Filipinos queue for free packed meals distributed by Catholic religious order Society of the Divine Word (SVD) in Manila on June 24. (Photo: AFP)
A Catholic women’s group in the Philippines has blamed the regime of former President Rodrigo Duterte for misgovernance and corruption that pushed millions of people into poverty.
The Santa Clara Catholic Women’s Group said on Aug. 3 that about 12.2 million Filipinos feel they became poorer during the rule of Duterte.
The Catholic group, which supports clergymen in mission areas like dumpsites and orphanages, said graft and corruption in the former administration have continued to haunt Filipinos.
The group said President Rodrigo Duterte’s mishandling of pandemic funds amounting to 67.3 billion pesos (US$ 1.35 billion) recently flagged by the Commission on Audit could have improved the quality of life of millions of Filipinos.
“There was corruption even during the time of pandemic when people are poor and dying. This showed nothing more than a lack of mercy and deprivation of the millions of people to improve their quality of life. The billions pocketed by the corrupt should have gone to our countrymen,” the group said in a statement.
In August 2021, the country’s audit commission flagged several transactions of the Department of Health for mishandling the country’s Covid-19 funds.
The commission had released audit reports questioning the transparency and the acquisition of high-priced medical supplies to a certain corporation whose owners were close or allies of the president.
Duterte stopped the investigation claiming that it allegedly “confused” the people.
“You know that when you flag, there is already a taint of corruption by perception… You make a report. Do not flag and do not publish it because it will condemn the agency or the person that you are flagging,” Duterte reportedly told the audit commission.
The women’s group said this attitude of Duterte fueled corruption instead of making public officials accountable for their actions.
“We can see in the way President Duterte handled allegations and reports on graft and corruption, submitted and prepared by independent bodies. He simply brushed them aside and pretended that everything was doing well instead of assuring the public that he would spearhead investigations and would make the person(s) responsible pay for stealing our money,” the group added.
“All these contributed to the inevitable conclusion or consequence, that the poor are the ultimate victims of corruption in government. We have suffered enough. Instead of having a government that protects them, what we had was a government that took advantage of our needs during a pandemic.”
The group’s reaction came in response to a recent survey released by a private firm saying 12.2 million Filipinos felt they were poor during the first quarter of 2022.
The latest Social Weather Station (SWS) survey said there was an increase of 1.3 percent from 10.9 million Filipino families who felt “poor” during the last quarter of 2021.
“Poor families in all areas increased, especially in Metro Manila and Visayas as shown in the June survey. Compared to April 2022, Self-Rated Poor rose in the Visayas from 48 percent to 64 percent, and in Metro Manila from 32 percent to 41 percent,” the survey station said on Aug. 3.
Harry del la Cruz, professor of Economics at Malvar University, noted the repatriation of hundreds of thousands of Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) due to job losses and other issues that contributed to the steeping poverty curve.
“The government has provided assistance to a total of 803,521 repatriated overseas Filipino workers,” de la Cruz told UCA News.
“Overseas Filipino workers have helped a lot in keeping the economy afloat with their significant contribution through personal remittances which hit an all-time high of $33.5 billion in 2019 and accounted for 9.3 percent of our GDP,” he added.
The Philippines has seen a rise in poverty rates, from 21.1 percent in 2018 to 23.7 percent in 2021, according to Philippine Statistics Authority. Some 26.4 million Filipinos were living below the poverty line last year.