Much has already been made, both in cyberspace and in meatspace, of the entry entitled, “Aanhin pa ang damo kung patay na ang kabayo? (A special report from a volunteer)” by blogger Ella. If the controversial entry, which questions the efficiency of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) in conducting relief operations, is more strident and more provocative than absolutely necessary, especially toward the end, when Ella speculates that the goods thus far unreleased might magically surface during campaign season or in flea markets, the fact that many people assumed the worst—and behaved at their worst, should the comments that I have read on the issue be any indication—is a clear demonstration of at least two things: first, the despair and outrage at the devastation caused by typhoons Ondoy and Pepeng, which have not found an outlet for sufficient expression and catharsis; and second, the low regard in which the government in general, and the present dispensation in particular, is held.
Given such, working honestly and competently in government could well be a Sisyphean task—when everyone is determined to be cynical and hostile, what point is there in trying to do, or even intend, any good? Still, DSWD Secretary Esperanza Cabral seems willing to take on the challenge. As she stated in an October 25 letter to Philippine Daily Inquirer editor-in-chief Leticia J. Magsanoc, “Our Department is not perfect, but I can assure you that the overwhelming majority of us are competent at what we do and that we do our jobs with integrity.”
A recent development bears this assertion out: the Presidential Anti-Graft Commission (PAGC) ranked the DSWD first among 109 agencies in terms of compliance to the requirements of the Integrity Development Action Plan (IDAP), the government’s anti-corruption strategy—a rank it has held since 2007. The IDAP consists of 22 different measures to address corruption, and covers four areas: prevention, education, deterrence, and strategic partnership. (Below is a presentation on the IDAP for reference.)
One of the more notable signs of the commitment of the DSWD to transparency and accountability is to allow the public access to its records of donations received and released via its official web site, a list of which follows below:
- Cash Donations Received;
- Donations [In Kind] Received; and
- DSWD National Relief Operations Center (NROC) Summary of Releases.
That DSWD made these records available apparently without prompting or pressure is a move worth recognizing. Cabral, in the same letter to Magsanoc quoted above, made a good point when she said, “We could have very well kept the information to ourselves and you will likely be none the wiser.”
That said, there is certainly plenty of room for improvement. On the question of rapid action, for instance, which was the main bone of contention for Ella, Manolo Quezon remarked in his column that:
The blunt answer is, the DSWD could be moving faster, and it took the public outcry caused by the blog for the government to start sounding a call for more volunteers, which sidesteps the question of whether it’s a wise or even necessary policy to rely on volunteers for a line agency to fulfill its functions. The DSWD has done a lot, as it is; so the public interest lies in figuring out how it could do better—which it can’t do, without the public participating by means of criticism and helping in problem-solving.
He also stated in his supplement to the column that, while the records as such appear to indicate that the DSWD is indeed being a responsible steward of the donations, they are rife with inconsistencies. It is therefore difficult to make any firm conclusions, though it is not from a lack of trying: one need merely take a look at the number of ways that he and a few online volunteers were able to present and re-present the data.
What follow below are my own attempts at crunching the DSWD numbers. Obviously, my findings are in no way definitive or exhaustive.
Considering that the DSWD records are Google Documents, which are meant to be easily changed and updated, I uploaded the records on which I based my study to my Scribd account: the tally of in-kind donations received here, and the tally of released donations here. The inclusive dates are September 27 to October 27.
Findings on Donations Received
(Note: The yellow columns in the spreadsheet are ones that I added to the record. Everything else either appeared as is or was rearranged for clarity.)
- With regard to donations received, the DSWD was tracking five basic variables: (a) date received; (b) donor; (c) goods/services donated; (d) quantity of units donated; and (e) monetized unit value. Upon multiplying the latter two, a sixth variable, (f) the total monetized value of the donation, would result. Producing (f) is easy enough; with a spreadsheet program, all one has to do is copy the formula to the relevant cells. As can be seen toward the bottom of the first page, which reflects all the donations received on September 27, 2009, there are significant differences between the figures in the Reported Monetized Value (RMV) column, which appeared as is on the DSWD record, and the figures in the Actual Monetized Value (AMV) column, which were generated simply by multiplying quantity of units donated with the monetized value per unit. The DSWD received goods from the UNICEF which had monetized unit values, but were nevertheless marked “For monetization”, leading to a discrepancy of PhP396,550.00.
- Another discrepancy lies with the Reported Total of the Day (RTD), which also appeared as is on the DSWD record. The RTD for September 27 is PhP2,369,440.00, but the figures that contributed to this specific total cannot be found. In truth, this RTD conflicts both with the Total RMV and the Total AMV. Inexplicably, there are three different totals for the same set of donations received.
- The record for the next day, September 28, shows no difference between the Total RMV and the Total AMV, but the RTD is smaller than either by PhP804,900.00. It is only on the third day, September 29, that the RTD, the Total RMV, and the Total AMV are finally the same figure. From September 30 onwards, however, the RTD is no longer recorded.
- On October 5, the World Food Program donated 50 kilograms of National Food Authority (NFA) rice, but the value of the donation was recorded as Php0.00.
- On October 13, General Santos (care of Aboitiz) donated 26 boxes of noodles. Each box contained 72 packages of noodles. The unit value per package is recorded as PhP540.00. Then, the RMV for the entire donation is recorded as PhP5,400.00. Evidently, both values are suspect, but if the unit value is accepted for what it is, then the AMV of the entire donation is PhP1,010,880.00.
- Added on October 31: Note that the immediately succeeding entry, which is also a donation of 900 packages of noodles from General Santos, has no reported value. Is this second set of noodles different from the first?
- At the very end of the record, the Reported Grand Total of donations is PhP59,426,418.75. This figure does not seem to be based on any of the totals that could be derived from the available data.
Here is a summary that shows the discrepancies between and among the various totals:
As I note in the summary, the actual figures—when these are finally determined—should be much larger than they are, as so many donations still remain unmonetized:
I have included the UNICEF donations that arrived on September 27 because of the “For monetization” remarks.
Findings on Donations Released
- Unlike the previous record, there seem to be no discrepancies as far as computing the value of the donations is concerned.
- One strange thing that I did observe was that, on October 7 and 8, assorted donations were released without being monetized.
- As the donations are also tracked by area, it might be useful to compare this record of releases to situation maps, such as the Typhoon Ondoy Situation Map, in order to determine how strategic the DSWD is in its relief operations.
As the first column of the above document indicates, I tried to come up with a broad classification system for the recipients of the donations so as to be able to get a rough picture of how the distribution went. (I assumed that “VIBES Inc.” is a charity of some kind, but I could not find any information about it.) This is the resulting chart:
A significant majority (80.89%) of the released donations went from the NROC to the various field offices of the DSWD, which should be reassuring. I do not know, however, why PhP774,528.00 worth of noodles was released to an unnamed entity—is this a clerical error?
Because Cabral vowed a “politico-proof” the distribution of relief goods, a statement that was later questioned by the Inquirer in its editorial last Sunday, it might be interesting to see the list of government officials to whom goods were released:
Here is the corresponding chart:
At the risk of sounding utterly ignorant, a question I find pertinent is: Who is Atty. Maramba, and in what capacity or under whose authority is he or she receiving donations?