Palace: No money for P5-K monthly cash aid suggested by Robredo

Bella Perez-Rubio - Philstar.com

MANILA, Philippines — Malacañang on Thursday rejected Vice President Leni Robredo's suggestion to give monthly aid of P5,000 to the 10 million poorest families in the country amid the COVID-19 crisis.

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque during a virtual briefing called Robredo's proposal unattainable, claiming that the government lacks the funds to carry out her suggestion. 

"There is not enough [money]. You know that in public finance, you cannot spend if you don't have a source of the possible expenditure," Roque said in a mix of English and Filipino

As she addressed the nation on Monday night, Robredo urged the government to consider a four-month extension for the distribution of monthly social amelioration aid worth P5,000 for the 10 million poorest families in the country.

This was among several proposals made by Robredo in her taped video address wherein she outlined what she said were the recommendations of academics, economists, and other experts. She said the national government may have overlooked their input over the past 163 days of community quarantine.

Robredo said implementing her proposal would cost P200 billion — P35 billion more than the entire Bayanihan II budget — but argued this was a price worth paying to save the country's poorest from hunger.

READ: Robredo urges more aid for businesses, laid-off workers in pandemic response | Involuntary hunger among Filipino families climbs to 20.9% in July — survey

"If it was possible, we would give [aid] to everyone but we don't have sufficient funding for that. Also, our Bayanihan II is limited to [a fund of] P165 [billion] which has a provision of aid," Roque rebuffed in Filipino, even as he acknowledged that the amount was considerably smaller than the Bayanihan I budget of P275 billion. 

Roque lauds administration's response to COVID-19 amid dismal survey findings 

After he brushed off Robredo's suggestion, Roque went on to laud the Bayanihan I, calling it a "historic funding program."

"It was the biggest funding program that we have ever implemented as a republic," he said.

He also defended the government's COVID-19 response, citing the country's 1.5% mortality rate and the increased critical care capacity in hospitals. 

"So hindi po totoo na hindi po sapat ang ating response. Siguro, madali pong magpuna dahil hindi po tayo nasa gitna ng pandemya at hindi tayo ang inaasahang gumalaw," he said, taking a swipe at critics.

(Its not true that our response is insufficient. Presumably, its easy to criticize because [they're] not in the middle of a pandemic and are not expected to take action.)

In the first week of August, the Philippines surpassed Indonesia and became the country with the most COVID-19 cases in Southeast Asia. 

Despite Roque's glowing estimation of the government's response to the pandemic, data from the Social Weather Stations, the surveys of which are often acknowledged by the presidential spokesman, paint a different picture.

RELATED: Palace 'delighted' that survey results 'only' at 45% joblessness | Palace on quality of life survey: All of us are having a hard time

A national poll published by SWS on August 16 found that joblessness in the adult labor force was at a record-high 45.5%.

The survey, which was conducted from July 3 to July 6, saw the numbers of unemployed adults shoot up to 27.3 million in July from the 7.9 million recorded in December 2019.

In response to this, Roque said he was "delighted" by the figures and lauded Filipinos for their resilience because they managed to keep joblessness at 45% instead of 100% amid the lockdown.

Similarly, in June, SWS published a survey which found that 83% of Filipinos are worse off compared to how they were last year, logging the "worst trend in survey history."

Roque reacted to the survey by saying he was not surprised by its findings, adding that "all of us are having a hard time" amid the pandemic. 

Meanwhile, a preliminary study by a scholar at the Ateneo de Manila University found that nearly three million Filipinos or 2.6% of the country’s population may have contracted COVID-19 in the second quarter undetected.

A working paper authored by Jan Fredrick Cruz of the university's Department of Economics projects that 2.81 million Filipinos may have been infected with COVID-19 from April to June but only 34,354 or 1.22% of the estimated cases were reported for that period.

RELATED: Roque: We could've 'done better' by expanding COVID-19 testing capacity in January

As of Thursday, 205,581 coronavirus infections have been confirmed by the Department of Health along with 3,234 deaths. 

The country has been under varying forms of community quarantine since March 17, marking the longest lockdown period in the world at 163 days. — with reports from Franco Luna and Gaea Katreena Cabico




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