Government appeals for patience as outbreak aid gets entangled in red tape
Families that belong to either the poor or informal sector who are at risk of not earning a living during the enhanced community quarantine are among the target beneficiaries of the social amelioration program.
Boy Santos/File

Government appeals for patience as outbreak aid gets entangled in red tape

Prinz Magtulis, Ian Nicolas Cigaral (Philstar.com) - April 14, 2020 - 4:49pm

MANILA, Philippines — More people are feeling the bite of the coronavirus outbreak and lockdowns imposed to get a good handle of the epidemic, but nearly a month into the Luzon quarantine, the government appears nowhere near to getting the promised aid to most of their intended beneficiaries.

In Malacañang, President Duterte appears to be buying time, asking people to be patient in his recent speeches, as the pledged aid go through bureaucratic red tape not even his emergency powers can fully resolve. Three agencies in charge of distribution— the labor, social welfare and finance departments— are all scrambling to accelerate fund search and deployment.

At the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), Secretary Silvestre Bello III said the number of displaced workers from the outbreak ballooned to 1.43 million as of Monday, but added that only 220,000 had so far been assisted with cash aid of P5,000 each.

Of the total count, “more than one million” were put out of work because of temporary closures by establishments they are working for, while 52,993 were affected by “various flexible work arrangements” including firms that operated on a skeletal force to practice social distancing in the work area.

“This is not counting the number of informal sector workers in their hundreds of thousands who are also needing financial assistance,” Bello said in a statement on Tuesday. 

“It is our desire to reach the most number of workers with the assistance we can provide,” he added.

Lack of funds is a problem. Last Sunday when DOLE reported for the first time that displaced workers breached one million, Assistant Secretary Dominique Rubia-Tutay admitted DOLE will only be able to help about 322,000 workers at the most with its P1.61 billion "available funds". 

This, even as a week before, Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles already said the interagency task force on infectious diseases, which serves as government policymaking body during the outbreak, approved fresh funds worth P5 billion to support DOLE contingency programs. It was not clear whether the additional funds were already credited to DOLE.

Social amelioration program

At the social welfare department, things were not also looking any rosier. Social Welfare Undersecretary Camilo Gudmalin told CNN Philippines on Monday only nearly 3.9 million families have received cash between P5,000 and P8,000 promised under the emergency cash aid program.

Of the total number of households assisted, 3.8 million received cash straight from DSWD worth P17 billion, part of the initial P100 billion made available for the program. Gudmalin said another P50 billion of the budget was given to local government units (LGUs). Another P30 billion is stuck with social welfare regional offices.

Of the P50 billion already in the hands of LGUs, Gudmalin said P17 billion has been disbursed so far to assist 77,000 households.

At the current pace, Gudmalin said the government aims to complete cash assistance distribution to 17.96 million households by April 25, or five days before the Luzon lockdown expires on April 30.  “Yes, correct, it is slow," he said in a televised interview.

"We have to understand first, we are using the list of beneficiaries provided to us by LGUs as basis. We also have to enter on several memorandum of agreements and project proposals which according to the Commission on Audit should serve as basis for fund deployment,” he said in Filipino.

DOF assistance to small firms

The Department of Finance (DOF) said funding the government’s COVID-19 response is not a problem, even as it admitted to be raising some more money just when social safety nets are supposedly underway. As per Philstar.com’s current monitoring, the government has identified the sources of P651.21 billion, including multilateral loans, bond sales, central bank lending and dividends from state corporations.

With other assistance programs yet to be completed, DOF also unveiled on Tuesday cash subsidies for 3.4 million workers in small establishments, the agency’s answer to calls from LGUs to also assist the middle-income earners. Under the program, benefits will also range between P5,000 to P8,000 each, to be given for two months.

The government will spend P50.2 billion for the undertaking and will target beneficiaries using tax and social pension records. Delinquent payers will still be assisted “as the government understands that the non-compliance may have been caused by inadvertent mistakes on the part of the employer.”

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