What we know so far: 'Ayuda' during NCR lockdown

Ramon Royandoyan - Philstar.com
What we know so far: 'Ayuda' during NCR lockdown
This undated photo shows individuals lining up to receive COVID-19 financial assistance from the government
The STAR / Boy Santos

Editor's note: This will be updated as soon as new information is released. 

MANILA, Philippines (Update 1, Aug. 3, 2021, 3:27 p.m.) — Amid a mad scramble to prepare for a return to harsh lockdown, the Duterte government assured the public that assistance is on its way, especially for poor families.

The National Capital Region will be back to enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) — the strictest level of lockdown — from August 6 to 20 as the Delta variant threatens to overstretch the country’s dilapidated healthcare system. At a press briefing on Monday, Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said President Rodrigo Duterte already ordered the budget department to look for funds to finance the fresh financial assistance or “ayuda’.

Who will benefit?

In the same press briefing on Tuesday, presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said the cash aid, totaling P13.1 billion, will be given to 10.7 million residents in the capital.

Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) chair Benhur Abalos last Monday said the list of beneficiaries for the latest round of cash aid has yet to be finalized. This, despite the government’s past experience in handing out cash aids during this health crisis.

At the onset of the pandemic last year, the Duterte government mounted a cash distribution program amounting to P200-billion, which benefited 13.96 million households. When ECQ was imposed in NCR and four nearby areas from late March to mid-April this year, 22.9 million poor Filipinos received ayuda.

It is unclear if the old list of recipients used in the last two rounds of cash aid would be used again this time. According to Abalos, there were “questions” raised about the old list and they encountered “shortcomings” in identifying beneficiaries.

Why is there an assistance?

Old rules stipulate government would hand out cash if ECQ is imposed in an area. Since public mobility will be restricted and businesses will either be closed or run under limited capacity, many Filipinos would spend quarantine penniless yet again. This is where ayuda serves its purpose.

How much is the aid?

Similar to the previous lockdown last March and April, Roque said each qualified recipient would receive cash assistance amounting to P1,000. However, the amount would not exceed P4,000 per family.

When and where will the aid be available?

Roque said the government is targeting to release the cash assistance before ECQ starts in NCR, which is just less than four days away as of reporting. But that does not necessarily mean that beneficiaries will get the aid by then. That only means that funds for that purpose are released from Treasury to city and municipal governments which, in turn, should reach out to poor households.

In the past, government aid distribution had been chaotic, as many recipients had to endure long lines and the threat of infection, which is now more dangerous with the Delta variant. According to Abalos, they would stick to their old “procedure” in giving aid to beneficiaries, but the process would be “fine-tuned” to prevent “superspreader events”.

Will I get new cash aid if the two-week ECQ is extended?

This has yet to be answered but, based on past experience, assistance to poor ECQ dwellers would only be for “one time.”

Either way, aid will continuously be distributed even after the ECQ is lifted.

Where will government source funds for the assistance?

Roque said the state will get the funds for cash aid from “savings” of government agencies.  To recall, Duterte last May signed Administrative Order 41 directing agencies to identify savings from their respective budgets in 2020 that the government can use for cash assistance to poor families and displaced workers amid the pandemic.

Savings usually come from unspent funds from projects and programs of agencies that are either completed at lesser cost or discontinued. Sought for comment, Budget Undersecretary Tina Marie Canda cleared that no programs were discontinued to clear up space to fund the pandemic cash aid.

Meanwhile, Roque said the P13.1 billion funding, which would have at least P3 billion in excess due to the number of beneficiaries, is enough and any surplus would be used for “contingency provisions.”

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