Palace open to extension of aid distribution
The Department of Budget and Management (DBM) has released P22.9 billion to help low-income households and vulnerable sectors in the NCR Plus bubble, which was under the strictest quarantine from March 29 to April 11 because of soaring COVID-19 infections.
Philstar.com, File

Palace open to extension of aid distribution

Alexis Romero (The Philippine Star) - April 13, 2021 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines  — Malacañang is open to extending the 15-day period for the giving of aid to National Capital Region (NCR) Plus residents affected by the two-week lockdown but is hopeful that the distribution will be completed soon.

The Department of Budget and Management (DBM) has released P22.9 billion to help low-income households and vulnerable sectors in the NCR Plus bubble, which was under the strictest quarantine from March 29 to April 11 because of soaring COVID-19 infections.

The areas that constitute NCR Plus – Metro Manila, Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna and Rizal – are now under the more relaxed modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ).

The Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) has encouraged the local governments in NCR Plus to finish the distribution of cash aid within 15 days. But it expressed readiness to give an extension to those who cannot meet the deadline.

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque Jr. said President Duterte only wants local governments to exert their “best effort” in the giving of aid.

“The President understands that we have a pandemic and we need to avoid crowding,” Roque said at a press briefing yesterday when asked about calls to extend the period for aid distribution.

“So there would be no problems (if it is extended) but the appeal is to distribute (the assistance) as soon as possible,” he added.

Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) chairman Benhur Abalos said it may be difficult to finish the giving of aid in 15 days.

“If you rush it, there would be crowding. If you conduct a house-to-house distribution, it would take too long. We will write a letter to the DILG in the next few days to seek an extension,” Abalos said.

The assistance seeks to help 80 percent of the population of NCR Plus who belong to low-income households. Individual beneficiaries are entitled to receive P1,000 each, with a maximum of P4,000 per family.

The assistance may come in cash or in kind, depending on the decision of local governments. About 22.9 million individuals are expected to benefit from the assistance.

At the same press briefing, Roque said a supplemental budget may be needed if the government decides to have a third installment of the Bayanihan Act, the law that funded the administration’s pandemic response.

“The latest statement of our finance secretary is we have the necessary funds, the 2021 budget for COVID-related expenses; what we do not have are funds for aid,” the Palace spokesman said.

“But in any case, if there is a Bayanihan 3, it (would be) in the nature of a supplemental budget. In other words, it is a sum of money that is not included in the 2021 national budget,” he added.

Roque said Malacañang is also awaiting the DBM’s proposed austerity measures that seek to augment the funds for COVID-19 related measures.

“I’m still awaiting advice from (Budget) Secretary Wendel Avisado because his office has stated that its strategy is to check where we can practice austerity so we could use the money especially for aid,” he said.

Tourism workers

Meanwhile, about 143,000 displaced workers from tourism-related firms and groups are set to receive P5,000 in financial aid from the government, the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) said yesterday.

Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III said the DOLE has approved an additional 143,000 applications for cash aid under the COVID-19 Adjustment Measures Program (CAMP) for the tourism sector.

“The applications have been approved and it is ready for payment amounting to some P800 million,” Bello said at a virtual briefing, following the awarding of cash assistance to some beneficiaries of the program.

The DOLE and the Department of Tourism (DOT) handed certificates of cash assistance worth more than P41 million to 35 tourism establishments covering over 8,000 tourism-related workers.

Aside from hotel workers, other beneficiaries of the program are groups of massage therapists and photographers.

“We are hopeful that this financial assistance will provide some relief to our most affected stakeholders and tourism workers during these difficult times,” Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat said.

Puyat said that for the NCR Plus bubble, the DOLE has approved the release of P336.7 million for 67,347 tourism workers to receive their P5,000 cash aid each.

Broken down, the nation’s capital accounts for two in every five of the beneficiaries at 27,365. Next to Metro Manila, resort haven Laguna accounts for 14,161 of the recipients, followed by Rizal’s 10,582, Cavite’s 8,422 and Bulacan’s 6,817.

On a national scale, the government has approved P1.8 billion in financial assistance to a total of 355,791 workers employed in 13,752 establishments and 12,321 workers who applied for the program on their own.

Labor Assistant Secretary Dominique Tutay said that as of April 6, actual payouts have reached P1.2 billion, covering over 230,000 beneficiaries of CAMP for the tourism sector. The figure does not include the 143,000 additional beneficiaries.

Bello said the tourism industry has suffered greatly with the imposition of the lockdown to prevent the spread of the virus.

Puyat, too, said the reimposition of enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) in Metro Manila and its adjoining provinces hurt the tourism sector, particularly this summer season.

Previously, the DOLE and DOT issued a joint memorandum circular for the implementation of the cash assistance program for displaced tourism workers.

Bello said the DOLE and DOT agreed to liberalize the requirements to enable more displaced workers to avail themselves of the program which has been provided a P3-billion fund.

CAMP for tourism workers is projected to benefit over 600,000 workers in the industry, he said. But in the early implementation of the program, there were few applications.

“I think additional fund is no longer needed for this program because only a few have applied and this is the reason why we liberalized and extended the program not only to hotel workers but all workers who are earning from the tourism industry,” Bello said.

Meanwhile, Puyat reiterated her appeal for policymakers to craft a long-term plan for the sector, saying financial assistance will only help workers in the short term.

–  Mayen Jaymalin, Elijah Rosales

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