House panel declares veterans’ group a public office

Published August 25, 2020, 7:26 PM

by Charissa Luci-Atienza 

The House Committee on Veterans Affairs and Welfare  approved Tuesday (August 25) a bill declaring the Board of Trustees of the Veterans of World War II (BTVWWII) as a public office and the funds entrusted to it as public funds.

After one and half-hour long virtual deliberations, the House panel, chaired by Bataan 1st District Rep. Geraldine Roman passed House Bill No. 2603, “subject to the amendments and style” upon the motion  made by Magdalo partylist Rep. Manuel Cabochan III, vice chairman of the committee.

“For this representation, in the spirit of transparency and with the welfare of our veterans, the windows and orphans in mind and upon hearing the manifestation of the representative of the Board of Trustees that they are willing to submit to audit and knowing that from the Philippine Veterans Bank that it is also government depository bank, then it is clear to me that the funds subject of  audit are indeed imbued with public interest, its fund is public in character. With that, I support and move to approve HB 2603,” Cabochan said.  Cabochan’s motion was seconded by Zamboanga del Sur 2nd District Rep. Leonardo Babasa Jr.

Principally authored by Antipolo 2nd District Rep. Resurreccion Acop, HB 2603 seeks to amend Republic Act No. 3518 that created the Philippine Veterans Ba
nk (PVB), which is owned by and operated for and in behalf of the veterans, their widows, orphans or compulsory heirs. 

“This bill seeks to erase all doubts as to the character of the BTVWWII and on the nature of the trust funds under the Board’s administration pursuant to RA 3518, and unequivocally declare the Board as a public office and its funds as public funds,” Acop said in her sponsorship speech.

“By doing so, BTVWII will no longer have any excuse to disallow COA (Commmission on Audit)  to audit the funds and their disbursements for the sake of transparency and public accountability. Lest we lose sight of the fact that ultimately the funds are intended for the promotion of the welfare and interests of Filipino war veterans, their spouses and children,” she said.

She explained that under RA 3518, which was enacted on June 18, 1963, the BTVWWII was entrusted with the administration of the 20 percent of the net profits of the PVB for disposition and shall be available for ‘grants-in-aid’ to veterans, their widows, orphans, or compulsory heirs, for educational, social, charitable and rehabilitation purposes, and for such other purposes beneficial to the veterans. 

Acop recalled that the Commission on Audit (COA) had attempted to conduct the audit twice following the House of Representatives’ adoption of House Resolution NO. 206 last 16th Congress, but the BTVWWII continued to refuse audit and reiterated their position that it is a private entity and that the funds entrusted to it are not public funds.  

HR 206 urged the COA to conduct an audit on the funds and operations of the BTVWWII and to determine whether it has complied with government accounting and disbursement procedures. 

Roman also pushed for the passage of Acop’s measure, insisting the need for the BTVWWII to subject their funds to audit. 

“Napakamisteryoso (It is very mysterious), bakit nga ba ayaw? (why they opposed it?), it has been 57 years since 1963, gaano na ba kalaki ang pera na yan? (How big is that fund?) Ano nga ba ang dahilan kung bakit ayaw isubject sa audit. (What is the reason why they did not want to subject it to audit). Meron ba tayong tinatago? (Are we hiding something?),” she asked.

In response to Roman’s query, BTVWWII Executive Trustee and chief operating officer Joel Joseph Cabides clarified that  they are “for transparency” and they “are not hiding anything.”

“I would like to stress that we would like to be audited, but that should be within the law. We don’t believe that we are public offices that we will be under the Department of National Defense especially the Philippine Veterans Affairs Office. Over the years, we have functioned without support, no support from the government. It was solely from the Veterans Bank. You can check on how much Veterans Banks had given to the Board of Trustees of the veterans of the World War II,” he said. 

“We will contend that this is a private entity and we have our auditors, the internal and external auditors, and we are submitting reports to the BIR,” he added. 

Cabides said they are “frustrated” over allegations that there are complaints coming from the veterans about the supposed non-transparent use of the funds entrusted to BTVWWII.

“We did not receive anything, any complaints. I am challenging the Philippine Veterans Affairs Office to name names and they should check the complaints because we are committed to do service to our World War II veterans and their descendants, widows and orphans,” he said. 

PVAO Administrator Ernesto Carolina relayed to the panel that many veterans have sought the accounting of the funds entrusted to the BTVWWII as provided under the law. 

“Hinahanap nila kung saan napupunta yung 20 percent of the net earnings na binibigay ng bangko in cash sa Board of Trustees na specific po  ang purposes, for grants and aid, educational, social, medical. Sabi ng mga beterano, “Wala naman akong natatanggap na ganyan”,” he said.

(They are asking where did the 20 percent of the net earnings given by the bank in cash to the Board of Trustees go, the purposed of which are specific, for grants-in-aid, for educational, social medical. The veterans were telling, “I have not received that.”)

He noted that 70 percent of the veterans live in the provinces, and that the office of the Board of Trustees is located in Taguig. 

“We can assume na halimbawa (for example) na nakikinabang yung 30 percent (only 30 percent benefited from it), ‘yung mga nasa (those from) Metro Manila. Makatwiran po talaga na hanapin nila (It is just and fair that they looked for the funds)  at hingin na dapat maaudit  (and asked that it should be audited) at magkaroon ng accountability yung public funds na hawak (that there will be accountability on the use of public funds). We support this strongly,” Carolina said, manifesting PVAO’s support to Acop’s measure.