MANILA: The Philippine government said Tuesday it was investigating allegations that local officials on an island devastated by an earthquake are withholding aid to residents in need.
While large deliveries of aid have arrived in Bohol, mainly from the national government, some residents have complained they had not received any from their local officials a week after a 7.1-magnitude quake hit the island, Interior Secretary Mar Roxas said.
“It is not right that relief goods given by the national and provincial governments are hoarded at (municipal and district) offices,” he said in a statement.
“If this is really happening, those responsible must be prosecuted for relief hoarding,” he said without naming names.
He said Bohol police were ordered to monitor aid distribution for signs of hoarding.
The quake left 190 people dead, most of them on Bohol. It also damaged more than 50,000 homes, and 111,000 Bohol residents are staying in government-run camps, the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council said.
Relief officials said many others were camped out in tents outside their homes amid frequent aftershocks.
The aid controversy has centred on Maribojoc, a town of 20,000 people about 15 kilometres (nine miles) west of the quake’s epicentre.
Mayor Leoncio Evasco said he asked the Red Cross to leave the town Thursday, saying the organisation had disrupted Maribojoc’s aid distribution system.
The Red Cross said the local authorities had asked them to hand over aid to them, and that they had refused.
Hundreds of Maribojoc residents were left hungry and disappointed after lining up for Red Cross food packs, Philippine Red Cross secretary-general Gwendolyn Pang told AFP.
“They (local officials) wanted our people to surrender the goods to them. We can’t do that,” she added.
“It is one of worst-affected areas…. We see a lot of people suffering,” Pang said.
Local media have accused Evasco and other Bohol officials of wanting to take control of the aid for political gain, so that residents feel beholden to them, something that Evasco has denied.
“The whole town is an evacuation centre,” Evasco told AFP.
He said that under his system all outside aid must go through the municipal government for “fair and equal” distribution among the town’s districts and villages.
He rejected suggestions that the system was designed to benefit him politically, saying he is banned by law from standing for the same post in 2016.
Social Welfare Secretary Corazon Soliman told DZMM radio in Manila that it was best to coordinate aid distribution through local officials because they know their area and residents’ needs.
However, this did not mean the aid must be surrendered to the mayor, she said.