Mayor: Fear of missing deadline led to surge of 9,000 claiming SAP cash in Lucena
LUCENA CITY—The surge of up to 9,000 residents here claiming aid from the government’s Social Amelioration Program (SAP) was triggered by the April 30 deadline for distribution of cash, the city’s mayor said on Wednesday (April 29).
Mayor Roderick Alcala said the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) and the city government “were compelled to speed up the distribution to beat the April 30 deadline.”
He said had it not been for the deadline, the distribution of the aid could have been done at villages or clusters of villages.
The city government, the mayor said, needed at least 10 days for an orderly and organized distribution to 50,000 qualified beneficiaries out of the city’s 70,000 poor households.
He said it takes the DSWD at least two weeks to verify recipients’ lists.
To beat the deadline, the DWSD decided to distribute the financial aid to an estimated 9,000 beneficiaries from 11 villages in the city in a single day, Alcala said.
He said the event, which appeared to violate social distancing protocol, was a DSWD affair. “We’re only assisting them,” he said.
The distribution was held at the Punzalan Gym at Barangay 5.
Chairs were arranged in the gym in accordance with social distancing rules to prevent coronavirus transmission.
Organizers also prepared chairs and tents for beneficiaries to wait in a holding area in the compound of a shopping mall just across the gym.
The mayor said each village had a schedule to go to the venue and prevent crowd gathering.
“The problem started when most of them arrived at the venue ahead of their scheduled hour. They all came rushing,” Alcala said.
He added: “It’s hard to blame them. They were all desperate to receive the badly needed cash aid for their families”.
Lt. Romulo Albacea, Lucena police chief, shared Alcala’s frustration.
“With that desperate crowd all wanting to receive their respective cash aid due to hunger, it would be difficult for any lawmen to force them to leave,” Albacea said.
Alcala said the distribution ended before midnight, past the curfew hours of 8 p.m. to 5 a.m., because the DSWD had to take pictures of each recipient who received cash as part of the verification process.
Albacea said the DSWD requested for exemption from the curfew to finish the cash distribution.
Alcala said residents of one village were unable to receive their cash aid after village officials stopped them from going to the distribution venue due to a new COVID-19 case.
Alcala said other distribution events took place on Tuesday in several rural villages. “They were all orderly,” he said.
Lucena residents raised a howl of protest on social media after photos of the crowd at Punzalan Gym spread on social media.
They raised concern that the assembly would further spread coronavirus in the city.
On Tuesday, Lucena City, the capital of Quezon province, recorded at least seven new COVID-19 cases, bringing the total to 25. Three patients have since recovered.
The government has set aside P200 billion for cash aid to low-income families during the lockdown being enforced to prevent coronavirus transmission. It was provided for by the Bayanihan to Heal As One Act which gave President Rodrigo Duterte additional powers to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Those qualified to receive cash aid under the SAP will get between P5,000 to P8,000. These amounts will be based on the prevailing wage rates in the regions where the beneficiaries live.
Edited by TSB
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