Cash aid for 18 million poor families in limbo as gov't works on database

MANILA, Philippines – With the country about to enter its 3rd week under a state of calamity, 18 million low-income Filipino households will still have to wait for cash aid, as the government's database remains pending.

Section 4(c) of the recently signed Bayanihan to Heal as One Act states that 18 million poor families will receive P5,000 to P8,000 a month for two months, or in April and May.

But President Rodrigo Duterte's report, submitted to Congress early Tuesday, March 31, showed that it will take time before those in need get the cash aid they were promised.

"The DOF (Department of Finance) will provide technical assistance to the DSWD (Department of Social Welfare and Development) in forming a consolidated database that will host COVID-19 social amelioration programs," the report said.

"The database will be derived from existing beneficiary lists submitted by government agencies and LGUs (local government units), and will be used to determine the subsidy amounts for household beneficiaries," it added.

Joint Memorandum Circular No. 1 on social amelioration defined how much each family would be receiving based on the regional minimum wage:

Aside from the database, the finance department was also tasked to coordinate with the Inter-Agency Task Force working group in case additional funds are needed, and to handle the mapping of beneficiaries as well as how much subsidy will be transferred.

While the 18-page report said the DOF's work with the DSWD will begin on Wednesday, April 1, it did not elaborate on when the database is targeted to be completed.

Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III had said on Tuesday that support for firms would take a back seat as poor households would be prioritized.

In a statement on Tuesday, Senator Joel Villanueva urged the government to swiftly help "no work, no pay" individuals affected by lockdowns around the country.

"While our executive has assured us that the list of beneficiaries will be streamlined, we suggest that our government place the final list of beneficiaries, including names and their barangays, in a website which will serve as a transparency mechanism and a convenient form of accounting for the public," Villanueva said.

Other assistance

Aside from the cash aid, the rollout of the special risk allowance for public health workers is still pending, as the Department of Budget and Management has yet release guidelines.

The promised compensation for health workers infected by the coronavirus, meanwhile, was not mentioned in the report. Just before the report was submitted to Congress, Duterte said on Monday night, March 30, that frontliners were "lucky to die" for the Philippines.

Under the new law, public and private health workers with COVID-19 would receive compensation of P100,000. Families of those who died due to the virus while in the line of duty would receive P1 million, effective retroactively.

Senator Nancy Binay, meanwhile, took a swipe at the DSWD for its "slow" release of food packs. As of 6 am on Monday, the DSWD has released 121,803 family food packs nationwide.

"If the DSWD is really serious in providing immediate assistance to those who are affected by the lockdown, then bilisan naman ang ayuda (hasten the release of aid)," Binay said.

"Pa-three weeks na tayo, pero P46 million pa lang nailalabas na food packs nationwide (We're entering the 3rd week of the lockdown, but they've only distributed P46 million worth of food packs nationwide)."

Duterte declared a state of calamity in the Philippines and an "enhanced community quarantine" or total lockdown for the island of Luzon, to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Several provinces, cities, and municipalities in the Visayas and Mindanao also declared localized lockdowns.

As of Tuesday, the Philippines has 2,084 coronavirus cases, with 88 deaths. So far, 49 people have recovered. – Rappler.com

Aika Rey

Aika Rey covers the Philippine Senate for Rappler. Before writing about politicians, she covered budget, labor, and transportation issues.

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