More than P1 billion in disaster funds in 2015 unspent or misused: Commission on Audit

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — More than P1.0 billion in disaster relief funds allocated to local governments in 2015 were underutilized or misused, a Commission on Audit report obtained Monday said.

These were some of the "Significant Audit Observations” in the COA's 2015 Consolidated Report on the Audit of Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Fund, a copy of which was submitted on January 10 to Defense Secretary and National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) chairman Delfin Lorenzana.

Underutilized funds

According to the report, some P595 million in disaster funds were disbursed only in November 2015 to the Local Water Utilities Administration, thus preventing timely implementation of projects post-disaster.

The state auditors added that 22 local government units, mostly in the National Capital Region, failed to allocate funds amounting to P125 million for their Local Risk Reduction and Management Funds.

"There was no assurance that the DRRM (Disaster Risk Reduction and Management) projects and programs of the concerned LGUs (local government units" have been fully and effectively implemented," thus violating Section 21 of the Philippine Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act of 2010, it added.

Misused funds

Meanwhile, Quick Response Funds (QRF) in the amount of P128 million given to the Department of National Defense were used used for "repairs and reconstruction of DND and Bureaus' facilities which are not in accordance with the purposes of QRF," COA said.

QRF are stand-by funds disbursed by the NDRRMC for relief and recovery programs for calamity-affected citizens.

In a statement on Monday, the DND justified the use of the P128 million, saying the repairs were "undertaken to ensure that the facilities and equipment utilized by Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Response personnel affected by calamities may be normalized as quickly as possible."

Another finding was that out of P572 million available funds for disaster services, the DND only utilized around P263 million.

"Out of this amount, however, only P128.6 million were paid for and/or disbursed as of December 31, 2015, while the rest are still pending until approval of POs/contracts, and/or delivery of items."

The DND said unliquidated fund transfers were necessary "given the extraordinary circumstances at that time."

"There was a need to strike a balance between policy and urgency of requirements in order to restore public service and provide support to damaged facilities in disaster-affected areas," the DND statement added.

Close to P245 million in local disaster risk reduction and management funds "was spent by 16 regions for activities which are not disaster risk-management related," the COA said, adding that another P32 million of the Quick Response Funds were spent by LGUs that were not in a state of calamity.

P3 billion yet to be returned

Meantime, 183 local government units failed to transfer a total of P3 billion in unspent local disaster funds from 2015 to the Special Trust Fund, which is also required under the law.

The Special Trust Fund is a standby sum intended to support disaster management projects within the next five years.

State auditors also noted an LGU in Region VI (western Visayas) failed at all to allocate around P11.3 million in donations to any projects to address immediate relief and post-disaster recovery.

In addition, the COA said 57 LGUs did not set up local disaster offices, which the auditors said "will be responsible for ensuring the protection and welfare of the communities during disasters and emergencies."

The report covers funds allocated for disaster relief and management efforts in the last full year of President Benigno Aquino III's administration and is meant to be used as a reference and to provide an overall picture of the management disaster funds.

It is apparently the first of its kind. The COA noted the report was made in the "absence of a single/consolidated report on financial data on disaster management, particularly on the receipt and utilization."