P10 billion for Covid-19 aid unspent by DSWD

Paolo Romero - The Philippine Star
P10 billion for Covid-19 aid unspent by DSWD
The under-spending was raised during the Senate committee on finance’s deliberations on the proposed P171.2-billion budget of DSWD for 2021.
STAR / Walter Bollozos, file

MANILA, Philippines — The Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) was not able to distribute some P10 billion in aid to an estimated four million families affected by COVID-19 as mandated by the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act.

The law authorized President Duterte to realign funds for programs intended to address the pandemic.

The under-spending was raised during the Senate committee on finance’s deliberations on the proposed P171.2-billion budget of DSWD for 2021.

During the hearing, senators asked why the agency gave cash assistance to only 14 million poor beneficiaries, and not 18 million as mandated by the law that expired in June.

Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto said the 18 million beneficiaries were able to receive the first tranche under the social amelioration program (SAP), but only 14 million were able to get the second installment.

Recto expressed doubts on the figures presented by DSWD Undersecretary Danilo Pamonag that the agency, as of yesterday, was able to disburse P83.1 billion of the P94.5-billion budget for the second SAP installment to 13.9 million families.

“But 14 million out of 18 million (family beneficiaries) is a shortfall of four million based on the law and based on the appropriations… and you know, SAP 2 (second installment) is even more important because people continue to lose jobs and poverty incidence is on the rise,” Recto said during the hearing.

Social Welfare Secretary Rolando Bautista and Pamonag said the number of beneficiaries was reduced for the second tranche because the agency found out that some of the families had received assistance from other government programs.

They said some local government units (LGUs) submitted lower or incomplete lists of recipients or submitted their lists late.

Pamonag said the agency had given the LGUs “multiple extensions” to submit a clearer and validated list of beneficiaries.

Paul Tacorda, the agency’s chief legal officer, told the panel that while the DSWD wanted to complete the second tranche to all intended beneficiaries, Malacañang issued a memorandum on May 22, which in the interpretation of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases, meant that the remaining funds should be given instead to waitlisted groups who also need assistance.

Tacorda said the beneficiaries were located in areas where strict quarantine measures were still in place and upon the “clamor” of certain LGUs like Cavite.

Recto asked where the P10 billion is, to which Bautista replied that it is still with the agency and they are awaiting instructions from the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) on what to do with the fund – either to return it to the treasury or realign it.

Recto said the money should not be returned to the DBM, but instead be spent by the DSWD.

Bautista said the agency intends to use the P10 billion in an emergency livelihood program, in coordination with LGUs for micro-entrepreneurs such as vendors and small store owners.

Restituto Macuto, chief of DSWD’s sustainable livelihood program, said the program will cover some 665,726 beneficiaries to receive P15,000 each.

“Our target is our countrymen in the informal sector, the vendors, those selling in the market, vegetable vendors, sari-sari stores. We have oriented our LGUs for this and they are ready. We’re just waiting for the funds,” Macuto said.

Affordable swab test

Malacañang yesterday released the list of hospitals and medical facilities that offer affordable RT-PCR test or reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction test.

Citing information from presidential adviser for entrepreneurship Joey Concepcion, chief implementer of Project ARK, Malacañang said the RT-PCR costs P1,750 to P2,000 per test.

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque Jr. said government hospitals and accredited facilities provide cheaper rates.

These hospitals and facilities are the Dr. Jose N. Rodriguez Memorial Hospital in Caloocan, Perpetual Help College Center in Las Piñas and Lung Center of the Philippines, National Kidney and Transplant Institute, Philippine Children’s Medical Center, all in Quezon City.

In the Visayas, these hospitals include the Teresita Jalandoni Provincial General Hospital in Negros Occidental; Western Visayas Medical Center in Iloilo; Cebu Molecular Laboratory, University of Cebu Medical Center and Vicente Sotto Memorial Hospital, all in Cebu, and Eastern Visayas Regional Medical Center and  St. Paul’s Hospital, both in Tacloban.

Hospitals in Luzon that offer affordable RT-PCR test are Baguio General Hospital in Baguio City and Jose B. Lingad Memorial General Hospital in Pampanga.

In Mindanao, people may go to the Zamboanga City Medical Center to avail themselves of affordable swab tests.

Roque said the government is doing everything to make the RT-PCR tests affordable for the public.

On Monday night, Duterte said he would prioritize the poor and the police officers once the anti-COVID vaccine becomes available in the country. – Christina Mendez, Jose Rodel Clapano

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