Judy won’t let solons get hold of CCT funds
Who knows the poor better—government social workers or district representatives?
The question arose during a highly charged debate at on Thursday’s budget hearing when Social Welfare Secretary Judy Taguiwalo faced grilling about her new policy giving less premium on “referral letters” from politicians endorsing their poor constituents for assistance.
But Taguiwalo, giving tit for tat, stood her ground as members of the House of Representatives badgered her with questions over who was in a better position to identify and assist the poor.
She said she only wished to end politicians’ sense of entitlement in drawing Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) funds for the poor, implying that the lawmakers might be thinking they still enjoyed discretionary pork barrel funds.
House Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas set the ball rolling when he asked Taguiwalo whether she really said politicians “should use their own money to give to their own constituents and not public funds.”
“I never said that,” the former University of the Philippines activist professor said, explaining she was quoted on her newly issued Memorandum Circular No. 9 putting safeguards on the DSWD’s processing of politicians’ referral letters.
The circular states that while referral letters from any individual, including government officials, may be considered, they are “not binding” on social workers or personnel tasked with evaluating the qualifications of beneficiaries.
Fariñas reminded Taguiwalo that public funds belonged to the people, as “it’s their money.”
Following on that point, Negros Oriental Rep. Arnulfo Teves asked Taguiwalo: “Who knows the poor more, the social workers or us congressmen?”
To which an incredulous Taguiwalo replied with a laugh: “Who knows the poor more, the DSWD [or lawmakers]? That’s a hard question. You are dichotomizing.”
Teves, however, kept up the questioning: “If social workers are more familiar with the people on the ground, then why are there so many mistakes on the list of beneficiaries for 4Ps (the government’s conditional cash transfer program, or CCT)?”
The 4Ps program has 4.4 million household beneficiaries as of July 31, according to Taguiwalo.
Under the program, two types of cash grants are given out to beneficiaries: a health grant of P500 per household every month, or a total of P6,000 every year, and an education grant of P300 per child every month for 10 months, or a total of P3,000 every year.
The families may continue receiving the grants, provided they meet certain requirements, such as a minimum attendance of 85 percent in class, or getting their children vaccinated and weighed regularly.
A family may register a maximum of three children for the program, which means a household with three children may receive P1,400 every month, or a total of P15,000 every year for five years, from the two types of cash grants.
President Duterte has instructed the DSWD to include a monthly rice subsidy of 20-kilogram bags to 4Ps beneficiaries.
The DSWD has a proposed budget of P129.9 billion for 2017, an increase of almost P20 billion from the current year appropriation of P110.9 billion.
Teves further raised complaints from his constituents about DSWD social workers releasing less money to beneficiaries than they signed for.
But Taguiwalo refused to be drawn into the argument, saying it depended on each social worker’s level of involvement.
“We have guidelines to follow. Of course, we don’t have 100-percent batting average. There are some fake documents that reach us. That’s why we now require government IDs,” she said. “I don’t think it’s a question of who knows more. We have to help each other.”
She added: “The DSWD is willing to help legislators. But there should not be entitlement, like we have P5 million for you, or you have P10 million…”
She said her department wanted to make sure that the old system of the discontinued Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), or pork barrel, is no longer in place.
Taguiwalo also said her department did not tolerate any irregularities on the part of the social workers. “We investigate, we file cases, we don’t tolerate any corruption. That’s a clear directive from President Duterte.”
But Teves insisted that lawmakers were in a better position to identify the poorest residents than the DSWD social workers. “There should be more check and balance. If there’s referral from congressmen, it’s because we know who needs help more,” he said.
Teves also rebuked Taguiwalo for speaking about how social workers’ involvement differed. “You’re talking of levels but we’re talking of the same constituency.”
He even challenged the Cabinet member to a wager: “I can wager we could go to our barangay, where I was a barangay captain for six years and I would be able to identify more of the poor than your social workers.”
To which Taguiwalo replied: “That’s OK, but it’s about the work we do.”
“The implementation is still with us, based on the COA [Commission on Audit] memo. We have no argument regarding who knows the poor better.”
Then she said pointedly: “The question is about what work we should do. The question here is whether you have money with us or not.”
The last statement drew spontaneous applause from the gallery, where many of the people were DSWD officials.
But Teves tried to put in the last word: “One last thing: The money you have is not yours. It’s the people’s.”
The debate was cut short after the appropriations committee chair, Davao City Rep. Karlo Nograles, called a suspension.
When the session resumed, Davao Oriental Rep. Joel Mayo Almario made a manifestation objecting to Taguiwalo’s mention of PDAF, noting that the current budget proposal did not include the word at all.
“Second, the cousin of PDAF, the word ‘entitlement.’ We’re not talking here of entitlement. Our roles here are as responsible citizens. If somebody asks for help, we will refer them [to the DSWD]. We don’t even have to be elected officials,” he said.
Caloocan Rep. Edgar Erice also took exception to Taguiwalo’s remarks: “We are not claiming we have money in DSWD. We only say that as representatives, we make sure there’s proportional allocation.”
In answer, Taguiwalo reiterated her point that “it’s not about who knows the poor best.”
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