Bello: No misuse of P1.9-B DOLE funds

MANILA, Philippines – Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello on Friday, August 31, denied what he called a "wild accusation" that the Department of Labor and Employment (DLE) misused some P1.9 billion of its funds under his watch.

In a press briefing, Bello clarified that unobligated funds under DOLE's Office of the Secretary were due to issues encountered in the implementation of financial assistance programs from 2016 to 2017.

"We are dumbfounded by the wild accusation made by a member of the House of Representatives that we have misused a staggering P1.9 billion of our funds. That is the farthest from the truth," Bello told reporters.

"Our records would show that we had prudently spent Congress-approved allocations since we assumed office in July 2016," he added.

ACTS OFW Representative John Bertiz made the allegation during the DOLE budget deliberations before the House committee on appropriations on Thursday, August 30.

Citing the latest Comission on Audit report, Bertiz also pointed out that 75% of the funds for programs went to administrative costs, and only 25% "went to the beneficiaries."

"Mr Secretary, can you explain why out of the total budget of the program which amounts to P2.41 billion, nearly 75% or P1.9 billion was spent on administrative costs if the department used the funds correctly?" Bertiz said in Filipino on Thursday.

"It means that DOLE allots 75% for administrative work, and only 25% went to livelihood programs for the displaced, for those in need. Did you use up all your funds to help the indigent?" he added.

The lawmaker cited the special provision under the 2017 General Appropriations Act for the DOLE budget, saying, "In no case DOLE shall be allowed to use more than 5% of the said amounts to cover administrative costs of implementing the above programs."

On Friday, Bello maintained that only 5% was spent on administrative costs.

Non-utilization of funds: On Friday, DOLE said that a total of P1.86 billion was not obligated or committed due to several issues in the following programs as of December 31, 2017.

Generally, DOLE encountered issues on compliance to requirements by the beneficiaries, which led to the non-disbursement of funds.

Of the programs, the Adjustment Measures Program (AMP) has the highest unobligated amount at P658.72 million. This program provides financial assistance to workers hit by unforeseen circumstance, such as the closure of Boracay.

In the case of the K-to-12 AMP program, DOLE cited few displaced Higher Education Institution personnel to assist.

This is followed by the DOLE Integrated Livelihood Program which has an unobligated amount of P327.76 million due to the revision of policy guidelines.

The On-Site Welfare Services for Overseas Filipino Workers has an unobligated amount of P325.53 million. DOLE said it was due to the late deployment of overseas personnel to host countries.

Proposed budget: DOLE has a P13.371-billion budget under the proposed 2019 national budget. The figure is 16.38% higher than its cash-based budget equivalent of P11.489 billion in 2018. (READ: What is cash-based budgeting?)

The total proposed funds tucked under DOLE's Office of the Secretary amounts to P8.429 billion.

Despite the administrative cost issues raised by Bertiz, Bello on Thursday sought to increase their budget for personnel services, so DOLE can hire 2,000 more labor inspectors that will examine compliance of business establishments to labor laws. –

Aika Rey

Aika Rey covers the Philippine Senate for Rappler. Before writing about politicians, she covered budget, labor, and transportation issues.