MANILA, Philippines – Senator Cynthia Villar apologized on Wednesday, May 20, to those offended by her remark that the government shouldn’t extend cash assistance to middle-class families affected by the coronavirus lockdown because they were getting by.
In a statement, the country’s richest senator said her comments during the virtual Senate hearing on Tuesday were not “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. I am not,” she said.
The billionaire senator added: “If I have offended anyone with my statements, I humbly apologize.”
During the Senate hearing on Tuesday, Villar cited the 2015 census – latest available – that only 59% of the 22 million Filipino families were considered poor. She then assumed that, if the government’s cash aid program covered 18 million families, then the beneficiaries included some from the middle class.
Yet, despite the number of families that the national government tries to cover, there have been complaints from the ground that really poor families have been excluded from the list, while those who are not exactly hard-up received cash subsidies.
She said: “Bakit bibigyan ‘yung middle [class] eh may trabaho sila? Kahit lockdown, sumusuweldo sila sa gobyerno kung employed by the government. Kung employed naman ng mga private, nagsusuweldo din sila. Kaya nga nahihirapan ‘yung mga companies because they have to pay the salaries even if there is no business,” Villar said.
(Why do we need to give cash aid to the middle class when they have jobs? Even during the lockdown, workers receive salaries from the government if they are employed by the government. If they are employed by the private sector, they also receive their salaries. In fact, that’s the reason companies are financially strained because they have to pay the salaries even if there is no business.)
Villar cited the case of their family conglomerates. The senator is married to the Philippines’ richest businessman Manny Villar.
“Kasi kami, libu-libo ang empleyado namin, kahit hindi sila napasok, sinusuwelduhan namin. Eh bakit sila pa ang bibigyan ng [subsidy]? Eh may s’weldo sila. Mapalad sila may s’weldo sila,” she said.
(Because thousands of our employees, even if they don’t go to work, we pay their salaries. Why give them aid from [government]? They have salaries. They’re lucky that they have salaries.)
The senator’s statements kicked up a maelstrom online, with netizens blasting her for being insensitive.
She said: “The intention of my questions yesterday was to clarify reports about the middle class workers who remain employed but have been included as among the beneficiaries” of the government’s cash assistance.
The financial aid, Villar added, was “to benefit the poor and the unemployed.”
“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 said in her statement.
Under the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act, 18 million Filipino families were identified to receive P5,000 to P8,000 from the government’s emergency subsidy program. P200 billion was allocated to this program, to be given in two tranches.
The government expanded the list to cover 5 million more families who would be prioritized for the second tranche of the cash aid program.
The Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) reported that since the lockdown started, at least 2.3 million workers from the private sector have been laid off or placed under a “No Work, No Pay” scheme.
This is why the DOLE rolled out a P5,000-subsidy to workers – to augment private sector workers’ salaries. But DOLE was able to assist only 650,000 people due to limited funds. – Rappler.com