House panel disappointed over low number of arrested local officials involved in SAP anomalies

The House Committee on Good Government and Public Accountability is disappointed by the snail-paced action of the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) and the Philippine National Police (PNP) in running after the local officials who were allegedly involved in the anomalous distribution of Social Amelioration Program (SAP) emergency cash subsidy. 

At the resumption of the Lower Chamber’s probe on SAP anomalies, House panel chair Bulacan 1st District Rep. Jose Antonio Sy-Alvarado said it seems that the DILG and the PNP fell short of carrying out their mandate to run after the abusive local officials. 

This was after PNP-Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) Director Joel Napoleon Coronel reported that since the campaign started, only two persons have been arrested in the act of distributing SAP subsidy to unqualified beneficiaries.

He said that only two were arrested from the 1,103 probable suspects. 

“In the previous report, it was only 328; then we conducted a hearing. Instead of being afraid, the number went up. It seems that these criminals are not taking us seriously. And the money of our countrymen is being stolen,” Sy-Alvarado said in Pilipino.

Coronel informed the panel that as of August 24, 2020, the CIDG has investigated a total of 340 cases involving alleged SAP anomalies, of which there were 1,103 probable suspects with 745 complainants.

"Of the 1,103 suspects, 479 are elected public officials, while the rest are either local government workers, health workers, social workers and civilians," he said.

Of the 479 elected public officials, two are mayors, two are vice mayors, eight are municipal and city councillors and the rest are barangay officials. 

Coronel said majority of the cases are violations of Republic Act No. 3019 the Anti Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, numbering to about 235 incidents.

While, some cases are  violations of Republic Act No. 11469 or the Bayanihan to Heal As One Act, Code of Conduct Ethical Public Standards; perjury; estafa; falsification of documents; and among others to include great coercion, and malversation  of public funds.

"As of present, we have filed a total of 341 cases with different prosecutor's offices. Of these, 28 had been resolved while the rest, 245, are still pending preliminary investigation," Coronel said.

He told the panel that the directive to investigate the SAP anomalies was given to the PNP by the Inter-agency Task Force last May 21, or two months behind the date when the SAP distribution was initiated. 

“That is why there’s a lull from the time the SAP distribution to the investigation. That is why most of the violations for the anomalous SAP distribution had already been committed, we were not able to arrest them,” he said.

"What we are doing, in coordination with DSWD and DILG regional offices, we are documenting these cases already. But, pursuant to the instruction of the DILG, as handed by the President, we are now referring it directly to the Office of the Ombudsman for immediate action, especially against public officials. We are doing that beginning this month,” Coronel said.

Deputy Speaker and Camarines Sur 2nd District Rep. Luis Raymund “LRay" Villafuerte Jr. chided the DILG for its failure to administratively charge and immediately suspend erring chief executives and local officials involved in SAP anomalies, especially if there is substantial documentary evidence against them.

“The DILG can motu proprio administratively charge these local officials. Hindi na kailangan aksyunan ng Ombudsman (You don’t have to wait for the action of the Ombudsman), the DILG is empowered to file administrative cases for suspension, and even perpetual,” he stressed.

During the hearing, DILG Undersecretary Ricojudge Echiverri said that the power and mandate of the DILG is to endorse such cases to the Ombudsman "and let the Ombudsman determine if they could directly act on whether not they could be preventively suspended, or be suspended at once.”

But, Villafuerte disagreed with Echiverri, saying that the DILG’s mandate is not only limited to  the endorsement of the cases, but it is clearly provided under the law, that they can charge administratively and immediately suspend the officials even if there is pending court case. 

“Based on the Anti-Graft Law, you can suspend even if it is pending in court. We should agree on this because this is within the bounds of law,” he said.

"With all due respect to Usec Echiverri, you cannot say that you are only empowered to endorse kasi marami ng nasuspinde ng (because many officials have been suspended by the) DILG in the past, na mga mayor (there were mayors), high-profile... You should correct your statement that you can only endorse to the Ombudsman, you can motu proprio investigate and DILG is empowered to administratively charge,” the House leader said.