MANILA, Philippines – Two Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) personnel have been suspended for politicizing the government’s Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) program for the poor, Social Welfare Secretary Dinky Soliman said.
“If I receive any complaint from anybody where it describes the circumstance and gives names of DSWD personnel — from municipal link to the central office peoples — engaging in partisan politics using our programs, we will suspend them before we even investigate,” Soliman told Rappler in an interview.
The CCT program, which DSWD implements, provides cash grants to more than 3 million poor beneficiaries. Enrolled families get a monthly cash grant of P500 to cover healthcare costs while each child below 14 gets P300 for education.
As conditionalities, the beneficiaries are required to send their children to school, and submit them to regular medical check-ups.
In the proposed 2013 national budget which recently passed in the Senate, more than P44 billion has been allotted to the conditional cash transfer program, up from P39 billion in 2012.
Because of the program’s huge budget, the political opposition and militant groups have recently intensified their scrutiny of the main poverty alleviation measure of the Aquino administration, expressing fear it will be used in electioneering.
House minority leader Danilo Suarez claimed in an Inquirer report early this week that CCT is already being used by candidates, including those from the ruling Liberal Party, in their campaigns, citing a case in Lucena City.
Meanwhile, the militant group Anakbayan branded the program as “legalized vote buying and patronage politics.”
“There are reports that Akbayan and other administration candidates are dangling the CCT in order to get the support of local officials,” Tracy Anne D. Dumalo, secretary general of the Anakbayan chapter in Cordillera, said.
An expert on the program earlier warned that CCT can be used for vote-buying in the 2013 mid-term elections like what happened in South American countries which implemented similar cash transfer measures.
“It doesn’t work in all countries in Latin America all the time. Governments are tempted to manipulate and governments are sometimes prone to a similar kind of behavior,” Santiago Levy, vice president for Sectors and Knowledge of the Inter-American Development Bank, said in a media roundtable at the Asian Development Bank headquarters in Manila last October.
“The only counterweight that you can have is again, hopefully, a strong legislature, a strong press, and lots of information,” Levy added.
Soliman admitted that the efforts of her department to protect CCT from political interests face resistance from some local politicians.
“My regional directors are saying that, sometimes, talagang matigas ang ulo ng mga local officials. Sabi nila: ‘Ba’t niyo ba pinakikialaman, pera naman namin yan? Gusto naming ilagay ang [aming] mukha (Local officials can be stubborn. They say: Why do you meddle in our affairs? It’s our money, anyway.)”
Soliman reiterated that the late Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo and herself separately issued a memorandum enjoining all local government units or local officials not to use the CCT or any of the DSWD programs for campaign purposes.
“If there’s an event, there should be no tarps with their faces and also our faces. It should only be the logos of the national [agency],” Soliman said.
“I went a step further. If it happens, it’s a point against the regional director,” Soliman warned.
Soliman stressed that DSWD is communicating the message clearly: “You’re not supposed to use the program or be an instrument [to use it for campaigning].”
The department is also rolling out a media campaign to inform the public that no local politician has the authority to add or delist CCT beneficiaries.
“We will have tarps, stickers that will indicate na walang mag-aalis o magdadagdag kundi ang DSWD kasi national program ito,” assured Soliman. (We will have tarps, stickers that will indicate nobody can remove or add to the list because it’s a national program.)
Soliman also said the CCT sessions inculcate in beneficiaries the values of active citizenship, including their rights and responsibilities.
“We address very important challenges for poor people. And they are understanding the power they have and using that power to change their situation.” – Rappler.com