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No Free Lunch

Worst time for red tape

My daughter told me that her American in-laws received their government’s COVID-19 cash assistance in their US bank accounts without doing anything. Her husband, who has been working and living here with her, received a check mailed to his permanent US address, as he did not register a bank account with the US Social Security System. The Philippines is not America, of course, but suffering Filipinos who are made to go through various hurdles to apply for (with no guarantee of receiving) whatever cash assistance government will give them, would be even more agitated to know this.

Last week, our occasional carpenter Dondon (I mentioned him here a month ago) texted to ask if I could issue him a certificate of employment (COE). “But I’m really not your employer,” I initially reasoned, as we actually hire him only on an average of every 3-4 months for odd jobs. But he said the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) person who interviewed them asked him to produce a COE to receive the social amelioration program (SAP) “ayuda.” So I agreed to write him a COE that truthfully affirmed that I hire him only occasionally, that he’s on a “no work-no pay basis” (as must be explicitly stated in the COE, I was told), and that I know him to be dependent on construction projects and odd jobs when they come, as is indeed the case. He had to defy the lockdown and sneak past checkpoints to come to our house to pick it up. A neighbor advised him to file it at their barangay office. He had also filed his COE a few days before, but was told to wait until May 7 for his SAP cash, if approved. I could only pray that poor Dondon gets his, which he desperately needed since over a month ago.

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If we want to truly help those hard-hit by the virtual lockdown, why put in their way so many obstacles that even defy the very idea of quarantine? I know of someone who couldn’t get the COE prepared by his employer because his neighbor is COVID-19-positive, and they’re under heavy guard against leaving home. Why even force someone who’s required to stay home to obtain a COE from his employer? Don’t they know that about a third — around 13 million — of our total labor force of some 43 million are either individually self-employed or unpaid family workers, thus don’t have an employer who can certify to their employment? The Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) would know this, as these numbers are from the quarterly Labor Force Survey of the Philippine Statistics Authority, done by the former DOLE Bureau of Labor and Employment Statistics. Such workers are actually a prominent part of those who lost their incomes from the forced quarantine, and need the SAP the most. Asking them to produce a COE is outright brainless.

And then there’s DOLE’s CAMP (COVID-19 Adjustment Measures Program), which to four frustrated small business owners I know, sounds like a cruel joke. As soon as DOLE announced the program, they dutifully prepared and emailed the required application form, signed “Establishment Report,” and signed payroll to get help for their idled employees. At least one of them had a few email exchanges as the DOLE regional office confusingly used two different email addresses. To cut the story short, he finally got a template reply, like the other three, 34 days after sending the application, that “your CAMP application will no longer be accommodated as the allocated budget has already been exhausted.”

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DOLE referred them to the Department of Finance’s small business wage subsidy program, with an April 30 deadline, just days later. The online application process turned out to be yet another nightmare, with a repeatedly freezing server (necessitating re-entry of previously typed information many times over)—when it was accessible at all. They all have mouthfuls (screens full of Viber messages, actually) to say about government giving workers false hopes, etc. etc., and ask a legitimate question: Why are three government departments offering separate assistance programs? Why not just unify them into one, so people don’t have to make repeated applications, and government need not worry about double-dipping applicants?

Why not, indeed?

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TAGS: certificate of employemnt, Cielito F. Habito, COE, COVID-19, COVID-19 aid, No Free Lunch, red tape
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