“Which government departments, agencies and local government units are receiving funds — and how much and to which designated bank accounts do these go? What contracts are being awarded and to whom? Is the money being spent on the ground the way it should? Are timely audits happening?”
By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA — Journalists and netizens expressed the need to closely monitor the donations and aid that are being channeled through government agencies for relief operations and rehabilitation efforts for the survivors of Typhoon Yolanda.
“It is our moral obligation to help ensure that funds and other resources for the survivors do not go missing, get stolen or wasted,” Rorie Fajardo, program manager of the Citizen Action Network for Accountability, said in a statement.
CANA launched the Yolanda Citizen Watch a few days after Typhoon Yolanda (international name Haiyan), one of the strongest typhoons ever to make landfall, wreaked havoc in several provinces in the Visayas region. Among the worst hit are the coastal areas of Leyte such as Tacloban City, Palo and Tanauan.
Yolanda Citizen Watch, which is composed of netizens group Blog Watch and #AidMonitorPH, media groups Center for Community Journalism and Development, MindaNews, Institute of War and Peace Reporting and the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, and the Disaster Risk Reduction Network Philippines said funds that are being received by the national government need to be monitored to make sure that it is really the people affected who are benefiting from the donations.
Groups that do not want these funds to end up as “ma-Napoles,” as participants of the roundtable discussion last Nov. 5 in Quezon City, puts it, referring to the pork barrel scam.
“Which government departments, agencies and local government units are receiving funds — and how much and to which designated bank accounts do these go? What contracts are being awarded and to whom? Is the money being spent on the ground the way it should? Are timely audits happening?” the group asked in their statement.
How to help track
Jane Uymatiao of Blog Watch said during the forum that a lot of people were awakened by the pork barrel scam. And with news on the big donations for Yolanda survivors, she said, many are asking where the money will go.
Labor rights advocate and blogger Carlos Maningat, in his BlogWatch post, said the idea behind #AidMonitorPH, a collaborative effort to monitor aid meant for survivors of Typhoon Yolanda, is that “all financial aid for Yolanda victims should be accounted for, with the transfers and disbursements to partner agencies and communities monitored. It must be ensured that the current outpouring of financial aid translates to immediate relief on the ground.”
In tracking these aid, priority, Maningat said, is given to major aid sources such as foreign donor governments, multilateral organizations, private foundations and other philanthropic organizations and private corporations. He said aid information can be verified on online sources such as embassy websites, media reports, government websites such as the Department of Foreign Affairs, and www.gov.ph.
Noemi Dado, a blogger and one of the co-founders of BlogWatch, said they want to promote public policy dialogue and information between government and non-government organizations. Netizens, she added, can help by using hashtags and crowdsourcing information.
BlogWatch has set up a Google Document that aims to document and monitor aid and pledges from these aid sources. Several days later, the national government also put up FAiTH, which also published the amount of money but only those that were channeled through government agencies.
Red Batario of the Center for Community Journalism and Development said tracking and monitoring of donations could be done by following the trail: the people, institutions and the context. He said citizens should also look into what is going on, “not just where the aid is going but how it is being used.”
“Corruption and fund misuse sit on top of our concerns amid the outpouring of aid to Yolanda victims,” Maningat said, adding that collating better aid information for Yolanda victims means being “one step ahead of the crooks.”
Uymatiao also related that one of the obstacles they are facing is the lack of access to information. She highlighted the need for the passing of the Freedom of Information bill.
One of the audience in the round table discussion said it is not true that aid that are being donated to the Philippine government come without strings attached.
Dado said that the supposed “aid” that the Philippine government would be receiving from the likes of World Bank and the Asian Development Bank are loans. If these financial institutions would really like to help, Dado said, they should just provide a moratorium on Philippine debt servicing.
Leonor Briones, UP professor and former national treasurer, said the country has sufficient resources to address the need for rehabilitating Yolanda-affected areas. Citing the money lost to the pork barrel scam, Briones said that while she does not want to downplay the role of foreign aid, the government already has the resources needed.
In his blog, Tonyo Cruz said #AidMonitorPH also aims to “identify, expose and reject ‘aid with strings attached’. I am referring here to so-called ‘aid’ from the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank. These are not aid and totally different from what others are sending. These are loans with interests. Just imagine the interest on a $500 million World Bank loan and the length of time we would need to repay it.”
“What could entities like the World Bank, ADB and the International Monetary Fund do instead of offering loans? We ask that they condone some of our obligations, especially those that are fraudulent and onerous in nature. We also wish that creditor-countries with whom we have obligations seriously consider condoning some of the longstanding loans,” Cruz added.