Order and anxiety
Sporting a new haircut, the President once more addressed the nation on Monday night in his trademark manner, during which, if you patiently read between the ad libs, he gave three messages. To the wealthy and middle class, he pledged that the full might of the state will prevent unrest or a breakdown in law and order; to the poor, he expressed sympathy and asked for patience, while telling the wealthy to pitch in for relief (something they have been doing, with no prodding from the government); and he said government will help the middle class, the sector at the heart of his coalition. A prominent administration ally had spoken up asking for middle class inclusion in the government’s economic recovery plans.All of the President’s late night addresses speak to the primordial and most traditional expectation of any president: to maintain order. That’s this President’s understanding, and likely the majority expectation, too, of the public, particularly his constituency. Everything else is detail for subordinates to address. Prior to the President’s most recent address, the main issues were: continuing obstacles to the supply chain of food and goods caused by emboldened barangay officials and over-strict police checkpoints (mercifully no stories of barangay and police checkpoints demanding extortion money have been reported); a growing chorus from local officials protesting their being bypassed in giving out cash assistance to the citizenry, or pointing out that not enough was being given out for too few people compared to the rolls of the LGUs; and a continuing public clamor for expanding COVID-19 testing and for protective equipment for medical personnel.
What the President did do, besides his messages for the three main divisions of our society, was to set the stage for the extension of the Luzon lockdown to the end of this month. It took behind-the-scenes consultations between high officials and civil society for the government action plan to be spelled out. According to one high official talking to a civil society individual, there are six main action items.
First: No money will go through barangays. Everything (the so-called “SAP”) will go directly to recipients, mirroring the ATM system for 4Ps of the Department of Social Welfare and Development. Official opinion seems to be that barangays and mayors are bloating their beneficiary figures, and the President reportedly got angry so he ordered that no money will pass through LGUs.
Second: There are four major agencies through which SAP will be channeled: DSWD (for 4Ps) DOLE (for informal workers), DA (farmers and fisherfolk), and DAR (agrarian reform beneficiaries). The OWWA (returning OFWs) and DOT (displaced tourism industry workers) will also be used as channels.
Third: All funds will go through the Landbank ATM system (one experienced NGO observer commented this removes many possible interceptor middlemen). (Note: Barangays besieged by citizens have taken to announcing they will not be handling any money from the assistance program.)
Fourth: In the enhanced community quarantine extension, a food gateway will be opened so that goods can reach markets. Officials in charge reportedly spoke to major food manufacturing companies that in turn claim they have goods positioned to be released. Officials believe there is enough rice for six months (inclusive of imports from Vietnam and Indonesia). Officials intend for goods stuck in Customs to be released; ports experienced bottlenecks because workers were quarantined. They expect labor in ports to normalize soon.
Fifth: Government has cash for six months’ need. This has been guaranteed by the finance secretary. What is being used now for SAP are funds from GOCCs. Government hasn’t used savings from the 2019 and 2020 budget.
Sixth: On health, government will implement mass testing (an interesting aside was insisting this is regardless of what the DOH says). What organizers are doing is increasing bed capacity to accommodate additional patients, including utilizing the Philippine Arena and other “mega establishments.”
It seems that as government has expanded its coverage and worked out previous causes for complaint, it is now focused on securing help in arresting the possible infection and spread of the virus in urban poor areas. This is where it wants to collaborate with what some officials call ”the middle core” and what the rest know as civil society organizations. Government is satisfied it has already mobilized affluent families and big companies. But it needs civil society to reach the vast number of the poor at community level. Everyone has to hope such cooperation is not only possible, but also successful, in the coming weeks.
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