The House Committee on Good Government and Public Accountability took great offense Thursday to the Department of Interior and Local Government’s (DILG) apparent snub of its inquiry on locally stranded individuals (LSIs)–a problem that it was supposed to handle.
“How can it be that the department in charge is not even here to shed light on the problem that [the entire country is facing]?” Anakalusugan Party-List Rep. Mike Defensor said after learning that no DILG representative was present. Defensor, a committee vice-chairman, presided over the hearing.
According to the committee secretary (comsec), an email invitation was sent to DILG Secretary Eduardo Ano on Tuesday.
“It was acknowledged by the legislative liaison officer, Mr. Jed Loresca on July 29. But as of this moment, sir, they did not have any representative in plenary as well as in Zoom,” the comsec said.
The problem on LSIs–which was caused by the COVID-19 pandemic–was recently magnified by the overcrowding of thousands of stranded people last week at the Rizal Memorial Sports Complex in Manila. Pictures and videos of incident made the rounds in both traditional and social media.
Defensor said it is through the DILG’s participation that Congress may be able to pinpoint the bottlenecks in the process of sending the LSIs home back to their respective provinces. He insinuated that the agency’s absence Thursday makes it appear that it doesn’t consider the LSI situation a problem at all.
“I think this is an affront not just to the committee but to Congress itself,” he said.
“May we direct the committee secretary to write a strongly worded letter, isa pong sulat kay Secretary Año, sa pang-iinsulto sa kumite, sa hindi pagdalo ninuman mula sa kanilang departamento. (a letter to Secretary Año, for insulting the committee, for not sending anybody from the department),” he added.
Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) Undersecretary Danilo Pamonag, one of the resource persons physically present at the hearing, clarified to the panel that the DILG was “tasked to lead the sub-task group on LSI.” This is consistent with Memorandum Circular 2020-087, which the DILG itself issued.
“The Presidential Management Staff or PMS is also involved with Asec. Joseph Encabo as the lead convenor of the Hatid Tulong Program. The DSWD is the only member of the sub-task group in charge of providing cash assistance to LSIs, ” Pamonag said.
Deputy Majority Leader and Cavite 7th district Rep. Jesus Crispin Remulla also moved to have a similarly strongly worded letter to the PMS after it was learned from the comsec that Encabo didn’t participate in the hearing. He noted that Encabo was the person in charge of the situation at Rizal Memorial Sports Complex.
“They have to follow the summons of the committee,” Remulla said, referring to the DILG and PMS.
Defensor, chairman of the Committee on Public Accounts, then gave an ominous warning to the DILG in connection with the upcoming deliberations on the 2021 national budget.
“Iklaro po natin na may budget deliberations po tayo at kung ganito ang performance ng DILG sa ngayon na mayroong mga stranded, sa palagay ko po hindi lamang ang kumite kundi ang buong Kongreso ay gagawa ng pamamaraan patungkol sa budget ng DILG. (To clarify, we will have the budget deliberations soon and if this is the DILG’s perfomance on LSIs, then I think Congress and not only this committee will do something about the DILG’s budget).”
The House of Representatives possesses the power of the purse, or basically the power allocate funds for the different agencies in a given budget cycle.