MANILA – Thousands of ‘ghost’ senior citizens from five villages in Makati City allegedly received birthday cakes, cash gifts, special groceries, maintenance medicines, and other benefits from the local government’s BLU card program costing P367.5 millions in funds.
According to Makati City Action Center head Arthur Cruto, their initial investigation found out that 41 percent or almost half of the 7,210 eldery purportedly holding BLU cards could not be found.
Cruto disclosed that 185 out of 523 BLU card holders in Brgy. Carmona could not be found, 391 out of 766 in Brgy. Singkamas, 651 out of 1,362 in Brgy. Sta. Cruz, 474 out of 1,547 in Brgy. South Cembo, and 1,182 out of 3,012 in Brgy. Cembo.
Moreover, he also noted that some of the senior citizens were not registered voters whereas the program clearly required bona fide residents and registered voters as beneficiaries of a total of P11,750 in annual benefits for each recipient.
Makati Social Welfare Department (MSWD) former chief Ryan Barcelo, for his part, disputed Cruto’s claims, stressing that his team’s investigation only relied on interviews which were unreliable.
Barcelo then asserted that the 67,000 elderly under the BLU card program underwent a strict enrollment process, requiring their physical presence during application so it was impossible for the program to have ‘ghost’ recipients.
“All senior citizens who enrolled for the BLU card program were alive when they applied and complied with the requirements. There is no way by which ghosts may be enrolled into the program,” he said, adding that the applicants were also obligated to personally fill out their forms and submit other documents.
Barcelo admitted, however, that there were times when family members would not report the death of a senior citizen holding a BLU card so they could continue receiving the benefits.
He clarified that these were ‘isolated’ cases and could not amount to the thousands of the supposed ‘ghost’ elderly.
Unconvinced, Cruto still saw the 67,000 BLU card holders questionable. He cited a National Statistics Office (NSO) data showing that the Philippines only had 6.8 percent of senior citizens in its total population. Makati City having 12 percent of elderly in its population was double the national average.
Relying on the NSO’s data, the city could only have 32,000 senior citizens in its local populations.
With this, Senate panel member Senator Alan Peter Cayetano called on Cruto to justify some 20,000 to 30,000 more senior citizens in its city, especially in its BLU card program