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Gov’t readies ECQ cash aid

The assistance may be between P1,000 to P4,000 for every low-income family in the capital region.

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The government is now preparing the cash aid for poor families during the two-week imposition of the strictest lockdown classification in Metro Manila, officials said Saturday.

While the budget for financial assistance was still undetermined, Budget Secretary Wendel Avisado said his department is crafting the documents needed to disburse the funds.

“We are trying to source out the money we have to use as financial aid, but we are working double time as ordered by President Rodrigo Duterte,” he said in a radio interview.

Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles, meanwhile, said the assistance may be between P1,000 to P4,000 for every low-income family in the capital region, which would revert to enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) from 6 to 20 August.

The said amount is similar to the financial assistance given to at least 11 million Filipinos in the metro during the imposition of ECQ last March.

“I don’t think we will modify the process we had last time. It will be the same, unless there is advice from President Duterte,” Nograles said in a separate radio interview.

The cash aid, he added, would be coursed through the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), which could be distributed either manually or through digital payment.

Nograles assured the public that digital cash aid distribution would not be a problem for Metro Manila.

“A mixed payment mode will work because the capital region has the capability for money transfer, which is easier to verify, trace and audit,” he said.

The DSWD manually handed out the subsidy to the beneficiaries during the first cash aid release for the March 2020 ECQ. The government, meanwhile, adopted a mixed payout mode during the August 2020 ECQ. Authorities reverted to door-to-door cash aid mode during the March 2021 ECQ.

As for small businesses, the Palace official cannot tell yet whether the government could provide financial aid as compensation for the two-week lockdown.

Nograles said the source of funding for the micro, small and medium enterprises (MSME) may be included in the proposed Bayanihan 3 Law.

“It is up to Congress to pass another Bayanihan Law to help the MSME, like they did in Bayanihan 1 and 2. Otherwise, we will stick to the programs and earmarked funds under the national budget,” he said.

 

Economic concerns

The Philippine Stock Exchange index became the “biggest loser” in Asia on Friday following the announcement of Metro Manila’s return to hard lockdown, apparently showing investors’ fear over the impending closure of businesses.

The country’s economic managers have also expressed concern over the impact of the two-week ECQ in the Philippine economy, as well as on MSME, since only select establishments were permitted to operate during the lockdown.

These include businesses and industries related to health services, agriculture, forestry, fishery, and food including groceries, pharmacies and supermarkets.
Other businesses deemed “non-essential” were barred from operating during the two-week lockdown in the metro.

The economy could lose P105 billion for each week Metro Manila is under hard lockdown, according to the Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Karl Kendrick Chua, who also leads the National Economic and Development Authority.

Nograles assured the public that digital cash aid distribution would not be a problem for Metro Manila.

The imposition of ECQ would also increase the number of poor people by up to 177,000 and the unemployed by 444,000, he added.

Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez, in a separate statement, said the government should allow the “dominant portion” of the production sectors such as agricultural and industrial services to continue amid the two-week ECQ.

While Lopez acknowledged that another lockdown would badly hit the economy and businessmen, he noted that the ECQ was inevitable to “remove any possibility of an uncontrollable surge like what happened in other countries.”

 

Decrease infections

For the Health department, placing Metro Manila under the strictest of the four community quarantine classifications was meant to delay the spread of Covid-19 and its virulent strain known as Delta.

While the rise in Covid-19 cases in the capital region was not yet considered a surge, the decision to impose ECQ in Metro Manila was necessary to control virus transmission and to prepare the health care system, said Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire.

“We can delay the spread and we can be able to better prepare,” Vergeire said, referring to the ECQ.

“It’s kind of anticipatory, because there were projections that in a couple of weeks, there is this number that was shown to us by experts which might happen. So, we want to have a lockdown to delay the spread,” she added.

However, the total number of active Covid-19 cases in Metro Manila could reach as high as 18,000 to 30,000 by the end of September even with the restrictions in place.

“Please take note that these are initial projections and the Department of Health with our experts have provided comments and recommendations to further improve on this, Vergeire said, citing the projections made by FASSTER and Autumn group.

She added that hospitals in the metro have been asked to expand their facilities to cater to Covid-19 patients amid reports that some medical facilities were already at “high risk” in terms of capacity level.

The Philippines has so far confirmed 1.58 million coronavirus infections, in which over 61,000 cases remain active.

 

Vaccination continues

Amid the possible surge in infections, the government has secured four million doses of Covid-19 vaccines for residents in Metro Manila.

The shots would be administered during ECQ, as metro mayors have agreed to continue with the 250,000 vaccinations a day even amid the lockdown, said Benhur Abalos Jr., chair of the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority.

The Philippine Stock Exchange index became the ‘biggest loser’ in Asia on Friday following the announcement of Metro Manila’s return to hard lockdown, apparently showing investors’ fear over the impending closure of businesses.

“We held a meeting on Friday night to prepare for the next several days, especially in the vaccination program, because we will still inoculate 250,000 individuals a day even during ECQ,” he said in a separate interview.

The local executives had earlier requested the national government to provide additional doses of anti-coronavirus shots if ECQ would be imposed.

Health experts have long been saying that anti-coronavirus jabs were 100 percent effective against severe Covid-19 and hospitalization.

Meanwhile, Abalos said metro mayors were eyeing to impose uniform guidelines on liquor ban which would be implemented during the two-week MECQ.

Requiring “quarantine passes” for those who would step out of their homes during ECQ depends on local government units, he added.

 

Gov’t offices to close

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) has announced the temporary closure of its consular offices and temporary off-site passport services in Metro Manila on 6 to 20 August or during the ECQ period.

Affected passport applicants would receive advisories by email regarding their new appointment schedules, the department said.

Despite the physical closure in areas under ECQ, courts would continue to operate online and conduct video conferencing hearings only for urgent cases, which include bail applications, releases due to dismissal of cases or acquittal, habeas corpus, and applications for temporary protection orders.

On the other hand, applicants with appointments for authentication services at the DFA consular offices in Ali Mall Cubao, SM Manila, SM Megamall, and Metro Gaisano Alabang would be accommodated at the DFA-Aseana Business Park in Parañaque City at their original dates and times of appointments.

The DFA added that its Aseana office would continue to accept applicants for passport and authentication services with confirmed appointments on 6 to 20 August. However, no walk-in applicants would be accepted.

Likewise, all courts and judicial offices in Metro Manila, including those at the Supreme Court (SC) compound in Manila, would be temporarily closed from 2 to 20 August for the implementation of the metro-wide ECQ.

All SC personnel were prohibited to go to the court’s compound in Manila during the said period, except those working in offices which receive pleadings, resolve urgent matters and cases, and handle the payment of salaries in the judiciary, according to a memorandum released by Chief Justice Alexander Gesmundo.

Also exempted from the rule were SC employees who deal with matters related to the Bar Exams, as well medical personnel, drivers, security and maintenance personnel.

Despite the physical closure in areas under ECQ, courts would continue to operate online and conduct video conferencing hearings only for urgent cases, which include bail applications, releases due to dismissal of cases or acquittal, habeas corpus, and applications for temporary protection orders.

Deadlines for filing and service of pleadings and motions were also suspended.

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