'Makati lost P367.5M to ghost senior citizen beneficiaries'

THE Makati City government allegedly lost P367.5 million to a scheme tapping "ghost" senior citizens as beneficiaries of social programs initiated by Vice President Jejomar Binay.

Binay was mayor of the city for two decades before he clinched the vice presidency in 2010.

At a Senate hearing on Thursday, Arthur Cruto of the Makati Action Center, presented three initial findings, particularly on the Blu Card program for the city’s senior citizens, which showed that there were beneficiaries who were either “dead or non-existent.”

Blu Card is a program of Makati City government, which caters the needs of senior citizens in the city.

The benefits given to a Blu Card holder totaled P11,750 on average, which include cash gift (P3,000), birthday cake (P300), special groceries for Christmas (P1,500), free maintenance medicines (P6,500), and free movies (P350).

To be a Blu Card holder, Cruto said a person must be 60 years old or above, registered voter of Makati, and certified Makati resident.

However, Cruto said that of the 68,000 senior citizens in the city, only 54 percent or 36,720 are "qualified recipients" of Blue Card while 45 percent or 31,280 are “dubious beneficiaries.”

“If each senior citizen of 68,000 recorded by the Makati Social Welfare Development (MSWD) is receiving an average amount of P11,750, the funds used by Makati amounted to P799 million. But based on the initial audit that there are only 36,720 (senior citizens) qualified, P367.7 million is missing a year on the Senior Citizens Blu Card program,” Cruto said.

Cruto said they found out that 40 to 52 percent of senior citizens in two Makati barangays “could not be found and were not” on the voter’s list of the Commission on Elections.

In Barangay Kasilawan, Cruto said some 1,095 senior citizens were listed Blu Card holder, according to the official record by the MSWD.

Of 1,095 listed senior citizen beneficiaries, Cruto said 435 are not registered voters of Makati and their address could not be located.

Cruto said that in Barangay Pinagkaisahan, only 449 of the 948 listed beneficiaries had been accounted for while 489 others were not registered residents of Makati.

Further, Cruto said 25 senior citizens in Barangay Kasilawan have only one address.

He also alleged that some of the deceased senior citizens were still receiving benefits.

“There are senior citizens who are already dead but are still included in the list. Some of them even received benefits,” Cruto said.

Binay's camp hit Cruto's statements, calling them as "misleading" and riddled with "half-truths that will not stand in court."

"Assuming without conceding the existence of fake beneficiaries, where is the evidence to show any link to the Vice President? None, because this is another tall tale," said Binay's spokesman Joey Salgado in a statement.

He said Makati senior citizens personally apply and submit documents before they are enrolled.

The elders also go through verification and the benefits are received personally.

Salgado said the Social Welfare Department has a system to delist deceased beneficiaries.

"Senior citizens who have moved to other localities but who are registered voters remain beneficiaries. Mr. Cruto had no objection to this when his mother was living in Cavite but remained a senior citizen beneficiary," he said.

Salgado challenged Cruto to execute an affidavit and repeat his statements outside the Senate so they can file the appropriate case against him.

"Malakas ang loob nila kasi binigyan sila ng immunity ng mga senador para malaya silang makapag-sinungaling at siraan si Vice President," he said.

He added the program is subjected to regular audit by Commission on Audit and there has never been any adverse findings.

"Pero alam namin na selective kayo sa pagtingin sa COA. Kapag walang makitang mali sa Makati, tinatakot n’yo at tinatawag na sangkot sa cover-up. Kapag pabor sa inyo gaya ng sinabi ng dating COA chair, palakpak kayo," Salgado said, referring to Senator Antonio Trillanes IV, who exposed the supposed anomaly on Wednesday.

Senator Aquilino Pimentel III, chairman of the Senate blue ribbon sub-committee, said he would further investigate the matter.

“We have to find out who designed the scheme, where the leakage of money happened,” Pimentel told reporters after the hearing, which will resume on August 26. (Sunnex)

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