Senators reject 'no vaccine, no 4Ps subsidy' proposal

Senators reject 'no vaccine, no 4Ps subsidy' proposal
This June 22, 2021 photo shows individuals lining up at a mall in Manila to receive their COVID-19 vaccine.
The STAR / Miguel de Guzman

MANILA, Philippines — At least five senators have criticized the Department of Interior and Local Government’s suggestion to withhold subsidies from beneficiaries of the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps) if they are not vaccinated against COVID-19. 

The implementation of the policy was recommended by Interior Secretary Eduardo Año to the Department of Social Welfare and Development after he received reports from local chief executives that numerous 4Ps beneficiaries continue to shun COVID-19 vaccines, DILG spokesman Jonathan Malaya earlier said. 

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra weighed in on Monday to clarify that the government cannot actually suspend or terminate government subsidies over the vaccination status of beneficiaries because they have already qualified for the subsidy under the 4Ps Act. 

The Palace said it supports the DILG's proposal but also said the 4Ps Act would have to be amended to make vaccination against COVID-19 mandatory for beneficiaries. 

'Why punish the poor and unemployed?' 

Sen. Joel Villanueva said any proposal to write such a provision into the DSWD's budget for 2022 would be "dead on arrival in the Senate."

Villanueva, who is chair of the Senate labor committee and who is seeking a second term at the Senate, also scored the plan as one that would penalize those who are both unemployed and unvaccinated. 

Meanwhile, Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon in a statement released Sunday blasted DILG's proposal as "absolutely unacceptable, inhuman and callous," and accused DILG of being "detached from reality and unaware of the real plight of the poor." 

Drilon, who is among the authors of the law that institutionalized the subsidies, said that it is "contrary to the 4Ps law to withhold benefits or expel members who are not vaccinated."

"It pains me to see a government that has shown nothing but a total callous disregard for the vulnerable sector of our society," he said. 

Gov't told: Speed up vaccination, look into incentives instead 

Villanueva further argued that it was premature to impose "a vaccination mandate on welfare recipients" when the Philippines has yet "to reach the midpoint of our target number of citizens to be vaccinated." 

Sen. Francis Pangilinan in his own statement statement released Sunday said the issue with the vaccine rollout seems to be the availability of the jabs and brand preference rather than the refusal of some to be inoculated. Pangilinan is running for vice president alongside Vice President Leni Robredo.

As of this writing, only 27% of the country's total population has been fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Health authorities say 90% of Filipinos must be inoculated to attain herd immunity. 

Sen. Panfilo Lacson, meanwhile, questioned if "withholding much-needed aid for poor families [is] the best way for [the] government to get its job done." 

"[I]t might be more prudent for the [DILG] and the relevant authorities concerned to consider an incentivized approach to vaccination, rather than a blanket 'no vaccine, no aid' policy," Lacson, who is running for president, said. 

Sen. Risa Hontiveros, a reelectionist, similarly urged DSWD and the Department of Health to "work together with parent leaders to continue their efforts to promote health/wellness by encouraging 4Ps to get vaccinated, instead of making it a conditionality." — Bella Perez-Rubio 

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