Assisi Dev’t Foundation gives, not receives | Inquirer Opinion
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Assisi Dev’t Foundation gives, not receives

The term “nongovernment organization” has been tarnished because corrupt individuals, in connivance with the corrupt in government, put up fly-by-night “NGOs” to which they channeled loot stolen from public coffers. Even the NGOs (nonprofit groups, foundations, etc.) with good track records are sometimes put under a cloud of suspicion simply because they are too eager to do their jobs and deliver to the poor.

Zealous muckrakers, fault-finders, or simply investigative types seize every morsel of data that could damage or condemn. This is not to say that we should refrain from doing spade work. But there is a saying about asking first before shooting or reporting, especially if it is going to damage innocent persons or the good work being done for the hungry poor.

Howard Dee, founder and chair of Assisi Development Foundation (ADF) and former ambassador to the Vatican, got the shock of his life when it made the news. So did ADF president Ben Abadiano (holder of the 2004 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Emergent Leadership) and vice chair Viel Aquino-Dee, President Aquino’s younger sister and Dee’s daughter-in-law.

The 40-year-old ADF has been doing development work among indigenous communities, championing their right to a life of dignity. It was among the lead agencies (including the Inquirer) in Tabang Mindanaw. It continues its mission by drawing from the personal resources of the senior Dee, 84, who has laid down his entire earthly treasures (no kidding) for the NGO that he named in honor of St. Francis, the poverello of Assisi.


An Inquirer news report (“COA questions P230-M milk fund,” 8/18/14) by Gil C. Cabacungan said “[t]he milk feeding program was meant to provide 200-milliliter packs of milk to pregnant women, senior citizens and children in day care, preschool and Grade 1 ‘pre-identified by the legislators and the ADF for a period of 120 days…’”

The report continued: “In its annual audit report on the National Dairy Authority (NDA), the Commission on Audit (COA) cited dubious signatures, faulty monitoring systems, conflicts of interest in the procurement of milk and the failure of the program to live up to the Disbursement Acceleration Program’s (DAP) goal to be an economic stimulus.”

A leftist group delighted in the issue and questioned the government’s favoring a foundation, “no matter how pure the intentions and how good the track record may be,” where the President’s sister sits as vice chair.

A more important question to be answered is: Did the ADF get hold, touch, or spend the money?


In a statement, NDA administrator Grace J. Cenas clarified the role of the ADF in the Hapag-asa Nutrition program: “For the record, the ADF did not receive, hold or manage any funds for the implementation of the program. The ADF’s only role was to coordinate the identification and validation of malnourished children in different dioceses and municipalities who would have been the beneficiaries of the milk-feeding program. The ADF provides the social preparation work for the community, that is, identifying the malnourished and weighing the children, among others.

“If beneficiaries are thus validated, the process would have been as follows: 1) The NDA pays the dairy cooperative for producing and packaging the milk; 2) the cooperative delivers the milk to the diocese or municipality; 3) the diocese or municipality then takes charge of ensuring that beneficiaries receive the milk;


4) a careful reading of the COA report, particularly Annexes A and B, would also reveal that there has been no disbursement of funds for the Hapag-Asa Integrated Nutrition Program of the ADF.”

The Department of Budget and Management also said that in line with its regular process for fund releases, “all funds for the Milk Feeding Program under the NDA were released only to the NDA, and not to any of the foundations or implementing arms identified by the government-owned corporation in executing the projects.”

Present in 72 provinces, the ADF partners with the Church, academe, people’s organizations, other NGOs, barangays and municipal government units. It aims to help the poor and the oppressed become economically secure, socially responsible and morally mature by making available the following: sustainable agricultural technology, farm implements and tools; education (formal and nonformal); medical assistance, facilities and healthcare alternatives; opportunities for leadership and livelihood, skills training, and values/spiritual formation; and relief and rehabilitation of communities affected by the armed conflict in Mindanao.

How sad that a foundation so zealous and so giving is now being suspected of getting its hands on public funds, when all it did was point a finger to where the poor and hungry are, where some milk, not even money, should go.

If there is a lesson here for the well-meaning but not well-versed in the labyrinthine ways that evildoers take, it is this: Don’t even so much as point to public funds, or your pointing finger will be considered tainted. Let the corrupt just have it all. Or leave them for public lynching.

I remember quoting Dee, known to be a deeply spiritual man, after he received the Aurora Aragon Quezon Peace Award in 2006: “My heart is filled with gratitude yet I feel no sense of triumph. I feel no pride of achievement in the face of so much injustice and widespread poverty that condemns so many of our people to a life of subhuman existence.”

But just as quickly, Dee lifted spirits by quoting a French philosopher: “The important thing is to not be a success. The important thing is to be in history bearing witness. This is not the time to lose heart. Rather, it is in the darkness that our lamps should be lit and our hearts set ablaze.”

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TAGS: Assisi Development Foundation, Howard Dee, Nongovernment Organization, St. Francis

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