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Tough as the battle against a lethal pandemic is, residents locked up in their homes on account of the ongoing health crisis are finding it tougher to run after a government financial aid that has yet to cascade down to their level.

Complaints of delays in the granting of the social amelioration package as well as the deterioration of the funds as it trickled from the national government to the barangays are flooding both print and social media, much to the chagrin of the supposed beneficiaries of such government assistance.

There were also some reports of Social Amelioration Cards (SAC) being sold to those who have grown tired of waiting, benefitting unscrupulous barangay officials who have been sidetracked by a presidential directive naming the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) the sole implementor of the subsidy to some 18 million qualified beneficiaries.

As the implementing agencies struggle in the distribution of cash aids, Senators expected the inclusion of updates on the Social Amelioration Program (SAP) in President Rodrigo Duterte’s second Bayanihan To Heal As One Act report to Congress Monday night.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III aired the concerns of some Senators regarding the dole outs.

“I already forwarded to the President through Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez many concerns, also from the senators, on these issues and perhaps we will have an answer later, or it might be contained in the report they will send later,” Sotto said in a text message to reporters Monday morning.

Also known as Republic Act 11469, the new law mandates that each low-income household shall receive an emergency subsidy ranging from P5,000 to P8,000 per month for two months, “in cash or in kind” from various national government agencies.

The Emergency Subsidy Program includes the DSWD’s provision of food and non-food items and financial assistance through the Assistance to Individuals in Crisis Situation as well as those provided by other agencies, provided that the benefits received by each household does not exceed the prescribed threshold per region,”

Long in coming

Mang Ariel, head of a family of four in Manila who used to work as a construction worker but was sidelined by the Luzon-wide community quarantine, is finding it hard to make both ends meet during the lockdown. Worse, his hope of receiving the promised financial package is long in coming.

“We almost have nothing to eat,” bemoaned the 53-year old who simply cannot understand what’s keeping the government from spreading the largesse. Although he has heard of some residents who have already received their cash assistance, he simply can’t, for the life of him, understand why his and his family’s aid has yet to come.

Mang Ariel is just one of the many Filipinos bewailing the bureaucracy involved in the granting of such assistance.

The DSWD maintained that it is the local government units’ (LGU) responsibility to prepare and endorse the list of the target beneficiaries with the complete documentary requirements to the concerned DSWD Field Office for verification.

A SAC that captures the family profile will be distributed to the LGU to enable the beneficiaries to access the assistance. It will also serve as a monitoring tool to avoid duplication of delivery of services.

The DSWD said LGU, as early as Sunday, have started the distribution of the SAC forms. It however pointed out that only low-income families belonging to the informal sector are qualified to receive an emergency cash subsidy under the SAP of the Bayanihan to Heal As One Act.

The existing list of Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps) and the Unconditional Cash Transfer Program will be used to validate the list submitted by the LGU.

The DSWD though said 4Ps beneficiaries will not receive the entire amount of emergency cash subsidy as allocated for their region, as this cash grant will only be given as an addition to what they will already receive under the conditional cash transfer program.

To placate the seeming unrest over the amelioration package, the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) has assured that the qualified beneficiaries of the financial assistance offered by the government in the wake of the Luzon-wide enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) will receive their SAC in the next few days.

Urgent appeal

DILG Undersecretary and spokesman Jonathan Malaya asked the barangay officials to immediately distribute the SAC forms to their constituents to enable them to expedite the granting of the financial aid.

The SAC forms were already distributed in Parañaque and will soon be made available in other cities.

Malaya urged the qualified recipients to fill up the SAP forms right away and submit them to the barangay officials.

The SAP forms will then be set forth to the LGU before being sent to the DSWD where they will be processed.

He pointed out that the DSWD has control over the whole process and only deputized the DILG and the LGU to facilitate the handing out of the financial assistance as mandated in the exercise.

As if to assure the public, DILG Secretary Eduardo Año has ordered the LGU to coordinate with their local DSWD field offices to speed up the distribution of the financial assistance to the intended poor recipients.

He said LGU must coordinate with their local DSWD to accelerate the process where it will then be decided by the department if the names included in the list are qualified to receive the cash aid.

Senator Panfilo Lacson, a member of the Joint Congressional Oversight Committee for the Bayanihan To Heal As One Act, said that they are expecting that the implementation of SAP will be ironed out by the DSWD and the Department of Finance (DoF).

“(Secretary Dominguez) promised to straighten it out when the President makes his second weekly report to Congress anytime today. Among others, the wide gap in the DoF and DSWD list and the locally generated data on the recipients of the P200B Social Amelioration Fund is one of the issues that we expect to be resolved,” Lacson added.

Mounting complaints

For those poor families whose names were excluded, Ano said they may air their complaints to the DILG Emergency Operations Center.

Ano warned barangay officials to distribute the SAP forms only to their qualified constituents regardless of their political affiliation, religious beliefs and sexual orientation.

He issued the caution after the DILG received mounting complaints that rogue barangay officials have included their supporters and excluded the names of the qualified recipients from their political rivals in the list of beneficiaries.

In Makati City, all the barangay chairmen have been told to start the distribution of the SAC forms to their constituents house by house.

The barangay chairmen will be accompanied by a representative from the DSWD so as to make sure those who are qualified to receive the SAC forms will be identified.

House to house distribution will allow barangay officials to explain the guidelines issued by the DSWD.

As this developed, Cavite Governor Jonvic Remulla appealed to Malacañang to include the middle class in the government’s SAP for the families affected by the pandemic and the lockdown.

In a letter addressed to the President on Monday, Remulla pointed out that the present public health crisis affects everyone, not just the poorest of the poor, but also those individuals who have “built much but not enough,”
“My province is hard hit. We have the largest middle class who pay the most taxes yet they get no benefits,” he said.

DoLE appeal

Secretary Silvestre Bello III on Monday likewise appealed to the national government to give the agency additional budget as more Filipino workers are expected to seek financial assistance during the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.

In a press briefing, Bello stressed that around 1.8 million more Filipino workers are expected to be affected by the global crisis based on the projections of the National Economic Development Authority.

“We are expecting that there will be 1.8 million workers who will be affected so we will have to ask for additional budget allotment from the national government,” Bello said.

The Department of Labor and Employment (DoLE) has been distributing a one-time P5,000 financial assistance to workers with reduced or no income due to the pandemic and so far, the agency has already released P514 million to 102,855 formal sector workers, and P107 million to 72,703 “no work, no pay” workers.

The Labor secretary noted that the DoLE still has to release P579 million to formal sector workers and P963 million more to informal sector workers.

In a separate interview, DoLE Assistant Secretary Dominique Tutay said that the agency is appealing for patience from hundreds of thousands who applied for cash aid to get them through the COVID-19 lockdown, saying it was working to overcome delays.

Tutay said that of the total formal sector workers 596,146 who applied for P5,000 cash aid, 102,895 have been paid while another 173,587 were approved and 319,664 awaited approval.

WITH HANANEEL BORDEY,
ALVIN MURCIA AND
ELMER MANUEL
@tribunephl_lmer

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