I also sent it to them directly, but it might as well be an open letter as well.

The point: Good intentions, if acted on irresponsibly, can have devastatingly negative consequences. Working here for the past year has shown me in the very real terms of billions of dollars and millions of lives the harm that can result when charities and donor agencies throw money into situations without taking a moment to stop and think about the potential negative consequences.

Don’t give money to a charity just because it lets you pat yourself on the back and makes you feel like a good person. Think of the actual consequences. The road to hell is paved with good intentions.

Dear Sir/Madam,

I have been informed by my colleague that she has been in contact with you regarding a fundraising lunch we are planning to hold at our workplace for the victims of the Ondoy and Pepeng typhoons. I am writing to inform you that, unfortunately, we have decided not to course the proceeds through Feed the Hungry.

While I fully appreciate Feed the Hungry’s commitment to keeping overhead costs low and ensuring transparency and efficiency in its operations, I’m sorry to say that I cannot extend the same level of confidence to your choice of partner in disaster relief implementation. While I understand that you have a relationship with the Commission on Filipinos Overseas (CFO) which spans several years, I would urge you to fully investigate and consider the integrity of the Commission to ensure their procedures are complacent to your high standards. If they are not, there are several non-partisan, Philippine-based, internationally reputable and effective charities that would be extremely excited to partner with you, such as Caritas, Catholic Relief Services, Philippine National Red Cross and the Philippine Jesuit Foundation.

As I’m sure you are aware, the CFO is an agency of the Office of the President. Its Executive Director, Mr. Dante Ang, was appointed to his position after serving as the personal publicist of President and First Gentleman Arroyo. The CFO Board of Commissioners is comprised of high-ranking cabinet officials. Thus, it can be said with substantial certainty that the CFO is not insulated from political leanings or interests.

Furthermore, there is reason to believe that money coursed through the CFO and various government offices it is affiliated with would be subject to graft and corruption. There is already a documented history of the current presidential administration indiscreetly spending foreign-generated disaster relief funds. In its 2006 report, the Commission on Audit disclosed that the president’s office spent money it had received for calamity victims in Leyte for expenses such as anomalous hotel costs and maintenance of the Malacañang golf course. (Reyes, UPI Asia) For the 2008 fiscal year, the Commission on Audit reports the Office of the President retained over Php 574 million in unliquidated cash advances and over Php 295 million outstanding inter-agency receivables due to the failure of management to monitor project implementation. (CoA, 2008 Audit on Office of the President) As I noticed that several of your board members and key staff are accountants, I’m sure these figures resonate with your organization. While the CFO had a comparatively paltry Php 304,100 in unliquidated cash advances, (CoA, 2008 Audit on Commission on Filipinos Overseas) please notice that the CFO LINKAPIL Program, which I understand Feed the Hungry usually donates to, is not subject to audit and thus not included in the cited report.

Exacerbating CFO’s questionable transparency are the other government agencies it coordinates with according to the LINKAPIL operational framework diagram. The National Economic Development Authority (NEDA) and the Department of Education have both been embroiled in high level corruption scandals over the past few years, such as the ZTZ-NBN scandal and the textbook procurement scandal. The Bureau of Customs and Department of Finance are regarded by several sources as common clearing houses for corrupt funds to be funneled to the first couple (see Rufo, Newsbreak). The CoA reports the Bureau of Customs ended FY 2008 with Php 3.3 billion in unaccounted-for funds.

It is obvious from your email that Feed the Hungry is concerned that as much of its contributions as possible go to the people, and not to illicit purposes. Especially in this time of crisis, it is of utmost importance that every cent possible be spent on effective relief aid. There have unfortunately been numerous stories circling around volunteer circles and documented in media of unscrupulous political authorities using donations for personal gain. Consistent is the condemnation of the budgeting activities of national government bodies. Just two days ago the Malacañang-proposed 2010 national budget was signed, which did not identify disaster relief and rehabilitation as national development priorities. The Office of the President has made it clear that they intend to source private and foreign donors for disaster relief. In essence, the administration plans to not use national development funds for their intended purpose, but instead to solicit donations for which the government can later take credit. (Pamintuan, the Philippine Star) On October 13, Pres. Arroyo issued an executive order creating a special commission and mandating that commission as a “clearing house” for all international assistance coming for typhoon victims with the NEDA and Office of Civil Defense forming the secretariat and Department of Finance Secretary Teves acting as one of the chairs. (Cheng, ABS-CBN) Although results are yet to be seen, the implication is that this is a move to consolidate executive control over receiving and releasing foreign aid.

Finally, while I laud you for your good intentions and exemplary actions, good intentions unfortunately do not always translate into good outcomes, and sometimes can translate into detrimental outcomes. As professionals who work to strengthen international democratic processes and the development of the global south, we both know that providing unrestricted foreign donations to a corrupt government does not strengthen democracy, but weakens it. It does not promote development, but hinders it. I once again praise you for your work and beg you to reconsider your choice of implementing partner in the Philippines. I look forward to working with you in the future for a more transparent, accountable and effective system.

May God bless you and your endeavors.

With utter sincerity and humility,

Cecilia Lero