Unconscionable delays

/ 05:07 AM April 16, 2020

Turns out the fact that it was rolled out only on the third week of the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ), which left millions of suddenly out-of-work Filipinos at risk of hunger, wasn’t the most problematic aspect of the government’s belated social amelioration program (SAP); its implementation, meant to alleviate the economic effects of the lockdown on a population already battling fear and anxiety over the COVID-19 pandemic, has proven to be a different sort of adversity altogether, beset by top-down chaos, disarray, and almost-comical ineptness.

On Monday, ABS-CBN reporter Jacque Manabat tweeted an illustrative case: A picture of a rail-thin senior citizen, clearly poor in health and in circumstances, half of his worn-out face covered by a makeshift mask and in his hands the requisite government form to claim the cash aid President Duterte himself had said that he, and 18 million other citizens like him, would receive. Except the caption read: “69-year-old taxi driver Jimmy Tindugan is going home without the financial aid. He lined up since 5 AM only to be told that his name is not on the list. He has asthma but risked going out of his house to claim the financial aid.”


That snapshot of the government’s botched handling so far of the emergency aid both breaks the heart and makes the blood boil. And while other workers who were mercifully on the list of recipients, unlike Tindugan, were able to receive their share of financial assistance, they, too, were still subjected to unnecessary hardships.

Manabat noted in another tweet that: “Some of the PUV drivers said they walked 1-2 hours to reach Landbank branch in PhilCOA Quezon City. Other Landbank branches are already closed.”


Worse: “Around 11AM, some PUV drivers are asked to go home or call the bank first because the bank could only accommodate 350/day. Taxi driver Anthony Grey is one of the drivers who is going home w/o a financial aid. He said his family have not eaten properly for the past few days.”

Apparently, even as the government had mandated that the disbursement of cash aid to millions of affected workers be centrally coursed through the government-owned LandBank, it had not considered factors such as: Just how many LandBank branches are there in Luzon, and are they conveniently located enough to service all claimants, most of whom presumably spent hours on foot to reach the bank, public transport being nonexistent at this time? And why were some branches closed in the first place, causing crowding in other branches? No one at the Palace remembered to fire off a memo to the bank management ordering all its branches to be open at this critical time, with the cash aid already much delayed and the hunger and desperation of many poor folk at fever pitch?

Many local government units (LGUs) are likewise at their wits’ end trying to meet the needs of all their constituents, given the convoluted validation process required by the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) before the rollout of aid and, hurdling that, the tinderbox issue of the “quota system’’ that reduced the allotment for LGUs and excluded a significant number of households from qualifying for assistance, based on a 2015 census. The DSWD count represents life and death for many destitute families as the lockdown grinds on, and yet it’s still seemingly not above carelessness. According to a report in this paper, several mayors in West Visayas called on the department’s regional office “to publicly explain and apologize after the agency reduced allocations for beneficiaries of the SAP due to a purported numerical error.”

The administration appears to be feeling the simmering public anger at these unconscionable delays and mix-ups. On the same day that Manabat posted her tweets, Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles, spokesperson of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases, apologized for the government hitches: “Sa ating mga kababayan na naghihintay po para sa mga subsidies na ito, humihingi po kami ng paumanhin at pasensya—ngunit makakaasa po kayo na ginagawa po natin ang lahat ng ating makakaya upang mapaabot sa inyo ang tulong na ito sa lalong madaling panahon.”

Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano chimed in to say that “it’s time to talk… para bumilis ito,” addressing the national government and LGUs. Later on Monday night, in another near-midnight public address, President Duterte also tackled the issue, though he sounded several leagues behind in his grasp of the problem: “Ayaw kong may mamatay ni isang Pilipino na gutom. Kaya may another survey tayo madalian. Ang dapat diyan barangay captain because that is your duty… and the mayors to determine sino ‘yang hindi nasali sa listahan at mabigyan kaagad.”

It was already the 28th day of the quarantine, and the start of two more weeks of lockdown.


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