Abante urges action vs COVID-19 corruption

Bienvenido Abante Jr.

HOUSE Minority Leader and Manila Rep. Bienvenido "Benny" Abante Jr. has urged the administration to go after officials involved in the corruption of coronavirus disease-19 (COVID-19) funds and urged it to take action on alleged corruption in the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth).

In his Contra-SONA (State of the Nation Address) Tuesday, Abante said Filipinos have every right to be concerned about corruption given the enormous amounts of funds involved in government COVID-19 response efforts.

"Sa laki po ng pondo na inilabas para sa Bayanihan to Heal as One Act, and amid reports that there are those who were not able to receive their subsidies, our people have every right to be concerned about whether the funds we allot for government stimulus programs will be put to good use," said Abante.

According to the House leader, "in a survey conducted by SWS (Social Weather Stations), close to three out of ten of respondents revealed they did not receive any financial aid from the government during the lockdown. So we share the concern of our constituents."

Acknowledging that the President had admitted that there were flaws in the implementation of the government's Social Amelioration Program (SAP), Abante nonetheless urged the administration "to step up efforts to ferret out the officials that have taken advantage of the funds allocated to them to profit from this pandemic."

"Aside from the questionable disbursement of SAP funds, we have received reports from the North to the South of overpriced rice, overpriced food packs, overpriced masks, overpriced thermal scanners, and overpriced PPES," said Abante.

The congressman from Manila stressed that "these acts of corruption are not just acts of theft; they cripple government COVID-19 response
efforts. In a crisis where every centavo matters, where every overpriced mask means one or two less masks for our frontliners, these despicable forms of corruption cannot and should not be countenanced. We should, as the President said, make sure that 'profiteers, over pricers and corrupt felons' do not outrun the long arm of the law."

In his fifth SONA on Monday, President Rodrigo Duterte lamented that "the corrupt, the grafters and the influence peddlers also take advantage of the fear and confusion that the coronavirus generates."

"The financial and material assistance of the government to the unemployed, the sick and the destitute running into billions of pesos, are not spared from corruption and ineptitude. Even the donations from well-meaning private persons are skimmed before reaching their intended beneficiaries. It is like snatching food from the mouths of babes," said the President.

Abante said that aside from the corruption of COVID-19 funds, the Minority was also concerned about corruption in PhilHealth, and called on the government to quickly take action.

"Last year, the Minority filed a resolution urging the House to conduct an investigation so that we can get to the bottom of the systemic fraud that allegedly plagues the agency," said the legislator.

"Now its anti-fraud officer has resigned and has threatened to expose the irregularities in PhilHealth. Will we wait for the next pandemic before we look into these serious allegations? How many billions of pesos' worth of members’ contributions must be lost to graft before government takes action?" Abante asked.