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Village officials must be classified as ‘frontliners’

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Manila Mayor Isko Moreno meets with barangay (village) leaders at the city hall. (Manila PIO)

The Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) must broaden the coverage of the government’s Covid-19 emergency subsidy program to give barangay (village) officials—including secretaries, treasurers and tanods (watchmen)—“frontline status” so they may also be eligible for benefits.

House Ways and Means chair and Rep. Joey Salceda (Albay, 2nd district) also asked President Rodrigo Duterte  and the IATF to ensure that low-income families are equitably provided financial support, citing reports of “multiple government lists” with members of the same families included in different lists that results in duplication.

“When one family gets more than what it has to get, another family gets less or none. It potentially deprives the underserved and unlisted informal sector. In a larger perspective, that compromises our quarantine efforts. Those who get no help will likely go out to find ways to survive. They can become vectors of the virus,” Salceda noted.

As one of the proponents in Congress of the P200 billion additional budget for the families affected by the Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) subsidy in the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic, Salceda, also thanked the IATF for adopting one of his recommendations—the inclusion of lactating mothers, pregnant women and tricycle drivers in the subsidy plan.

In a letter to the President, Salceda proposed the frontliner status for barangay and make them eligible for benefits since “the challenge is to keep everyone on the boat during this crisis.”

“The emerging reality is that barangay officials and workers including tanods are performing frontline work, and it appears they will perform more of that during the subsidy distribution. They are the ones tending to the boat at what could be the most important level of the ECQ, the community,” Salceda said.

Among the sectors Salceda suggested for inclusion in the subsidy program are transport sector workers; market vendors and owners of small businessesl; overseas Filipino Workers displaced by the pandemic; employees of manufacturers, processors, transporters, and distributors of essential goods; workers in the “gig” economy, or those workers who do not permanently work for a single employer but instead work for different clients; and beneficiaries of the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps) including farmers and fisherfolks.

“Definitely, we should guarantee informal sector coverage. They, especially tricycle drivers, have earned practically nothing in recent weeks,” Salceda noted.

The House Ways and Means Committee has been providing the executive branch with formal policy recommendations on Covid-19 response since January.  As early as then, Salceda recommended the creation of a center for disease control and the enactment of the enhanced disease surveillance strategies and powers. He led calls for a weeklong lockdown of the National Capital Region as soon as the first case of community transmission was found in San Juan.

“The President has been receptive to many of our ideas and I thank him for that. I assure the public that we will continue to inform the government with our analysis. I have a small group of outbreak scientists and data engineers working with me on analyses we provide our leaders,” he added.

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