Senators believe transfer of Marawi rehab funds to Hajj as malversation

By Vanne Elaine Terrazola

Senators believed that the diversion of the Marawi rehabilitation funds to the pilgrimage of the displaced Muslims could be considered as technical malversation.

Sen. Franklin Drilon (Senate of the Philippines / MANILA BULLETIN)
Sen. Franklin Drilon (Senate of the Philippines / MANILA BULLETIN)

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon on Saturday said the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council (HUDCC) could be held liable for realigning P5 million of the funds appropriated for the rehabilitation war-torn Marawi City to the Hajj of Muslim residents to Mecca last year.

“Kung ano man po ang nasa budget, iyan po ang dapat paggagamitan ng pera. Ngayon, may mga pamamaraan para magkaroon ng realignment. At ang Pangulo naman ay may kapangyarihan sa Saligang Batas na mag-realign ng pondo. Kung walang realignment, baka may problema itong HUDCC,” Drilon, a lawyer, said in an interview over radio DWIZ.

(Whatever was stated in the national budget should be followed and appropriations should only be used for that purpose. Now, there are ways to realign funds and the President has the authority under the Constitution to realign funds. But if there was no realignment by the President, the HUDCC might have a problem.)

The Commission on Audit (COA), in its 2018 report, called out the HUDCC for transferring P5 million of the P500-million rehabilitation fund to the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos to sponsor the pilgrimage expenses of 27 displaced Marawi residents.

The COA said the amount should be returned because it was not among the expenses authorized by the Office of the President in the efforts to rebuild the war-torn city.

But President Duterte, during an event celebrating the end of Ramadan last Thursday, downplayed the realignment and stressed instead the importance of the Hajj to Muslims.

READ MORE:  Duterte asks COA to reconsider the disallowance of Marawi rehab fund used for the Hajj

The Chief Executive also asked the COA to reconsider its disallowance notice to the HUDCC.

Drilon, however, maintained that such transfer of funds should undergo proper processes. The absence of which could be considered as a crime of malversation, he said.

“Kahit po si Spokeperson [Salvador] Panelo, sinabi niya na dapat magpaliwanag ang mga ahensya kung ano ito, dahilan. Sinabi niya na this is technical malversation kung totoo man po ito (Even Sec. Panelo said the agencies involved should explain thei reason behind this. He, too, said that this is technical malversation if proven true),” he added.

In a tweet Friday, Senator Panfilo Lacson said the issue is not about the importance of religion and housing.

“It is not a question of which is more important between religion and housing. It is about technical malversation,” Lacson wrote.

He cited a section of the Revised Penal Code included in the crime of malversation
the use of public funds or property for purposes different from which they were originally appropriated by law.

Meanwhile, Drilon encouraged the COA to continue its examination on the use of the Marawi rehabilitation funds. Duterte, he said, cannot order the audit body.

“Ang COA naman ay independent constitutional body kaya aking hinihiling sa kanila na ipagpatuloy nila ang kanilang pag-iimbestiga dito sa paggamit ng pondo sa Marawi rehabilitation diyan sa Hajj. May proseso po sa ating Saligang Batas kung paano itong audit dito. Independent ang COA at hindi yan pwedeng utusan ng Pangulo,” he said.

Maranao leaders have lamented the delay in the rehabilitation of Marawi City after it was destroyed to ruins in the siege between the government and Islamic State-affiliated Maute Group in May 2017.

Almost two years after Duterte declared the war as over, at least 40,000 displaced residents still wait to return to their homes.