NOTE: THIS STORY WAS FIRST PUBLISHED IN THE BOHOL CHRONICLE’S SUNDAY PRINT EDITION WHICH HAS A SEPERATE EDITORIAL TEAM.
Gov. Art Yap should be the right person to be asked after a provincial lawmaker sought transparency on the use of the P147M Calamity Fund amidst two major crises that hit the province.
“You should see the Governor,” was the advice issued by Vice Gov. Rene Relampagos after Board Member Victor Balite demanded a detailed accounting on how the Calamity Fund was spent to help the victims of the recent strong typhoon Odette which devastated the province on Dec. 16 of last year. and those affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Balite raised the query during his privilege speech last Tuesday after noticing the absence of a “breakdown or details of utilization” of the P147 million earmarked under the Local Disaster Risk Management Fund for CY 2021.
Instead of answering on how to get the breakdown, Vice Gov. Relampagos as presiding officer of the Prov’l SP said “it would probably be wise and advisable for you to see the Governor and talk to him heart to heart.”
BM Balilte said he did not receive the answer of Relampagos well and he simply said “it’s a question of just what kind of information do you wish to find out?”
The senior provincial lawmaker said any elementary pupil would know what transparency means and how the vice governor was trying to “beat around the bush” by asking me “what kind of information do you wish to know.”
The opposition lawmaker was specific to asked on the details of the P107M (P107,154,130.00) which was simply stated as “Food: to include the 8-kilo rice distributed for COVID-19 affected families as well as food packs -rice canned goods, water for Typhoon Odette affected families.”
“There was even no breakdown as to how much was used under COVID-19 relief assistance and how much due to Typhoon Odette,” Balite stressed during an interview after the session.
In his privilege speech, he noted the report as “incomplete considering that there was no breakdown” as he requested for the complete details of utilization with an itemized breakdown of particulars.“
The provincial lawmaker was emphatic in his call for transparency after Gov. Yap, himself, in a previous pre-session assured the Sangguniang Panlalawigan members of transparency on how the calamity fund was used.
Balite said that after receiving the report on the Disaster Risk Management Fund for 2021 of the provincial government, he wrote Prov’l Budget officer Peter M. Retutal requesting the details of the expenditures. of the P147 million budget for 2021.
Meanwhile, for this year, the provincial government has earmarked a budget of P191.6 million for the same purpose listed under the Local Disaster Risk Reduction Management Fund.
Others in the expenditure report are Training P5.4 million; Drugs and Medicine P1.7 million; Medical Supplies P4.3 million while “Other MOOE” showed P1.5 million for vehicle rental, medical supplies.
Board Member Balite said this “generalized” listing of expenditures is not in the spirit of transparency which Gov Yap assured him when he raised the same query on the usage of calamity funds in an earlier session of the lawmakers.
NO SINCERE EFFORTS
Balite said he did not see any sincere effort to support his call for transparency.
He said the vice governor could have called for the specific agencies at the Capitol which can provide the breakdown of the expenses which the Prov’il Budget and Management Office can not provide.
“I could have been guided by the presiding officer on where and how to get the detailed breakdown of the huge expense rather than just asking me to talk with the governor,” Balite said.
For sure, the public is “hungry for the genuine transparency on the use of the millions intended to aid the Boholanos, hit by not just the COVID-19 pandemic but also by the typhoon which damaged several private and government properties.