MANILA—President Rodrigo Duterte on Thursday said he hoped the Commission on Audit (COA) would reconsider its decision disallowing the transfer of P5 million originally earmarked for a housing project, which was instead used by displaced Marawi residents on a pilgrimage to Mecca last year.
Duterte said the Islamic pilgrimage Hajj is more important for Muslims than government housing efforts.
“I’m asking COA to reconsider. Ano ba naman ’yang P5 million? Actually, that P5 million is worth billions in terms of your kind generosity to finance the poor people na Muslim para makapag-Hajj,” the President said in a speech during the Eid’l Fitr celebration in Davao City
“You can forget the housing there being planned by the government but to the individual Muslim believer, 5 mansyon ibigay ng gobyerno, but a simple token of generosity makapunta siya makapag-Hajj, mas mahalaga ’yan sa kaniya.”
(To the individual Muslim believer, 5 mansions are nothing compared to a token of generosity to help him do the Hajj. That’s more important for them.)
The Hajj is an annual pilgrimage of Muslims to the holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia.
In its 2018 report, the state auditor flagged the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council’s transfer of P5 million in rehabilitation funds to the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos (NCMF) for the annual Muslim pilgrimage of some evacuees from the conflict-stricken Islamic city.
The COA said the transferred amount came from the P500 million allocated by the Office of the President to HUDCC for rehabilitation expenses of the Marawi task force and should only be used for the “recovery, reconstruction and rehabilitation of the City of Marawi and other affected localities.”
Sponsorship of trips is not allowed, the COA said.
Eduardo del Rosario, head of the HUDCC and the Task Force Bangon Marawi, appealed to the COA on Wednesday to allow diverting the money since it was properly dispensed by the NCMF.
“We are writing an appeal to COA not to disallow this vital transaction since the P5 million was properly dispensed by NCMF. Besides, the funds used came from the President’s social fund and not from the funds appropriated by Congress,” Del Rosario said.
The President explained that the fund diversion is not illegal since there is P15 million allocated annually to fund the pilgrimage of Muslim Filipinos.
“There is a fund set aside to enhance the travel of brothers and sisters for the pilgrimage to fulfill a lifetime dream,” he said.
“Sabihin ko kay COA wag mo presuhin yan si Del Rosario, kasi kung presuhin mo pati ako mademanda pati si Inday,” he said, referring to his daughter, Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio.
(I’ll tell COA not to imprison Del Rosario because if they do, I’ll be involved too as well as my daughter, Inday)
Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo earlier said the Palace would ask the housing body to explain the fund diversion, saying it would be considered as technical malversation if proven true.
Duterte in 2017 placed the entire island of Mindanao under martial law after Islamic State-inspired militants took siege of Marawi. The military rule is set to expire in December this year.
The siege left at least 1,000 people killed, including terrorists, soldiers, and civilians. Thousands of residents were displaced as the firefights decimated much of the city.