Solon: Immediate cash aid to poor possible

A House leader on Sunday welcomed government efforts to fast-track the Emergency Subsidy Program (ESP) by initially distributing the financial assistance to conditional cash transfer (CCT) beneficiaries.

However, Deputy Speaker and Camarines Sur Rep. LRay Villafuerte maintained the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) is actually capable of releasing the aid right away to as many as 15 million poor and low-income households nationwide.

While lauding the move by the DSWD to accelerate ESP’s implementation, Villafuerte said “the DSWD could do a better job of letting President Duterte throw his promised lifeline to an estimated 18 million household-beneficiaries by distributing the subsidy, beginning this weekend, to an estimated 15 million families on its  Listahanan list of poor, low-income and other underprivileged households.”

Villafuerte issued this statement after the DSWD announced that it started distributing last Friday the cash aid, initially to the conditional cash transfer (CCT) beneficiaries of its Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps), in Metro Manila and six more regions—Ilocos Region, Cagayan Valley, Central Luzon, Southern Luzon-Calabarzon area, Cordillera Autonomous Region (CAR) and the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARRM).

He said nothing now stands in the way of DSWD’s immediate distribution of the cash aid to the targeted 18 million households most affected by the coronavirus crisis, as the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) already credited P100 billion to the account of DSWD, representing half of the P200 billion needed by the government to give a monthly subsidy of P5,000 to P8,000 per beneficiary-household for two consecutive months.

DSWD Secretary Rolando Bautista said on Thursday it would start giving the ESP cash transfers to the Department’s over 4 million CCT beneficiaries of 4Ps who no longer require vetting.

However, Villafuerte said that instead of limiting its preliminary list of beneficiaries to the 4.4 million CCT beneficiaries of 4Ps, the DSWD should also include the  other poor and low-income families on its Listahanan list who are not getting CCT assistance but who are actually qualified to get the ESP subsidy as targeted by Republic Act (RA) No. 11469 or the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act.

Villafuerte pointed out that the DSWD’s Listahanan list  also includes about 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—or a total of some 15 million households.

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 rapid spread of the coronavirus.”

He said that while giving the cash aid to households on the Listahanan list,  the DSWD could proceed with the sign up and validation of the remaining 3 million households also targeted for financial aid under the Bayanihan Law.

“The House leadership certainly welcomes the move by Budget Secretary Wendell Avisado to promptly release P100 billion to the DSWD for the first-month requirements of the ESP and yesterday’s decision by Social Welfare Secretary Rolando Bautista  to start this social protection program at once by giving the cash aid to CCT beneficiaries of the Department’s 4Ps program,” Villafuerte said.

“The House leadership is certainly happy that we are on the same page with the DSWD as this will let the government flesh out the President’s April 1 directive that there should no longer be any delay in the delivery of financial aid to the most vulnerable Filipino families amid the deepening global health crisis spawned by Covid-19,” he added.

He recalled that the Defeat Covid-19 Ad Hoc Committee chaired by Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano endorsed on Thursday the DSWD’s swift implementation of the ESP by giving the cash transfers at once to some 15 million family-beneficiaries on the DSWD’s Listahanan list.

Villafuerte, a member of the House ad hoc panel and the lead author in the chamber of RA 11469, pointed out that “there is no room for further delay in the implementation of what has become the biggest social protection program ever by any Philippine government, as many of these target beneficiaries are already experiencing hunger after losing their only means of livelihood amid the Covid-19 crisis.”

Bautista was quoted in the media as saying that the 4Ps beneficiaries include informal economy workers, occasionally hired workers, subcontractors, domestic helpers, drivers of public utility vehicles (PUVs), tricycles and other means of transportation, micro entrepreneurs, sub-minimum wage earners, farmers, “no work no pay” workers, and stranded workers.

The DSWD secretary further said senior citizens, PWDs, pregnant and lactating women, overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in distress, indigents and other members of vulnerable sectors are similarly qualified to sign up for EPS.

As for the DBM, Avisado said the first tranche of P100 billion  from the P200-billion ESP shall be used for the Protective Services for Individuals and Families in Especially Difficult Circumstances or Assistance to Individuals in Crisis Situations, and shall be extended to the target low-income household beneficiaries in the form of cash.

“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,” Villafuerte said.

Villafuerte said the House ad hoc committee wants the DSWD to take further steps to make this program graft-free by strengthening its transparency and grievance mechanisms to eliminate corruption in the identification of ESP beneficiaries and distribution of the cash aid.

The House panel would 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.

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.

He noted that the Anti-Red Tape Authority (ARTA) has agreed with this House proposal to do away with the barcoding system as a way to further speed up the ESP process.

ARTA director-general Jeremiah Belgica was quoted in the media as saying that: “ARTA’s mandate is to make sure that government services

are delivered in the fastest and most efficient way,” said Belgica. “That is why we agree with Deputy Speaker Villafuerte that to add this layer is unnecessary and burdensome, as well as opens the door to potential politicking and abuse.”