Metro Manila mayors want all poor on their lists to get aid
MANILA, Philippines — The local governments that make up Metro Manila, which bear the brunt of the new coronavirus disease (COVID-19) crisis, have urged the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) and the Department of Finance (DOF) to set the right number of beneficiaries among their constituents that will receive cash subsidies during the national health emergency.
The mayors in the sprawling capital region have criticized the rigid “quota system” that was imposed by the DSWD and the DOF on who should receive the cash aid among would-be beneficiaries based on the 2015 census.
They said the two agencies’ figures did not match the current much bigger number of their poor constituents.
On Tuesday, the Metro Manila Council (MMC) passed a resolution signed by all 17 mayors asking the DSWD and the DOF to reinstate the “original number” of beneficiaries of the social amelioration fund “in the higher interest of preserving public order, safety and health, and for the 17 LGUs (local government units) to effectively perform their duties and functions” during the lockdown.
The capital region, the mayors noted, had the biggest number of confirmed COVID-19 cases and patients under investigation and monitoring in the country. It also had the most number of affected daily wage earners due to the Luzon-wide economic shutdown, they said.
Under the quota system, each local government was given a fixed amount from the P200-billion social amelioration program (SAP) fund for a specific number of beneficiaries, which was based on the five-year-old census.
The local governments say their own funds have been channeled to other social services like health, leaving them with not enough for cash aid for the remainder of the target beneficiaries who will not receive subsidies.
The MMC, the highest decision-making body in Metro Manila, did not cite the original figures of aid recipients supposedly given by the government.
But a partial list culled from the local governments shows that the target beneficiaries who should each receive P8,000 in some high-density cities like Manila (with 435,000 households) were barely half the number of their total households.
Senate President Vicente Sotto III on Wednesday called on the DSWD, the Philippine Statistics Authority, other departments and the local governments to work closely in updating the database on the income levels of Filipino households.
Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles, spokesperson for the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID), on Wednesday said nine Metro Manila cities had already received their social amelioration funds.
These are Manila, P1.48 billion; Parañaque, P621.39 million; Caloocan, P1.72 billion; Marikina, P449.99 million; Pasig, P750.93 million; Quezon City, P3.02 billion; Mandaluyong, P368.37 million; Muntinlupa, P430.68 million; and Taguig, P739.97 million.
Manila and Parañaque have started distributing the money.
Excluded from SAP
Nograles said indigent senior citizens and those receiving social pensions were not excluded from the social amelioration program.
As for complaints about families excluded from the program, he said the President had formed a group to deal with such problems.
The government has heard the complaints from local governments that have qualified constituents who were excluded from receiving aid, he added.
Reacting to suggestions to include middle-income families as beneficiaries of government cash aid, Nograles said the government had not decided whether to also give aid to middle income families during the national health emergency, but if it did, the aid for poor households that had already started receiving cash assistance would not be diminished.
Addressing the nation on Monday night, President Duterte said Cavite Gov. Jonvic Remulla raised a valid point in pushing for cash subsidies for the middle class since many of them had been affected by work stoppages and travel restrictions due to COVID-19, the acute respiratory ailment caused by SARS-CoV-2 virus.
“We’ll try to remedy it with whatever we find down the road,” Mr. Duterte said.
Still under study
Nograles said officials were still studying a proposal to provide relief to middle-income earners who were also struggling amid the enhanced community quarantine imposed on Luzon to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus.
“For the poor, marginalized and members of the informal sector, they are under the social amelioration program. For the middle-income or middle class, it would be a different program. It would be separate. So our budget for the poor would not be affected,” he said in a televised briefing.
Sotto on Wednesday also urged the government to aid the middle class.
“I totally agree that we should help the poor deal with the current situation. But we should also provide assistance to the other sectors of our society,” he said in a statement.
The P200-billion SAP fund was intended as cash grants for 18 million poor households nationwide.
No need for new law
Under the Bayanihan Act, each household will receive P5,000 to P8,000 monthly for two months, depending on the wage rate of the region where they reside, with Metro Manila getting the biggest amount.
Nograles said no new law was needed for any funding for middle income families as the Bayanihan Act could provide for these.
One of the first things the IATF-EID needed to do, however, is to define the middle class and who among those in the sector will qualify for any government aid.
“Would they qualify for social amelioration if they lose their jobs? Things like these are what we will talk about,” Nograles said.
The IATF-EID is an adhoc government body that formulates policies to deal with the COVID-19 outbreak.
—WITH A REPORT FROM MARLON RAMOS
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