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Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Promised SAP zapped

The social welfare department has been trying its best to window-dress the slowness and stinginess of government’s Social Amelioration Program (SAP) distribution by diligently updating the public on how much has been distributed to how many households. Somehow it is a relief that it has mobilized finance service providers (FSPs) for swifter distribution. Still there is no guarantee of smooth payout because of various remaining obstacles such as bureaucratic procedures, untransparent validation, recipients’ lack of familiarity with new modes of service, and other technical requirements.

Overall,
the Duterte administration’s SAP in the time of COVID-19 has been
hit as stingy, snail-paced, chaotic, and marred with controversy and
corruption. The promise of providing 18 million poor and low-income
households (plus an additional 5 million wait-listed families) with
emergency aid worth Php5,000 to Php8,000 for two months, has been
broken. Distribution has been long delayed – families have had to
fend for themselves until the first tranche arrived over a month late
in May or June. Then the government started giving out the second
tranche only in July and moving double time only in August.

One
of the weaknesses of SAP that is not underscored enough is how the
government has effectively reduced the number of beneficiaries
despite its acknowledgement that millions remain without work.

Second
tranche recipients reduced

Through
the Department of Social Welfare and Development’s (DSWD) Joint
Memorandum Circular No. 2 Series of 2020 (JMC No. 2-2020), a memo on
second tranche recipients, government declared that only residents of
enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) and modified ECQ (MECQ) areas as
of June are to receive the second wave of aid. The reason was that
there were no more resources for everyone to get “ayuda”. This
spells indifference on the part of government because economic
activity is still just resuming, and jobs and livelihoods remain
precarious in general community quarantine (GCQ) areas.

The
JMC No. 2-2020 effectively reduced the original 17.8 million SAP
beneficiaries—presumably the “18 million” beneficiaries
stipulated in the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act – to only 8.7
million beneficiaries. Then, according to DSWD’s Memorandum
14-2020, of the 5 million additional low-income families categorized
as ‘wait-listed’, only 3.5 million residing in ECQ/MECQ areas
were to get the second tranche. So, after promising emergency relief
to a total of 22.8 million combined original and wait-listed
beneficiaries, only 12.2 million ECQ/MECQ households get the second
tranche. This leaves 10.6 million families to stretch one month’s
worth of aid across several months of lockdown.

The
number of first and second tranche recipients has been reduced
further, however. As a result of the DSWD’s de-duplication and
validation of beneficiaries, the local government units (LGUs)
reportedly registered only a total of 3.2 million additional
low-income families nationwide. This means a 1.8 million reduction of
the much-publicized 5 million wait-listed beneficiaries. Applying
Memo 14-2020, government now targets to give the second wave of aid
to only 2.2 million wait-listed beneficiaries who are ECQ/ MECQ
residents. So now there are only 10.9 million families getting the
second tranche, leaving out 11.9 million families.

How
is it then that government reported that after de-duplication and
validation, there are now 14.1 million families getting the second
tranche? A review of the DSWD dashboard and press releases shows that
the agency has also included in its “SAP2” or second wave of SAP
the now 3.2 million validated wait-listed families nationwide. This
erroneously bloats the number of second tranche beneficiaries with
the number of validated wait-listed beneficiaries who are really just
getting aid for the first time. Still
it will also no longer be a surprise should this number be pared down
further due to the de-duplication and validation process.

Not
just numbers

One
thing that government has repeatedly reminded the public in its
midnight addresses is how there are no more funds. In reducing the
recipients of the second tranche, it abandons millions of low-income
families who fight daily to make ends meet. Skirting hunger is a
feat, but when they get sick, these families may not be able to
afford even a ride to the nearest health facility, whether or not
they are afflicted with COVID. And tests are another expense they
cannot afford. There are reports that some crematoriums are being
overwhelmed by bodies presumed but not confirmed to have been COVID
cases. They were either turned away by overwhelmed hospitals or they
had no money for a check-up.

The
expired Bayanihan Act earmarked Php200 billion for emergency relief
to households. As
of August 15 around
Php175.2
billion has already been distributed for this purpose. The aid
programs through the labor and agriculture departments have also been
shown to be tokenistic, not covering the total population of workers,
informal earners, farmers and farmworkers affected by the lockdowns.

But
those that are no longer targeted by government to receive aid aren’t
just numbers but actual families being left to wriggle out of the
crisis on their own.

Still
not having a comprehensive plan six months into the worst health and
socioeconomic crisis this country has faced unmasks the government’s
long-running deception of having “malasakit” for the people and
motherland. Now that a stimulus and recovery plan has come about, we
have yet to see if it intends to truly save the critically-ill health
system, correct problematic aid for vulnerable families and the
production sector, and build the country’s own long-time capacity
to face future health and economic crises by boosting agriculture and
manufacturing which are the economy’s core.

Saying
that people just have to live with the virus which is here to stay
means survival of the fittest and comes from a high place oblivious
of the daily miseries of the many – they couldn’t care less for the
poor majority of the Filipino people. ###

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