FOR 2016, the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA) received an adverse opinion from the Commission on Audit (COA). One of the reasons was its failure to account for some P2.453 billion in funds that were intended for Yolanda survivors.
Among COA’s findings, first reported on Sunday night by Vince Nonato of the Inquirer, was that recipients had failed to submit the required fund utilization reports. In other cases, the funds were used for activities that had nothing to do with the Yolanda Recovery and Rehabilitation Program (YRRP). Projects delegated to partner agencies were not monitored enough. And “poor planning” led to the failure to implement projects or delays in those projects that did get implemented.
Auditors also found that some P5.944 million in payments for cash-for-work incentives for Yolanda survivors in Regions 7 (P130,000) and 8 (P5.814 million) were “highly questionable” and the farmers listed as having received these amounts were “dubious.”
And that’s only the PCA we’re talking about, for now.
Audits on the use of funds for disaster preparedness and response remind us of the tricky balance between speed and prudence. We need strict rules in place and enforced to ensure that taxpayers’ funds are used as honestly as possible, for the best possible ends. But we also need those rules to allow rapid responses, when necessary.
In the weeks immediately after Yolanda struck four years ago, the concern was that food, water, and other essentials weren’t reaching survivors fast enough because some public officials, at both local and national levels, were trying to stick to the rules or were unprepared for a disaster of Yolanda’s scale.
Four years after Yolanda, auditors can and must demand stricter compliance. If the COA can’t figure out, based on the PCA’s records, where P795.546 million “borrowed” from the agency’s Yolanda-response funds went, that’s worrisome.
We’ve heard so much talk about resilience in the wake of Yolanda, and some of it has inspired. But in order to build resilience, our public agencies must model transparency on the use of funds to prepare for or recover from a disaster.
The worst numbers in Yolanda’s wake had to do with the more than 6,000 dead and more than 1,000 missing, as well as the nearly P6 billion worth of infrastructure and productive facilities the typhoon ruined. But the numbers that show the potential misuse of Yolanda recovery funds hurt almost as badly, because unless the concerned agencies prove otherwise, they suggest an intention to harm, an attempt to profit from the misery of others.