COA pressed to keep close track of P5-B housing fund

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The Commission on Audit (COA) was asked on Monday to keep close track over a P5-billion fund collected from private housing developers in compliance with the Urban Development and Housing Act.

This, after Senator Risa Hontiveros noted reports that of the P5- billion fund, representing the total amounts placed in escrow accounts under various names, P1.8 billion was reportedly spent by former Undersecretary Christopher Lloyd Lao during his 2018-2019 stint in the Housing and Land Use Regulatory Board (HLURB), adding that “hundreds of millions could not be accounted for when he left HLURB.”

“A whooping P5 billion was collected from private housing developers since the entry of Undersecretary Lao at HLURB,” the senator said, but noted there was “no clear explanation yet where the huge fund went during Undersecretary Lao’s time.”

The lawmaker lamented in Filipino that “hindi maipaliwanag at matagpuan kung san ginasta ang malaking tipak nito noong panahon ni Lao.”

She added: “There was no paper trail. The fund should have been turned over to build low-cost homes for minimum wage earners, including those who wish to leave informal settlements.”

“I urge the COA to look into this matter immediately,” the senator said even as she also prodded the DHSUD (Department of Human Settlements and Urban Development) to “cooperate without hesitation.”

In the same statement, Hontiveros recalled that when Lao was serving as chief executive officer and Commissioner of the HLURB, “there was a scheme in which private developers gave a certain amount or ‘fee’ as an express lane alternative to their compliance with the requirements of the Balanced Housing Development Program law.”

She noted that under RA 10884, developers are also mandated to allot a portion of their projects to socialized housing.

The lawmaker, however, admitted she got confused “over the fact that Lao was able to spend P1.8 billion without the formal and documented knowledge of the agency,” referring to HLURB.

“How did Lao spend the P1.8-billion fund?” she asked, adding it was “only Lao and not the HLURB that decided what projects and who are the contractors that will be favored with that amount.”

The senator went on to ask: “Naging pork barrel ba ang pera? Hindi natin alam kung pabahay ba ang naitayo. Hindi kayang i-assemble ng DHSUD ang detalyeng matagal ko nang hinihingi. Sunud-sunod ang mga kinasasangkutan ni Lao, hindi lang barya-barya, kundi bilyon. Hindi na dapat ito palampasin pa.”

At the same time, Hontiveros raised the possibility that “the scheme may also have been against the law as the funds raised and placed in escrow accounts with banks are only one-fourth of the amount stated in the law.”

If the law had been followed, she added that the private sector would have created up to P20 billion in socialized housing units and this would have been a huge addition to the very small budget provided by the budget department to housing agencies.

“It is the people’s right to know where the public funds were spent as they worked hard to earn it,” she said, even as the senator assured he was sure COA will do its mandate, more so in cases involving unexplained spending.

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