Former Cebu mayor penalized for Yolanda fund mess

CEBU CITY — The Office of the Ombudsman finds the former mayor of Daanbantayan, Cebu guilty of simple negligence over the handling of the Emergency Shelter Assistance (ESA) released to victims of Typhoon Yolanda.

Former mayor Augusto Corro was ordered suspended for two months, but since the latter is no longer in office, the penalty will be converted to a fine in the amount of his two month’s salary.

The Ombudsman also ordered the suspension of Social Welfare Officer III Heide Aplece of the Municipal Social Welfare Development Office.

Corro’s suspension stemmed from the complaint filed by Renato Binatiro of Barangay Tapilon, Daanbantayan, a qualified beneficiary of the ESA program.

The ESA program is a financial assistance fund from the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) for Typhoon Yolanda victims.

Qualified beneficiaries are entitled to receive P30,000.00 for residents whose houses were completely destroyed by the typhoon and P10,000.00 for those whose houses were partially destroyed.

Local government units in the typhoon affected areas were tapped to implement the program. The local officials were to come up with a list of families within their respective jurisdiction.

In October 2014, Corro submitted to DSWD, a list of 16,613 beneficiaries. In January 2015, DSWD released Memorandum Circular No. 24 disqualifying beneficiaries living in unsafe or no-build zones.

Benatiro was declared ineligible to receive the financial assistance following the DSWD issuance. However on March 25, 2015, the Mines and Geosciences Board issued a letter stating that “Barangay Tapilon is generally not within a danger/unsafe zone for rain-induced landslide and flooding.”

Corro wrote the Department of Environment and Natural Resources on July 30, 2015, requesting “technical assistance to establish the unsafe zones as the local government is having difficulty in establishing the so-called unsafe or no-build zones due to the absence of technical personnel.”

Corro in his counter-affidavit filed on November 20, 2015, informed the Ombudsman that Daanbantayan has “suspended the ESA distribution in the areas near the shorelines pending the technical determination of unsafe zones by the proper government authorities.

The municipality of Daanbantayan received a total of P425,870,000.00 as ESA funds.

The Ombudsman’s decision stated that “[respondent] disqualified complainant on the ground that his house was located within the unsafe zone but four months later they claimed that the municipality has not yet determined its danger/unsafe zone.  If it is true that the municipality merely withheld the ESA of those residing near the shorelines pending proper identification of its danger/unsafe zones, the remarks appearing next to complainant’s name on the list, as well as that of the others, should have been “for verification” and not a categorical and unqualified “unsafe zone.”

“It cannot be gainsaid that respondent flatly failed to observe a mandatory requirement under Memorandum Circular No. 24 when they hastily labeled complainant and several others as residing within the danger/unsafe zones, without proper reference to the municipality’s Comprehensive Land Use Plan (CLUP) and multi-hazard maps,” according to the Ombudsman.

The Ombudsman, however, found no probable cause to charge Corro with violation of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act (Republic Act No. 3019).

According to the Ombudsman, “the act of classifying complainant’s abode and several others as situated within the danger/unsafe zones without proper reference to the CLUP and multi-hazard maps, albeit improper and careless, does not, by itself, establish  the presence of manifest partiality, evident bad faith and/or gross inexcusable negligence” as required under R.A. No. 3019.

The Ombudsman also noted that “it is just unfortunate that DSWD was noticeably tardy in crafting guidelines for the proper implementation of its ESA program.

Factually, when the municipality prepared the original list of 16,613 names, there was no clear DSWD guidelines as to the qualifications of intended ESA beneficiaries.  Memorandum Circular No. 24 came out only after the original list was submitted to DSWD regional office and, by that time, those included were already thinking that they qualified for assistance.  It is therefore, not surprising that complainant accused respondents of chipping away the ESA funds by altering the original list and causing bona fide beneficiaries to be disqualified on the pretext that they reside in danger/unsafe zones.”

Simple Neglect of Duty is defined as “the failure to give proper attention to a task expected of an employee resulting from either carelessness or indifference.”<b>(Harold V. Pontongan)</b>