‘Conditional cash transfer not perfect, but it works’
Budget Secretary Florencio Abad on Monday admitted that the implementation of the conditional cash transfer (CCT) program of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) had flaws, but asserted that the administration’s poverty reduction scheme was effective overall.
“There have indeed been questions on the use of the cards but generally, it has worked,” Abad said.
He was reacting to a claim by Ako Bicol party-list Rep. Alfredo Garbin and Eastern Samar Rep. Ben Evardone that CCT beneficiaries had surrendered their automated teller machine (ATM) cards—through which cash doles were distributed bimonthly—to loan sharks just to get money for gambling and to buy appliances.
Abad also brushed off concerns that the DSWD did not have the resources to monitor the P21.3-billion fund envisaged to cover 2.3 million poor people this year.
“It’s not hard to audit the funds because not a single centavo goes through the DSWD. The funds go straight from the Treasury to Land Bank of the Philippines accounts. This is very efficient because the money does not go through any other channel,” he said.
Abad earlier reported that the DSWD was still in the process of weeding out spurious names in the master list of beneficiaries. But he said that he remained confident the government would reach its target of 2.3 million beneficiaries by next month.
Abad said that independent bodies such as Social Weather Stations and Ateneo de Manila University had confirmed the effectiveness of the CCT in reducing poverty in the country.
Social Welfare Secretary Dinky Soliman also conceded that her agency was still ironing out some of the kinks in the CCT, including reports that beneficiaries’ ATMs were in the hands of loan sharks.
She said this was the reason the DSWD was considering requiring beneficiaries to get their money over the counter at LBP branches and, if this was not feasible, disbursing the funds through municipal treasurers.
Under current CCT guidelines crafted by the DSWD, the monthly allowance of between P800 and P1,400 per family is distributed through ATMs of LBP and accredited banks.
Communications Secretary Ricky Carandang insisted yesterday the CCT program was “quite successful” and that 92 percent of families getting the cash assistance were complying with the program’s requirements that parents send their children to school, have them vaccinated and that mothers visit health centers.
“We don’t see the CCT as a problem,” Carandang said.
He added that it would be a “shame” for lawmakers to block proposals to increase the CCT allocation in the budget of the DSWD next year when the program had become an effective “antipoverty and propoor” program.
Garbin and Evardone had said they would block the DSWD’s bid to increase the CCT allocation by close to 90 percent if the department was not able to show that the money was not going to frivolous expenses.
House Deputy Speaker Crispin Remulla said on Monday that Abad’s proposal to increase the CCT budget to P39.5 billion and its beneficiaries to 3 million would face stiff opposition in the budget hearings in the House because of lingering questions on “leakages” in the massive fund.
Remulla said that aside from questions on the DSWD’s ability to monitor and check abuses, lawmakers were skeptical that the doles would lead to a more productive population considering that the CCT does not seek to expand employment opportunities.
Carandang also said the DSWD was “constantly validating” the performance of the CCT and, thus, it would surely look into the claim of the two lawmakers.
He said the DSWD had not received any reports of loan sharks pocketing some of the cash assistance to the poor.
But Social Welfare Assistant Secretary Parisya Taradji, who is also the national deputy director of the 4Ps [Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program], said yesterday the department had recorded incidents where beneficiaries turned over part of their government allowance to loan sharks.
Taradji said, however, that the number of beneficiaries that the department had recorded doing so—23—was small compared to how many families were benefiting from the program.
She also said that the beneficiaries who allowed loan sharks to get their allowances said they were forced to do so because they needed immediate cash to meet family emergencies.