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DFA Holds Back UN’s $3-M Funds for Peacekeepers
A committee in the House of Representatives was told Wednesday that $3.3 million in United Nations funds for Filipino peacekeepers in Haiti had been withheld over concerns that UN money might be misused by the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
At the House defense committee hearing on UN peacekeeping funds, officials of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said that the move in Haiti also was prompted by allegations AFP officials were skimming off allowances of the Filipino troops on UN missions.
UN funding of Filipino peacekeepers was included in a special audit in connection with the plunder case against former AFP comptroller Carlos Garcia.
Assistant Foreign Secretary Leslie Gatan told the House panel that the $3.3 million had been placed in the temporary custody of the Philippine Consulate in New York because of the possibility that UN funds could have been involved in Garcia’s case.
Gatan also said there were things to be clarified on the AFP’s handling of the soldiers’ allowances.
Filipino Peacekeepers. Photo Credit: http://www.skyscrapercity.com/
Fund kept since 2008
The $3.3 million, which was supposed to be for the equipment of Filipino soldiers in Haiti, has been kept by the DFA since 2008, the DFA officials said.
Since then, the DFA has laid down policy measures for the release of the funds. But because the military has not complied with the guidelines, the money has not been released, according to Elmer Cato, former peacekeeping officer for the Philippine mission to the United Nations.
The DFA requirements included monetary transfer to a government depository bank; the AFP’s disclosure to the peacekeepers about the amount that they would get; the review of the interagency mechanism that governs the funds; and the AFP’s assurance that the funding requirements for future deployments would be in their budget.
“Two of the requirements were not complied with, so we couldn’t release it,” Cato told reporters.
He also said that the DFA did not want to get the $3.3 million from the United Nations at first because of the ongoing controversy on Garcia’s plunder case and the alleged deductions from the allowances of troops.
“But the UN told us that if you don’t get these funds we will be compelled to give it to other contributing countries that have not been paid. And it was actually the UN that recommended a solution for us to keep it in a bank in the US, and we did with instructions from Manila,” Cato said.
The House committee chair, Muntinlupa Rep. Rodolfo Biazon, asked why the DFA was keeping the funds when the soldiers needed it, and under what authority it had done this.
“Although we’ve been made aware of the need to remit to the national treasury we really have to balance between fulfilling our international obligations as a member of the United Nations, and to observing local regulations especially accounting and auditing procedures,” Cato said.
Rizalina Mutia of the Commission on Audit (COA) also told the House committee that the agency earlier issued a ruling saying that UN funds should be remitted to the national treasury, instead of being directly transferred to the AFP bank account.
Mutia said the COA ruling relied on a 1996 executive order that required the remittance of government funds to the treasury.
But Mutia said that despite this letter, the amounts from the UN continued to be brought to the AFP account.
Cato said that when the AFP told the DFA about the remittance of the UN funds to its bank account, the department assumed that the military had handled all the requirements.
He also noted that peacekeeping was also something new to the Philippines.
Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez said the DFA should follow the directive on where the UN funds should be remitted.
“It behooves this committee to call on the DFA, and the remittance should not be to the AFP, it should be to the national treasury,” Rodriguez said.
Former auditor Heidi Mendoza, who led a special audit of AFP transactions, earlier testified in the Sandiganbayan anti-graft court that funds from the United Nations and Balikatan exercises with the United States were directly credited to the military, and did not pass through the budget department or the Bureau of Treasury as required by law.