Senatorial candidates of the opposition United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) are concerned that their administration rivals are getting an undue advantage from the P44-billion conditional cash transfer (CCT) program, which doles out monthly stipends to the poorest families.
UNA senatorial candidate Juan Miguel Zubiri is worried that the cash doleouts, which go to more than three million households throughout the country, are being used to entice the recipients to favor the President’s handpicked senatorial candidates.
Zubiri said he had received feedback from people on the ground that the CCT recipients were told to support the administration’s “Team PNoy.”
“We’re very, very concerned, worried even, that each time the survey is being conducted, the CCT is being given out. We’re worried come May 13, the instructions would be put out to three million families that if you want your CCT to continue, vote for Team PNoy, and if you don’t want it to continue, vote for Team UNA,” Zubiri said in an interview.
Another UNA candidate, Cagayan Rep. Jack Enrile, has called on the government to temporarily suspend the cash transfer program so that it would not be suspected of using it to buy votes.
As this developed, officials of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) told a public hearing at the Commission on Elections (Comelec) that the CCT, which gives out P1,800 to 3.8 million families every month, would be suspended during the campaign period for local positions, which begins on March 29.
Zubiri said he was not asking for the suspension of the monthly cash assistance for the impoverished families. The government just has to ensure that the money allotted for it would not be used for political means, he said.
He also said the media should be vigilant in monitoring the program’s implementation so any misuse would be uncovered.
Enrile earlier warned that the P44-billion CCT budget could be diverted to fund election-related activities.
“With the election campaign now in full swing, it is very likely that some of the money earmarked for the government’s poverty-reduction strategy might be used to finance covert electioneering activities in Metro Manila and other provinces to ensure victory for the administration senatorial slate,” he said.
San Juan Rep. JV Ejercito, another UNA senatorial candidate, said that even without any intent to use the CCT for campaigning, the mere release of cash assistance already helps candidates of the administration.
“I don’t want to blame anybody, but every time they release [funds] to the CCT beneficiaries, people know it’s from the administration and it will favor the administration candidates,” he said.
Calls for a temporary suspension of the CCT program were made earlier by the House minority, led by Quezon Rep. Danilo Suarez, who warned that the funds could be used for electioneering.
Not during campaign
In order not to deprive the recipient families of their monthly stipend, the government could give the cash assistance in advance so that no funds for the program have to be released during the campaign period, Suarez said.
At the a public hearing on Tuesday, Comelec Chairman Sixto Brillantes Jr. suggested that the DSWD suspend relief operations in disaster areas and conflict zones for 45 days during the campaign period for local elections.
This would prevent local politicians from taking advantage to further their election, Brillantes said.
During the hearing, DSWD officials asked the Comelec en banc to allow them to continue with relief operations in disaster areas, like those devastated by Typhoon “Pablo,” and in places of armed conflict.
“The problem here is that this is in the barangay (village) level. When the campaign period starts, all the politicians would be there and everyone would be talking politics,” Brillantes said.
Politics’ ugly head
“It’s very difficult to isolate these good programs from politics. It would be very difficult to proceed with these programs without politics rearing its ugly head,” he added.
Social Welfare Secretary Corazon Soliman earlier wrote the Comelec to allow social welfare programs in disaster zones and conflict areas to continue even though the Omnibus Election Code provides that these should be turned over to the Philippine Red Cross (PRC) during the campaign period.
“We believe that the Red Cross may not have sufficient resources to immediately and adequately respond to calamities and disasters that may occur during the election period,” Soliman said.
She said the DSWD would be in the best position to respond to any disaster occurring during the election period.
Soliman also pointed out that PRC Chairman Richard Gordon is a senatorial candidate in the May elections.
Brillantes asked if Gordon had already resigned from the PRC. They replied that Gordon is still the PRC chairman.