203 local government officials, 102 village and city staff and 132 civilian co-conspirators, Interior Secretary Eduardo Año said in a statement.
“It’s so frustrating that they managed to steal money from aid reserved for people severely affected by the pandemic,” he said in Filipino.
Most of the respondents face charges involving graft and violations of the so-called Bayanihan to Heal as One Act and a law on reporting communicable diseases.
Mr. Año said police had also investigated 336 cases and filed 240 complaints at the Justice department. Police are probing 626 more officials, he added.
Fifty of the cases were filed in the Soccsksargen region in Mindanao, 40 in Western Visayas, 33 in Central Visayas, 30 in the Calabarzon region, 26 in Eastern Visayas, 24 in the Davao region and 21 in Metro Manila.
There were also 16 cases in the Bicol region, 14 in the Southwestern Tagalog region, 15 in Ilocos, 14 in Cagayan Valley, 12 in Northern Mindanao, 12 in the Caraga region, 10 in the Cordillera Administrative Region and two in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.
The Bayanihan Act, which took effect on March 24 and expired on June 24, allowed President Rodrigo R. Duterte to realign this year’s budget for anti-coronavirus measures.
About 18 million poor families were supposed to get an emergency cash aid worth P5,000 to P8,000 for two months, when much of the country was locked down to contain a coronavirus pandemic.
It also compensated public and private health workers at risk of getting infected with the virus.
The Finance department earlier noted that of the cash aid beneficiaries, 4.3 million were also recipients of the P2,150 average monthly subsidy under the government’s conditional cash transfer program.
It estimated that about P97.4 billion was needed monthly to finance the subsidy, or almost P200 billion for two months, plus administrative costs worth P5.1 billion.
Distribution of the cash aid was marred by corruption, with some local governments accused of creating fictitious beneficiaries and favoring certain families. People had also complained of the lengthy application and approval process.
Lawmakers later passed the second part of the law that gave Mr. Duterte similar powers and created another fund for poor families.
The Interior department earlier filed complaints against 50 village officials from among those being investigated and sought their preventive suspension, the agency said.
“Our fight against corruption is as strong as our fight against COVID-19,” Mr. Año said in Filipino. “It’s difficult to suppress it but we won’t stop until the corrupt are punished.”
He lauded police efforts in investigating 336 cash aid-related cases nationwide and the public for filing complaints at various police stations.
“While we continue to distribute the second tranche of the social amelioration package, we are actively filing cases against corrupt officials and their co-conspirators,” Mr. Año said.
Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III earlier said the P200-billion cash aid program under the first law was the biggest direct financial assistance program given by the government to Filipino families in the country’s history.
This was in keeping with Mr. Duterte’s order to give top and urgent priority to providing a lifeline to Filipino families hit hardest by the pandemic that has brought the economy to a virtual standstill.
The Philippines entered into a recession after economic output shrank by 16.5% in the second quarter.
More than seven million Filipinos were jobless amid a coronavirus pandemic in April, driving up the country’s jobless rate to a 15-year record.
The unemployment rate quickened to 17.7% from 5.1% a year earlier, according to the statistics agency.
The 7.25 million jobless Filipinos in April were about three times more than the 2.27 million unemployed people a year earlier.
Underemployed Filipinos — those already working but still looking for more work — also rose to 6.39 million from 5.61 million a year earlier, pushing the underemployment rate to 18.9% from 13.4%.
By sector, services made up the largest share of the employed population at 57.1% in April. Industry accounted for 17% and agriculture 25.9%. — Norman P. Aquino