Gov’t should deliver cash subsidies it owes 3.8M poor families in GCQ areas

The government announced that
it will ‘reprioritize’ social amelioration to only the areas retained under the
enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) and will ‘discontinue’ in declared general
community quarantine (GCQ) areas. But research group IBON said that some 3.8
million* vulnerable families still without assistance are at risk of slipping
into deeper poverty should the government make the shift. The group said that government
should be sensitive to the plight of all still unserved and now struggling beneficiaries
by making good on its promise to immediately distribute emergency subsidies.

The Duterte administration
declared that the extended ECQ – previously set to end on April 30 – will be
again extended to May 15 in areas classified as “high risk”. The areas observed
to still have many COVID-19 cases are Benguet, Pangasinan, Central Luzon except
Aurora, Metro Manila, Calabarzon, Cebu, Ilo-ilo, Bacolod City, and Davao City.

The rest of the country – considered
“low risk” and “moderate risk” areas – will be under a GCQ.
Face masks and physical distancing will still be required, but work and
transportation are expected to re-operate under more relaxed quarantine.  

IBON observed that despite
Pres. Duterte being granted emergency powers by Congress, promised financial
assistance has not been expediently delivered to the targeted 18 million poor
families affected by the Luzon-wide ECQ. Department of Social Welfare and
Development (DSWD) secretary Rolando Bautista said that GCQ areas will no
longer receive cash subsidies due to limited social amelioration program (SAP) resources
as per National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) recommendation. 

Though the DSWD recently
clarified that beneficiaries in the GCQ areas will still receive the first
tranche of subsidies, IBON said that overall, government should stop making
excuses on top of a huge SAP backlog. The group said that government should
provide humane and compassionate response and it can start by immediately dissolving
all bureaucratic hurdles to deliver promised cash assistance to the millions of
unserved beneficiaries including those in GCQ areas. Relaxing activities in areas
previously locked down does not offset the six-week impact of the ECQ on the
incomes and livelihoods of the most vulnerable families, said the group.

Based on DSWD data, IBON
noted, some 1.3 million beneficiaries or one of three target SAP beneficiaries
in Luzon GCQ areas alone remain unserved as of April 29. Meanwhile, 8.4 million
households across the country are reported to have not yet received any emergency
assistance. Of these, 4.6 million households are in the retained ECQ areas and the
remainder 3.8 million households are under the downgraded GCQ areas by May 1. Also,
some Php50.3 billion in SAP funds have yet to be paid out nationally, Php19
billion of which is for GCQ areas. 

IBON hit government’s
indifference to the plight of the poor. The group observed that government was
able to afford a one-and-a-half-month delay in emergency aid to its poorest
constituents and is now deciding to even ration it. On the other hand, the
government guarantees resources for business-inclined Build, Build, Build infrastructure program and prompt debt
servicing.

This is only exposing the Duterte administration’s inclination to scrimp on the needs of the poorest and most vulnerable in order to survive COVID-19’s impact while saving the economy for big business. The delayed response and the move now to even get away with it has only highlighted that the Duterte administration’s approach has only been militaristic more than humanitarian, IBON said. The nation’s chance to survive the health crisis and the deterioration of the country’s economic crisis as aftermath is even compounded by the need to surpass such callous governance.

* DSWD SAP data was noted for
national, ECQ areas (based on announcement by Presidential Spokesperson Harry
Roque on April 30, 2020). Nationwide GCQ data for unserved beneficiaries was
derived by subtracting ECQ areas data for unserved beneficiaries from national
data for unserved beneficiaries.

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