Pacquiao wants probe on transfer of 'ayuda' funds by DSWD partner to private bank

Published October 11, 2021, 3:02 PM

by Mario Casayuran

Presidential aspirant Senator Emmanuel “Manny” Pacquiao on Monday, October 11, asked the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) and the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) to investigate on reports that Starpay Corporation deposited with a private bank billions in government funds intended for the financial assistance to COVID-19 pandemic beneficiaries.

Sen. Emmanuel ‘Manny’ Pacquiao during the Senate’s plenary session on June 1, 2021. (Henzberg Austria/Senate PRIB)

Pacquiao also asked the head of this private bank to make a clarification on this bank deposit.

Asked to name this bank during a public hearing by Senator Imee Marcos as chairwoman of the Senate finance sub-committee I on the P180.12-billion proposed 2022 budget of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), Pacquiao said he would be willing to make the identification only in closed doors.

He had demanded to know who benefited from the interest on the bank deposit that stayed with the private bank for 10 months before it was refunded to DSWD.

Starpay handled P52 billion in financial assistance, or “ayuda”, for distribution to DSWD beneficiaries affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. It was among the six financial service providers (FSP) tapped by the agency to distribute cash aid through electronic wallets.

As he concluded his presentation on the ‘’poor’’ handling by DSWD of P96-billion financial assistance to pandemic victims, Pacquiao asked the Commission on Audit (COA) of the DSWD on the funds given out by DSWD to financial service providers (FSPs), including Starpay. There was a total of P206 billion in ‘’Ayudas.’’ Who is to blame for the delay in the distribution of the ‘’bulto bulto’’ (tons of) ‘’Ayudas),’’ he asked.

Pacquiao also questioned why there was a P50 ‘’service fee’’ for each transaction in the handing out of the cash aid to beneficiaries.

Because there were 6.7 million beneficiaries, the amount now reached P250 million, he added.

Senator Panfilo Lacson, another presidential aspirant, faulted the DSWD for ‘’poor planning”.

He said the DSWD should have considered its capability and of local government units (LGUs) in the distribution of ‘’ayudas’’ before contracting the job to private financial service providers (FSPs).

DSWD Secretary Rolando Bautista explained that under the second tranche in the distribution of the aid, LGUs did not handle the funds well, prompting them to engage the services of FSPs.

DSWD officials stressed that it had asked BSP for its technical assistance in the digital payment of Ayudas to beneficiaries.

Opposition Senator Francis Panglinan asked why DSWD chose Star Pay to disburse the bulk of the ‘’ayudas’’ when it was on the verge of bankruptcy in 2019.

Starpay Corp., the firm behind an e-wallet service used to distribute pandemic financial aid, had disputed the corruption claim made by Pacquiao.

He said P50 billion of the P206 billion allocated for SAP was routed to Starpay, which Pacquiao tagged as a “lesser known” e-wallet service with a paid-up capital of only P62,000.

Starpay emphasized that more than five million beneficiaries had been given cash aid through its platform “in a very short period of time..

Starpay stressed that it has already liquidated the funds it received and refunded the amount for unserved beneficiaries to the DSWD, totaling to P8.239 billion.

It said it began dealing with DSWD in June, 2020, and was initially awarded coverage of about 1.6 million beneficiaries, but it went “above and beyond” the original allocation set by the DSWD and the BSP.