Palace: Next cash aid distribution can begin
“The Office of the Executive Secretary issued last Friday a memorandum stating that the second tranche of SAP may now be distributed,” presidential spokesman Harry Roque said at a press briefing.
Walter Bollozos, file

Palace: Next cash aid distribution can begin

Alexis Romero (The Philippine Star) - May 26, 2020 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — The government may start distributing the second tranche of aid for sectors most affected by quarantine restrictions set in place to contain the spread of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), Malacañang said yesterday.

“The Office of the Executive Secretary issued last Friday a memorandum stating that the second tranche of SAP may now be distributed,” presidential spokesman Harry Roque said at a press briefing.

He said the memo – issued by Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea – enumerated the beneficiaries of the second wave of the multibillion-peso social amelioration program (SAP).

“Dapat po patuloy na ang proseso. Umuusad na (The process should continue. It is moving),” he added.

Under the memorandum, the original numbers and budget for the first tranche of SAP would be retained. The program sought to provide emergency subsidies to 18 million households whose livelihoods were disrupted by the quarantine imposed beginning March.

An additional five million eligible households would be added to the 12 million beneficiaries of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD)’s Assistance to Individuals in Crisis Situation program, one of the components of the SAP.

“While it is only natural that most beneficiaries would come from those still living in enhanced community quarantine as stricter kinds of community quarantine deprive more people of means of support, household beneficiaries most affected by the continuing restrictions in the operation of certain industries and sectors in areas under a general community quarantine may still be considered for the second tranche,” the memorandum read.

Roque said the government would use electronic payment methods and tap the military in the distribution of aid.

“We believe the process will be faster because the names of 12 million (beneficiaries) are the same,” the Palace spokesman said.

As the distribution of the second tranche of cash aid shapes up, the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) announced that over 130 barangay officials have been criminally charged over alleged anomalies in the distribution of SAP.

The latest tally – 134 – is over three times the number of barangay executives charged by law enforcers last week.

Interior Secretary Eduardo Año said that they are building up cases against 86 more barangay authorities over alleged corruption in SAP distribution.

“You cannot escape punishment for your anomalous distribution of aid. You ruin the trust of the government and your barangay so therefore you’ll eventually end up in jail,” Año said in Filipino.

Priority cases

The DILG has asked the Department of Justice to ask its prosecutors to prioritize the preliminary investigation of corruption cases involving barangay executives.

The Philippine National Police-Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (PNP-CIDG) has received a total of 318 complaints regarding SAP corruption.

Complaints include barangay officials allegedly splitting the SAP amount, asking for cuts, or collecting supposed “processing fees” from beneficiaries.

There are also reports that politicking has tainted the distribution of cash aid as some barangay officials handed out assistance only to political supporters.

President Duterte has ordered P30,000 reward for individuals who could identify barangay officials found engaged in anomalies in SAP distribution.

Meanwhile, Sen. Cynthia Villar has asked the DSWD and the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) to identify once and for all the beneficiaries of SAP, as confusion and frustration continue to mar the distribution of the cash assistance.

She said the two agencies’ different classification of income classes caused the discrepancy in the figures presented to senators during the hearing of the Senate’s committee of the whole last May 19 on government action to address the COVID-19 crisis.

“Even if I have issued an apology about my remarks, I am still waiting for an explanation from the DSWD and NEDA about my inquiry to them to clearly identify the recipients or beneficiaries of the government’s cash aid. I found some inconsistencies and discrepancies in the figures they presented,” Villar said.

The senator during the hearing lamented the confusion in the distribution of the SAP, which is supposed to be only for the poor as well as for those who lost their jobs. She cited cases where some members of the middle class—who continue to receive salaries—obtained cash assistance, while those without jobs have yet to receive theirs.

Villar asked Social Welfare Secretary Rolando Bautista how the department came up with the 18 million beneficiaries.

She said based on her estimate, 22 percent of the population belong to the poor or unemployed, and 37 percent are low-income or those earning below P19,000 a month, including the daily wage earners and the minimum wage earners.

She has directed the DSWD and NEDA to make their explanation in writing.

“They (DSWD and NEDA) have to disclose who the beneficiaries are. I have no problem if they included the middle-income earners as long as they are qualified. The intended beneficiaries should be the ones to receive the cash aid and figures should add up,” Villar said.

She said she also wanted to know how the other beneficiaries were identified since the only available list is of people under the 4Ps or the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program of the government, which has 4.5 million beneficiary-families.

‘Empowered’ LGUs

Bautista admitted the DSWD does not have a list besides 4Ps and that they have only “empowered” local government units (LGUs) to identify the other beneficiaries.

“There are so many people who have been complaining that they did not receive any cash aid. How did the local government and barangay officials identify the beneficiaries not determined by the DSWD? We want that disclosed so people will understand if they are among the intended beneficiaries or not,” the senator said.

According to Villar, senators have oversight functions and they need to monitor disbursement of government funds.

She said the Senate committee of the whole will regularly conduct briefings and meetings with the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases.

“There is the check and balance between the executive and legislative branches of government. I would be remiss in my mandate as a senator if I will not inquire about or question some government actions or policies,” Villar said.

She warned government resources are not infinite and may run out sooner or later. “The end of the pandemic is not yet in sight, thus the long-term sustainability of funds is important.” Romina Cabrera, Paolo Romero

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