Amelioration turned nightmare
The intention was to help poor families with cash assistance in this time of great need. Instead, the national government has brought chaos and hostility to every barangay all over the country.
Congress recently passed the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act whose main feature is to give P200 billion in emergency cash aid to 18 million low-income families who have lost their sources of livelihood due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Each family will receive P5,000-P8,000 per month for two months.
The Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) issued the implementing guidelines, identifying the target beneficiaries as follows: 1) families under the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps); 2) Non-4Ps low income families like drivers of public transportation (tricycle, jeepney, taxi, van, bus), sari-sari store and carinderia owners, farmers, fisherfolk, and construction workers, and; 3) indigenous peoples and vulnerable groups like the homeless, senior citizens, persons with disabilities (PWDs), lactating and pregnant women, and repatriated or uncompensated OFWs. (Barangay tanod and health workers are also now qualified for the cash aid.—Ed.)
This cash assistance program has been bungled by the government on multiple levels, resulting in so much anger and discontent.
First, after the law was passed, Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano declared that all families affected by the community quarantine will receive cash aid. It turned out to be a false statement. Many low-income families will not receive the subsidy because each local government unit (LGU) has limited quota. When LGU officials started distributing the aid forms, they faced the wrath of disqualified families. Cayetano is one of the most hated public officials by LGU officials right now because enraged families harangue them with the Speaker’s false promise.
Second, the DSWD implementing rules are so muddled up, they result in disqualifying so many needy families. If one family member is employed by the government in any capacity, the whole family is disqualified, even if the employment is merely job order status or honorarium-based that pays less than P5,000 monthly, which is the case for many municipal and barangay officials, and regardless of whether there are other qualified family members (PWD, senior citizen, or pregnant). If any family member has a private sector formal employment, the entire family is disqualified even if no salary is received in this quarantine period, and regardless of whether other family members are qualified. If a family member is a pension-receiving senior citizen (even if the pension is less than P5,000) the whole family is disqualified. Since a “household” is treated as a “family,” households with multiple families have greater risks of disqualification, because a single disqualified member results in disqualifying the entire multifamily household.
Third, the DSWD rules are so bureaucratic they fail to consider the war-like emergency, and they expose LGU officials to extreme health risks. The rules require LGU officials to photocopy IDs and permits, verify farmer’s and fisherfolk’s Department of Agriculture accreditation, encode all beneficiary data and names, and take photos of each beneficiary receiving aid. All these have to be done in five days, otherwise LGU officials will be criminally and administratively punished. LGU officials are unsung heroes in this crisis.
Social Welfare Secretary Rolando Bautista is also one of the most hated public officials right now because he issues orders from the top without finding out the realities on the ground. Bautista may be a good man but his military mindset of barking orders instead of first listening to people on the ground betrays his appointment to the wrong Cabinet portfolio.
What we need is a food survival program. When the government distributes cash aid next month, it should instead give ALL families P3,000 each, without disqualifications. This will enable a family to buy one sack of rice (P1,800), and the balance for dried fish, mongo, and other beans. This is the help millions of our desperate countrymen need.
Our country is in a public health crisis every living generation has never experienced before. President Duterte cannot continue to abdicate his powers in favor of underlings who are bungling health and relief programs which are life-and-death critical at this time. He is risking a social upheaval beyond his imagination.
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