Forgotten priority: PWDs still waiting for cash aid from Duterte gov't

Aside from being behind in mass testing, the Philippines has given assistance too late and too little for disenfranchised Filipinos under lockdown, even for those who need them the most – persons with disabilities (PWDs).

At the beginning of the lockdown in mid-March, President Rodrigo Duterte promised that all struggling Filipinos could get aid, starting from the local government. The national government would step in, his top officials, once the local government’s struggled.

Weeks later came the promise came of P5,000 to P8,000 cash subsidies through the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD)’s emergency subsidy program (ESP), which was first proclaimed to be enough for poor Filipino families.

As of Tuesday, May 12, the DSWD reported that 16.6 million families have received cash assistance amounting to P93.6 billion cash disbursed.

By using 2015 lists as basis for the amount of aid, however, the national government left local governments with scarce social amelioration card (SAC) forms, and left them to decide to choose among the “poorest among the poor” to receive them.

The Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) reported that the distribution, as of May 11, corresponded to over 1,200 local government units already completing their distribution of the ESP.

LACKING LIST. Residents of Baseco Compound in Manila City wait in line for their financial assistance from the government's Emergency Subsidy Program distributed by DSWD

Photo by KD Madrilejos/Rappler

The stories on the ground, however, point continuing discrepancies in the distribution, where those who do not need the assistance receive them, and those who need it the most are either told to wait and wait or that they are not qualified because they do not have enough documents.

Rappler spoke with 4 PWDs from different cities, and they said that they have not received their share in the ESP.

According to DSWD Assistant Secretary Joseline Niwane, one of the top officials in charge of implementing the ESP, the problem came from the LGUs.

“In [ESP], we are giving LGUs the responsibility to select who really needs it, with the assumption that they know their people,” Niwane said.

Niwane said those who haven’t been included in the list of LGUs should tell their LGUs so that they could be included in the next batch of beneficiaries. 

Most of those excluded, however, said they no longer have the luxury of waiting as they have grown hungry with their families.

A house of abandoned priorities in Manila

AT HOME. Joanna Cayabyab's grandmother (left), her cousin (center), and two nieces at home in Tondo, Manila.

Joanna Grace Cayabyab, 31 lives under the same roof in Gagalangin, Tondo 2 as 4 people who were promised to be first with government cash assistance but have so far received none.

One of them is her own son, Sky Mendoza, an energetic 3-year-old who screamed in the background with joy as his mother spoke on the phone for an interview.

“Mommy! Mommy!” the baby shouted as Joanna’s cousin, Carissa, attempted to distract her child.

Sky had a multiple congenital anomalies in his body—his esophagus was not connected to his stomach, and he does not have a hole to serve as his anus. 

Joanna fed Sky with blended vegetables, fruits, and meat through a network of tubes that pumped food through his stomach.

In other parts of their home stayed Joanna’s grandmother, who was already 92 years old, her uncle who was 60 years old. Carissa, like her, was also a solo parent of two children.

Before the government shut Metro Manila’s borders and ordered millions to stay home in mid-March, Joanna earned through her own stall in cyberspace.

She would buy bedsheets and curtains from Divisoria, prop up her cellphone on a stand in their cramped home, opened Facebook, then pressed live. It was a selling show that gave her over between P300 to P1,000 a day.

SPECIAL CONDITION. Joanna's son, Kyle, is fed through a tube that pumps food into his stomach.

All of it has been gone for two months since the lockdown, and so far, they have only been able to manage by skimping food.

They have received relief packs thrice from the Manila City government and her barangay, but she said they have been far from enough.

Am na nga lang ang ginagamit sa bata (We’re using rice water as milk for the child),” she said.

Manila Mayor Isko Moreno signed a program to give all families in the capital P1,000 as cash aid on April 5. Not one individual in their house received a peso. They were not on the barangay’s list, she said.

She heard they were qualified for national government’s subsidy and went to the barangay. She was told that they were all qualified for the assistance, but there were no forms left for them. (READ: 'Walang wala na': Poor Filipinos fear death from hunger more than coronavirus)

They were told to wait.

Weeks have passed. They have begun eating only after 5 pm to save food. She heard that other relatives who lived in other parts of Tondo have received the cash aid. She has been texting her barangay officials to ask for progress, but she was again told to wait.

Sana alam din ng gobyerno yung mga mas nangangailangan (I wish the government knew who need help),” she said.

Helplessness in Baguio City

NEED HELP. Reynaldo Tabrilla at home in Baguio City.

Reynaldo Tabrilla, 42, has no fingers on both hands and he doesn’t have a right foot, but he loves playing basketball and works as a technician. He fixes televisions and builds houses.

His work flow was simple. He stayed at home and waited for a call from anyone in Baguio City then he rode a jeepney to their homes and got to work. He has learned to live with his disabilities.

“I can walk like a normal person. I worked to do this. I trained my body so that I don’t burden society,” Tabrilla said in a phone interview with Rappler.

Reynaldo is single. He lived with Romeo, the husband of his sister who died in March 2019, and their daughters Catherine, 26, and Camille, 20. Romeo worked as a driver for a government health center.

After the country went on lockdown, Reynaldo found himself most vulnerable. He could not leave home to play, and could not even go to customers who needed their televisions fixed. 

