Senator Cynthia Villar apologized for her remarks on the cash aid distributed to the middle class when she questioned the economic group’s inclusion in the government’s Social Amelioration Program (SAP).
Maintaining that she is not insensitive to the plight of the middle-income workers, Villar said her questions were intended to clarify some information on middle-class workers who remain employed but were also SAP beneficiaries.
“My statements during the hearing was not in any manner meant to be an affront to the hardworking middle class of the country. I might have framed my questions and statements in such a manner that made it seem I was insensitive to the plight of the middle-income sector,” Villar said in a statement.
“I am not. I am concerned and I look out for the welfare of the middle-income workers. If I have offended anyone with my statements, I humbly apologize,” she added.
During Tuesday’s hearing of the Senate’s Committee of the Whole which deliberated on the government’s overall strategies against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), Villar questioned the middle-class among the SAP beneficiaries amid the pandemic and the quarantines imposed in the country.
“Congress has intended the SAP funds to benefit the poor and the unemployed. Lawmakers made sure that we were clear about the targeted beneficiaries of the cash assistance. The workers who continue to receive their salaries during the quarantine were excluded as eligible beneficiaries because they did not lose their income even amid the strict quarantine setup,” she explained.
The lawmaker pointed out that 18 million families were identified to benefit from the government subsidy program, which already composes 82 percent of the total number of families in the country.
Villar further revealed that the 2015 census shows that the poor and the lower-income families only compose 59 percent of the families in the country.
She directed her queries to the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), which led the distribution of the cash doles from the government, seeking basis for estimating the number of families to receive the SAP pay-out.
“I just want to ask, don’t we have 22 million families in the Philippines? You said that 18 million will be given aid because they are poor, but do you know that 15 percent of our people are (in the) upper middle and then the rich? The 18 million is 82 percent. So why should we give the middle-class aid?” Villar queried.
She added that Filipinos who belong to the middle class are still able to receive salaries regardless if they work for a private company or in the government.
“They have jobs even if we are on lockdown, they are still receiving salaries. They are employed, if under government. If they are employed locally by private companies, they also have salaries which is why companies are also having a hard time because they still need to give wages even if there’s no business,” Villar elaborated.
Answering on behalf of DSWD Secretary Rolando Bautista, acting National Economic and Development Authority Secretary Karl Kendrick Chua explained to Villar that they have considered the population growth from 2015 to 2020, which was the basis of the 18 million families that are considered poor or low-income families.
“The 2020 estimate is now 24.6 million. Of which, 18 million are considered to be low-income or basically working in the informal sector. No work, no pay, that is the basis for the 18 million,” Chua said.
Despite Chua’s answer, Villar asked the DSWD to submit an explanation in writing.
Under the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act, the government will provide a P5,000 to P8,000 subsidy to around 18 million poor families depending on the regional minimum wage for two months amid the COVID-19 health crisis.