Faster release of cash aid to COVID-19 hit families bared

A House leader on Friday said the Defeat Covid-19 Ad Hoc Committee of the House of Representatives said the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) could actually release right away the P5,000 to P8,000 subsidy this weekend to as many families possible on its Listahanan list of poor and low-income families plus other vulnerable sectors.

Deputy Speaker and Camarines Sur Rep. LRay Villafuerte said this would keep with President Rodrigo “Rody” Duterte’s latest directive on the immediate delivery of cash transfers to 18 million families hit the hardest by the coronavirus disease-19 (COVID-19) pandemic.

Villafuerte said this ad hoc panel chaired by Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano will suggest to “the DSWD to do away with the tedious process of validating roughly 80% of the target beneficiaries of the Emergency Subsidy Program (ESP) by releasing the cash transfers to the 15 million families on its Listahanan list, many of whom are already receiving financial aid from the government’s assorted social protection programs on a regular basis.”

If the DSWD were to do so, the DSWD could kick-off this biggest ever social protection program in the country by releasing the emergency subsidy to an initial list nationwide this Friday, with the rest for delivery this weekend and next week, said Villafuerte, a member of this House panel and the principal author in the House of Republic Act (RA) No. 11469 or the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act.

Villafuerte said the Cayetano-chaired panel thinks the DSWD could then proceed with the sign up and validation of the remaining three million households targeted for financial aid under this new law but who are not yet on DSWD’s Listahanan list. “In keeping with the President’s April 1 directive that there should be no delay anymore in the delivery of financial aid to the most vulnerable Filipino families, the House panel believes the DSWD should distribute the money pronto to the 18 million beneficiary households, beginning with those on its Listahanan list,” said Villafuerte.

Villafuerte, also a member of the Joint Congressional Oversight Committee, was referring to President Duterte’s statement in his televised public address on Wednesday night: “Yan ang warning ko sa inyo, ha …. ang distribution huwag nyo i-delay.”

He pointed out that using its Listahan list, the DSWD has been granting conditional cash transfers (CCTs) to some 4.4 million beneficiary-families of its Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps).

DSWD’s Listahan list also includes 5.6 million non-CTT beneficiaries such as senior citizens, solo parents and persons with disabilities (PWDs) plus 5 million more low-income families who are similarly qualified to receive ESP benefits.

A portion of these Listahanan households are also beneficiaries of unconditional cash transfers (UCTs) granted to low-income families affected by the initial impact of the tax hikes under the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion Act (TRAIN), he said.

“This means that of the 18 million target households under the Bayanihan Law, there are already 15 million on the DSWD’s Listahanan list who are qualified to receive such financial aid right away and with no need for further validation,” Villafuerte said. “The cash grants should be released ASAP to these households who are struggling to survive into the third week of the month-long ECQ (enhanced community quarantine) that the government has imposed to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.”

Villafuerte welcomed the President’s directive to the DSWD in his April 1 televised public address, and said the House committee wants the DSWD to take further steps to make this happen by strengthening its transparency and grievance mechanisms to eliminate graft in this project.

The panel will suggest, he said, that the DSWD could, among others, put up a Facebook page and tap other social media platforms where the public can (1) view the complete list of household-beneficiaries in every barangay, and (2) post their complaints or perceived anomalies, such as the exclusion or inclusion of certain beneficiaries on the barangay lists.

He said the DSWD should seek out the assistance of private groups with excellent software applications where the public could check the list of beneficiaries and track the actual handover of cash transfers to the 18 million target households.

The DSWD should also put up mobile phone hotlines where the public can text their complaints about the actual implementation of the ESP or their suggestions on how the system could be improved and fast-tracked, he said.

“For the House panel, the DSWD should tap technology to implement the ESP as quickly as possible and without any stain of graft and corruption as so desired by President Duterte,” he said.

“All of us want this ESP system to succeed in keeping with President Duterte’s commitment to throw a lifeline to some 18 million Filipinos households dependent on the informal economy who have lost their sources of income after the coronavirus pandemic paralyzed economic activity in Luzon and other parts of the country,” Villafuerte said.

Moreover, Villafuerte said the DSWD could further streamline the identification and distribution process by simplifying the SAC forms that beneficiaries are supposed to fill up and do away with barcoding every SAC card.

He said the current form of the SAC card issued by the DSWD requires each beneficiary to fill up so many items, including their monthly incomes, religion and health conditions along with several details about each and every member of his or her family.

Villafuerte said the mandatory use of barcodes presents its own set of problems because this would mean the use of a specific code for the SACs in each and every barangay.

As pointed out by fellow legislators to him, he said, the social amelioration forms have their respective barcodes that needs to be downloaded to the last thousandth page.

Each LGU will have to print thousands of pages using just one computer each because the document couldn’t be transferred to another computer because of the bar code, he said. “The bigger problem here is downloading such large files in areas with poor Internet connections.”

Villafuerte said earlier another problem is that certain LGUs may not have available barcoders or barcode devices.  “How and where are these LGUs going to acquire barcode devices at this time of the month-long lockdown?”

The Bayanihan law provides for the release of the ESP funds to the household-beneficiaries at a rate of P5,000 to P8,000 each per month for two months, to be computed based on the prevailing minimum wage rates per region.

President Duterte announced this week that P200 billion will be set

aside for the two-month ESP for the 18 million household-beneficiaries—the biggest social protection program ever by any government in the country’s history.

The President’s economic managers have said that P200 billion-worth of funds are available for this social protection program as RA 11469 has authorized the Chief Executive to reprogram, realign and reallocate certain funds from the 2020 national budget as well as funds of government-owned and -controlled corporations (GOCCs) for this purpose.