By Reuben Pio Martinez
Amidst the economic impacts brought by the COVID-19 pandemic to the majority of Filipino families in the country, the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) had to delay the distribution of social amelioration forms in Biñan, Laguna, last April 7, 2020. The decision came when residents of Barangay Malaban, a low-income coastal community, complained about the exclusion of certain people from the program.
Prior to this, Biñan City Mayor Walfredo “Arman” Dimaguila, Jr. shared in a Facebook post of a letter he wrote appealing to DSWD to include all affected residents after DSWD stated that only 48,121 out of an estimated 120,000 households in the city. A decision that caught many people off guard, as the national government previously mentioned that every household in Luzon would be able to receive subsidies amounting around P5,000 to P8,000. In the case of CALABARZON residents, they will receive P6,500, as per the region’s maximum wage regulations. This is under DSWD’s Assistance to Individuals in Crisis Situations (AICS), which would also include P25,000 burial assistance.
Biñan is not the only local government unit (LGU) to voice concerns with the apparent miscommunication. Cavite Governor Jonvic Remulla shared an open letter to DSWD, appealing also to include all residents in the program, specifically the middle-class citizens who are in need of financial support. “Not just the poorest of the poor, but also those who have built much but not enough,” Gov. Remulla wrote.
Similar sentiments were also aired by Barangay Olympia, Makati Captain Vicente Dagdag, which he disliked the decision to only accommodate 2,405 out of the 5,866 households in their vicinity, which is 40% of their total residents, similar to the case in the City of Biñan. Both of them echoed similar sentiments.
The government’s emergency relief aid
The Social Amelioration Programs (SAPs) refer to government programs formed to provide financial aid for all affected by the enhanced community quarantine (EHQ). Specifically, to 18 million households for 2 months. Based on Joint Memorandum Circular No. 1, Series 2020, among the agencies involved are DSWD, the Departments of Labor and Employment (DOLE), Trade and Industry (DTI), Agriculture (DA), Finance (DOF), Budget and Management (DBM), and Interior and Local Government (DILG).
Under Republic Act 11469, also known as Bayanihan We Heal as One Act, DSWD would be distributing bar-coded social amelioration cards (SAC) to families, for them to be able to avail any of the financial aids. These would be signed by the heads of the families, and would serve as the family’s profile for the Local Social Welfare Office. DSWD would be distributing them first to the LGUs, who would then distribute them to each barangay.
Memorandum Circular (MC) No. 4, Series of 2020 explained in detail the list of target beneficiaries, including informal home based workers, self-employed laborers, drives, persons with disability (PWD) and elderly persons, employees affected by the no work, no pay policy, farmers, and stranded workers among others. The succeeding MC would reveal that the target number of households is 325,540 out of the 4.4 million that are stated to be the overall.
Despite the seeming inclusivity, many have decried the perceived overemphasis on the lower income households. The League of Municipalities of the Philippines (LMP) wrote in an open letter to the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) that LGU officials are being accused by several residents as not taking the situation seriously. Further accusations involved them being the ones who decide who will receive and who won’t.
People have expressed their dissatisfaction through social media. Some netizens shared their disappointment through Facebook that DSWD is disqualifying people from availing financial aid due to the criteria supposedly crafted by the DSWD National Office handed down to the local government units (LGUs).
Among the excluded individuals in the criteria are if a resident receives a pension of P5,000 above monthly, is a solo or pregnant parent with a living partner that temporarily stopped from his/her work due to the crisis, a non-working family head or a senior citizen but has a family member with a P5,000 above salary or has an overseas filipino worker (OFW) working in the household, a person with disability (PWD) dependent from a family member, and a recent availer of a DOLE financial aid program. Tricycle drivers and jeepney drivers with a pension worth P5,000 or greater or if the driver’s spouse is working as a government employee are also exempted from the said program.
Another user shared a physical copy containing more exclusions, including barangay, city hall and private sector employees, working and retired pensioners, business owners, and availers of DOLE’s Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps). However, those who were originally not within the scope for the 4Ps can be aided by SACs. A supposed physical copy of the criteria from Quezon City’s Social Services Development echoed similar findings.
In their official Facebook post, the DSWD Region IV-A office emphasized that this program is more dedicated to the most vulnerable citizens, including OFWs in distress, senior citizens, indigenous persons (IPs) among others. They also noted that everyone who is still earning despite the quarantine has a strong chance of being exempted, including all grocery store employees. Many netizens commented concerns with the guidelines, especially in the instructions that explicitly stated that one household would only get one benefit, even if there are multiple families in that residence, and for families with members from different sectors.
In an interview with [P], Cielo Magno, a UP Diliman (UPD) professor from the School of Economics, told that the government might be attempting at a household targeting approach, which she described as “very inefficient.” This means that DSWD inspectors focus more on the individual households in contrast to observing the areas as a whole. She instead opted for an area targeting approach, wherein all households in the target area would be assisted by the government.
For your consideration
In a press conference last April 9, DSWD Sec. Rolando Joselito Bautista explained that the list of recipients from LGUs were unavailable, leading to some issues in the distribution. Bautista, however, assured the people that the subsidies would be distributed soon, while noting that the department was able to recognize the program’s shortcomings. He also pleaded for all LGUs to cooperate in distributing the money carefully and justly. “Ang social amelioration program ay people’s money. Hindi dapat ito masayang,” Bautista said.
Deputy Speaker Luis Raymund Villafuerte Jr. criticized the alleged “red tape” that prevents DSWD from distributing the subsidies, last April 2, 2020. Specifically, he slammed how the agency failed to distribute the memorandum of agreement (MOA) that led to the delays, as well as the process involving beneficiaries seeking endorsement from barangay officials, and verification from city halls. A factor that made the process more “bureaucratic,” as stated by Deputy Speaker Villafuerte.
Sen. Joel Villanueva said in a statement that workers, especially those with low income, informal, and freelance jobs have been severely affected by the enhanced community quarantine. “No work means no pay, hindering them from buying food, the most basic necessity of all,” Sen. Villanueva stated.
He implored the national government to prioritize the welfare of all laborers, while hoping that once the pandemic is kept at bay, the economy would be able to head through a road to recovery with what he believes is the most essential resource there is: the people.
LGUs, meanwhile, continued appealing to DSWD to meet the intended quota as soon as they can. Biñan City Mayor Dimaguila proposed in an interview three options that aimed to resolve such issues. The first being the allocation of additional funds. If not feasible, the second option would be dividing all benefits in one month, for 90,000 to gain something. The third and final being the division of money into three, which would allow residents to gain amounts close to P4,000.
Other social amelioration programs are facing unexpected delays. Magno stated that two co-workers, a known franchise owner, and even herself who availed for the COVID-19 Adjustment Measures Program (CAMP), are still waiting for their one-time, non-conditional payment of P5,000. Up to this day, Magno and her co-workers still have not received their payments.
On the possible consequences that might follow from the delays, Magno simply stated that “people will go hungry.” [P]