Double time on cash aid
“Magtiis na lang siguro kayo ng delayed delivery pero dadating ‘yan at hindi ka magugutom. Hindi ka mamamatay sa gutom (Just put up with delayed delivery, but that will come and you will not go hungry. You will not die from hunger).’’
That was President Duterte’s curt message in a late-night address on April 1, hours after some 150 residents of an informal settlement in Sitio San Roque in Quezon City broke quarantine and massed up along Edsa to demand food and economic assistance.
As the President himself admitted, the government’s emergency assistance to the poorest sectors has already been delayed. And yet, more delays caused by bureaucratic red tape and officials grappling with tedious guidelines are hampering the swift delivery of much-needed help to families left bereft by the Luzon-wide lockdown.
This is already the fourth week of the quarantine, but only trickles have been released from the mammoth P200-billion emergency cash subsidy earmarked for some 18 million low-income families for two months.
The President tasked the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) to distribute the cash aid, amounting to P5,000-P8,000 per household, and pointedly rejected the role of local officials and politicians in distributing the money. But the DSWD, described by Sen. Richard Gordon as a “great organization, but it has no legs,” is turning out to be ill-equipped to manage the distribution in a fast and efficient way.
The Department of Budget and Management released the first P100 billion to the DSWD on April 2, to cover the first month of the program. It will only release the second P100 billion after the DSWD has submitted its utilization report for the first P100 billion. But as of April 3, only P500 million checks have been released by the DSWD — to Manila and Parañaque each, the two cities that were the first to comply with the requirements for availing themselves of the social amelioration package. The department needs to cover some 17,000 more barangays in Luzon.
The Department of Labor and Employment, for its part, has released only a tenth of its P1.5 billion cash assistance to formal and informal sector workers affected by the lockdown who are entitled to receive P5,000.
The first problem in the DSWD’s social amelioration program was the delay caused by the requirement for the beneficiaries to fill out social amelioration cards (SACs), which the DSWD would distribute to local government units that, in turn, would hand them to their qualified constituents — a process decried by Deputy Speaker Luis Raymund Villafuerte Jr. as “too cumbersome.’’
There were “extraneous and avoidable requirements’’ at every stage of the program, from the release of the funds to the LGUs to the identification of the beneficiaries and the actual transfer of the money to the barangay; the SACs are even required to be barcoded, Villafuerte noted.
The beneficiaries, meanwhile, have to be certified first, endorsed by the barangay chair, and then validated by the municipal or city social welfare office, creating “an unnecessary bureaucratic layer that is vulnerable to politicking and corruption,’’ warned Villafuerte. “The last thing that these poor and low-income families need at this time when the economy is at a standstill is DSWD-style red tape.” And “every single day of delay means another day of hunger for many of these target households.”
Anti-Red Tape Authority chief Jeremiah Belgica echoed Villafuerte and urged the DSWD to speed up the process. “We do not want this to be politicized, and adding this layer is unnecessary.”
As if deadly red tape weren’t enough, the DSWD also imposed a “quota system’’ under which only a fixed amount would be allocated per LGU, based on an evidently outdated 2015 census of the Department of Finance. As a result, many local officials were aghast that the amount allotted to them was smaller than what was required for the number of qualified beneficiaries in their district.
Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian, a former mayor and representative of Valenzuela, said only 95,000 of the city’s 155,000 families will be given the P8,000 cash aid under the quota system. This, he warned, would anger residents and force them to leave their homes to complain, making the quarantine useless. Muntinlupa, Parañaque, and Antipolo officials aired the same complaint.
As the country’s health care workers race to save lives and stop the contagion, the Duterte administration can’t afford yet more screw-ups and delays in attending to increasingly desperate citizens.
On a road in Sucat, Parañaque, and on placards elsewhere in Metro Manila carried by people clamoring for help from their leaders, the same ominous words appear: “Gutom na kami (We’re hungry).” The government better take heed.
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