For the first time in a long time, too, he felt hunger. He said he has so far been fed through the relief packs handed to him by the local government of Baguio but they are almost running out of the goods.

Romeo has been working to place food at the table for everyone too, but Reynaldo did not want to depend on him further. 

Reynaldo's PWD card

He knew his best option was to claim the cash aid promised by President Rodrigo Duterte, but Reynaldo could not understand how he could claim his share. 

He walked to their barangay center to ask for whether he was included in their list of beneficiaries. He was not. Barangay workers asked for his signature and told him to wait for a call.

Baguio City is already on its way to loosening lockdown rules and implement a “transition period” and yet Reynaldo’s barangay officials have not given him a ring for the enhanced community quarantine period. 

The so-called city of pines has been praised for its lockdown measures, but Reynaldo believes it still needs to work on its aid distribution, specifically when it comes to working with barangay officials. He noted that residents who were more well-off were able to receive aid before he could.

“The problem is with the officials on the ground, the frontliners. I have no problem with the mayor. But I think the problem is with the barangay,” Reynaldo said.

Asking the disabled to work in Antipolo City

OUT OF WORK. Rodel Raquiza (right) with his family in their Antipolo, Rizal home

Photo from Raquiza

The right leg of Rodel Raquiza is inches shorter than his left, a disability inflicted upon him by polio. He could not stand straight or walk properly but, because of poverty, has been working as a construction worker.

He could not afford to stay home, not that he had Josephine, his live-in partner, and Princess, their 6-year-old daughter, to feed.

“I am the only one who makes a living for all us three,” he told Rappler in a phone interview, explaining that he did not allow Josephine to work because he was a “small” woman.

“I cannot depend on others, especially when we live at a time of poverty,” he said.

They lived in Antipolo, Rizal, but Rodel worked in the neighboring town of Teresa, Rizal, making between P200 and P300 a day. After the lockdown was imposed, he lost his work overnight.

He found hope when President Duterte made an address and promised that everyone who needed help would get it, if not from the national government, then the barangay officials.

MOUTHS TO FEED. Rodel Raquiza's 6-year-old daughter Princess at their home in Baguio City.

Rodel’s household has received relief packages from the local government and the local church, but they ran out fast. Debts from market stalls have piled up and he needs cold cash to pay them up and procure more food for the dinner table.

He heard that he was qualified for the government’s cash subsidy program so he went to their barangay hall where he recalled being interviewed by a social worker. 

He was rejected a SAC form because he was not a registered voter in the area and he did not hold a PWD card. (READ: [ANALYSIS] Challenges facing social amelioration for the coronavirus)

“I was told I was qualified but I was not registered voter,” he said.

The rejection goes against the government’s policy of distributing the cash aid, where anyone qualified should receive aid.

Before living in Antipolo, Rodel worked in Teresa, but that was 4 years ago, and he has not found time to renew his voter registration in his new locale or the time to register as a PWD. 

Working as a PWD construction worker already took much of his time, he said. He was not given advice on what he could do except to get his papers done before getting aid. Meanwhile, he knows neighbors who are not even PWDs who have received help.

“I wish we were fair for all now. I wish those who would be given are the ones who really need it, not those who could even afford to slack off,” he said.

Nothing left in a Quezon City home

STILL WAITING. Nomie Tolbo in her Quezon City home.

Nomie Tolbo, 43, has her left hand forming a half fist, her fingertips stuck to where the base of her fingers meet her palm.

With her condition, it was all but possible to find a job for her, so she decided to stay home while her husband Erson worked as a construction worker to provide for their family.

She and Erson have two mouths to feed: 10-year-old Trissa, and 7-year-old Venice.

Since the lockdown, they have not been able to earn anything. Her husband could not earn unless he worked. They only spent their savings as they waited for help.

From March to April, they’ve depended on relief packs given by the local government unit. But by the beginning of May, they were running out of supplies. She remembered that the government promised them cash aid.

Nomie Tolbo's PWD identification card

She recalled that they were supposed to be visited by either their barangay officials or a social worker from the DSWD, but none had come knocking yet. She decided to go to the officials herself in the first week of May.

“We went to our area leader, he said they had nothing on hand. He told me to go to the barangay. I went to the barangay. The barangay told me there were no more forms. I spoke with the barangay captain and he said we should wait,” Tolbo told Rappler in a phone interview.

The officials just photocopied her ID and told her to wait for their call.

She had two other neighbors who were also PWDs with IDs, and both still haven’t received even a form. She heard of other neighbors who weren’t PWDs but already got their share of cash aid.

“Our savings are gone. We have spent all of it. What’s disturbing is that our other neighbors have gotten help. Why can’t we be afforded the same?,” she said.

The Philippine government is now focused on cautiously loosening quarantine rules to allow more people to return to work while preventing the spread of the virus. For PWDs like Nomie, Reynaldo, and Roy, all they ask is that they not be forgotten. –

Rambo Talabong

Rambo Talabong covers the House of Representatives and local governments for Rappler. Prior to this, he covered security and crime. He was named Jaime V. Ongpin Fellow in 2019 for his reporting on President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs. In 2021, he was selected as a journalism fellow by the Fellowships at Auschwitz for the Study of Professional Ethics.