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Boracay aid givers halt cash handouts

Too many people seeking help depletes funds readied by DSWD station

ISLAND TROOPERS Tourists take souvenir photos of soldiers patrolling Boracay two days before the resort island was closed for rehabilitation. —LYN RILLON

BORACAY ISLAND, Aklan — The Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) suspended for several days the release of transportation allowance to displaced workers of this resort island after it ran out of cash.

But Rebecca Geamala, DSWD Western Visayas director, said there were sufficient funds for the allowance, which was part of the government’s aid to displaced Boracay workers.

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In a statement, Geamala said the department’s action center here ran out of cash because there were too many applicants for the transportation allowance.

Overwhelmed

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The number of people who sought to receive the allowance was double the amount of cash that the department had prepared, Geamala said.

Release of the transport allowance would resume on Tuesday.

Geamala, in a phone interview, said the release of the cash aid could resume on Monday if checks for this could be converted to cash early.

“We did not expect the number of applicants to be this many,” she said.

Geamala said the number of applicants started at 300 then “it increased to 600 then 800” per day.

The DSWD gives a maximum of P5,000 in transportation allowance and additional meal allowance for workers who would return to their hometowns due to the closure of the island to tourists which started on April 26.

Emergency loans

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As of April 27, the DSWD had released a total of P4.5 million to 2,047 workers.

Geamala said the department was able to release about P400,000 on Saturday.

At least 17,000 registered workers and 19,000 informal workers were to suffer loss of income during Boracay’s six-month closure.

The displaced included construction workers, tricycle drivers, tour guides, employees of hotels, restaurants and vendors.

The DSWD action center would relocate to a bigger venue to accommodate applicants for the cash aid.

The state-run pension fund Social Security System (SSS) would offer emergency loans to members who would be laid off for six months as a result of Boracay’s closure.

P448-M budget

Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno also said the government had already released P448 million for assistance to the workers.

In a statement, Diokno said the government was tapping the P13-billion contingency fund in the 2018 national budget for assistance to Boracay workers.

Part of the money would be for the Department of Labor and Employment (Dole) to implement an emergency employment program and conduct livelihood training sessions.

Called Boracay Emergency Employment Program (Beep), the Dole plan “ensures the safety nets are in place,” Diokno said.

Micro, small and medium-scale enterprises would benefit from Beep, Diokno added.

Half pay

Through Beep, according to Diokno, those who would get emergency employment would receive salaries equivalent to half of prevailing minimum wage rates in the area.

The SSS loan would be available starting May 2 until Oct. 31, according to Emmanuel F. Dooc, SSS president and chief executive.

Dooc said the SSS would waive service fee, equivalent to 1 percent of the loan amount, for Boracay workers.

The workers, though, would have to apply for the emergency loan personally over the counter in SSS branches.

The loans would be released in the form of checks within 10 working days at the SSS office where the loan application was filed.

‘Huge problem’

In Davao City, President Duterte on Sunday said he would not hesitate to order the permanent closure of Boracay if protests against its six-month closure went overboard.

“There’s a huge problem in Boracay,” Mr. Duterte said.

He said the six-month duration of the closure was not his, but that of the task force he formed to enforce his order to clean up the island.

Had the government not intervened, Mr. Duterte said Boracay’s waters would no longer be fit for swimming.

Responding to critics who said the plight of workers and businesses in Boracay were not taken into consideration, the President said “look, I’m trying to clean the place.”

‘I don’t give a shit’

He said those opposing what the government was doing in Boracay should not test his patience.

“If trouble erupted there, I will permanently shut it down,” Mr. Duterte said.

He warned Boracay business owners against agitating people.

“You have what? Hotels? Five-star hotels? I don’t give a shit,” he said.

“You helped spoil the place,” he added.

Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu said he was pleased at the reaction of most residents of Boracay to the cleanup campaign.

In an interview over radio station dzBB, Cimatu said the residents were “warm and cooperative” when the government started the six-month closure of the island for rehabilitation.

“We anticipated confusion and resistance,” Cimatu said.

“Thank God there was none,” he added. —WITH REPORTS FROM BEN O. DE VERA, ALLAN NAWAL AND MELVIN GASCON

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TAGS: BEEP, Benjamin Diokno, Boracay cleanup, Boracay closure, Boracay Emergency Employment Program, cash handouts, DSWD, Rebecca Geamala
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