When it rains, it pours. This adage is especially true for 2020 Tokyo Olympics gold medalist Hidilyn Diaz, whose historic achievement last July 26 has overjoyed her fellow Filipinos worldwide. She is set to receive more than P50 million worth of prizes – in stark contrast to her predicament two years ago when the champion weightlifter asked for financial ‘ayuda’ (aid) from the private sector while pursuing her quest for Olympic glory.
Diaz’s cry for help, which she bashfully relayed on social media before the pandemic, highlights the seeming lack of government support for our athletes. Ironically, it also brings to mind the billions of pesos in unspent COVID-related funds that were allocated by Congress through the swift passage of the Bayanihan 1 and Bayanihan 2 laws.
An issue that has infuriated President Rodrigo Duterte in recent months was how certain elected officials messed around with the multibillion-peso subsidies under the government’s Social Amelioration Program (SAP). He constantly reminded government employees involved in the distribution of ayuda that he has requested the Ombudsman to dismiss from public service those who are found guilty of misusing the cash grants.
This massive ayuda was intended for impoverished families and dislocated workers who bore the brunt of economic dislocations caused by lockdowns and mobility restrictions since March 2020. But as of June 2021, some P175 billion in Bayanihan funds remained unused by various national agencies according to documents from the Department of Budget and Management.
Duterte has stated time and again that he abhors graft and corruption in government, which he repeated during his final State of the Nation Address on the same night that Diaz won the Philippines’ first Olympic gold. Recently, he called on the public again to report to him shenanigans or malfeasance involving his subordinates. This came after he challenged Senator Manny Pacquiao to name corrupt government agencies when the latter said the present administration is three times more corrupt than the previous one.
These feuding leaders of the ruling party need not look far when it comes to corruption allegations in local government units (LGU). In the nearby Bicol region, Iriga City Mayor Madelaine Alfelor is faced with more than a dozen criminal, civil, and administrative cases before the Office of the Ombudsman and the regional trial courts regarding the alleged misuse of almost P400 million in public funds under the national government’s SAP. Many of the charges pertain to anomalies in the disbursement of ayuda to unqualified or disqualified recipients.
Alfelor’s constituents are wondering why she continues to hold office despite the litany of graft charges over the past two years. It may also be recalled that Duterte issued a directive to the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) that those accused of irregularities in the ayuda distribution should be suspended pending the investigation of charges against them.
According to sources in Camarines Sur province, the extent of corruption in the Iriga LGU has reached such a level that the mayor’s own relatives have filed separate graft complaints against her. Meanwhile, there were reports that she bragged about being “untouchable” because of her close ties to a top DILG official.
Just imagine this case multiplied several times over in other LGUs throughout the country, and that would show the extent of corruption in our benighted land. The real state of our nation seems bleak, yet a sense of optimism is emerging due to the victory of Diaz against all odds.
J. Albert Gamboa is a Life Member of the Financial Executives Institute of the Philippines (FINEX). He is the Editor-in-Chief of the quarterly FINEX Digest magazine and the monthly FINEX Focus newsletter. The opinion expressed herein does not necessarily reflect the views of these institutions and the Manila Bulletin.