To give or not to give SAP tranche 2

How many mothers have been forced to leave their
little ones at home, walk far, and stand in long lines for ayuda only to
go home empty-handed? How many senior citizens and persons with disability
(PWD), despite their frailty and limits, still tried to get support but in
vain?

What can government say to people asking: “Paano
na kami, ano nang kakainin namin sa sunod? Kung ano-ano nang ginagawa sa itlog
– nilalaga, sinisigang, inaadobo.
”, or “Itinutulog na lang ng mga anak
ko ang agahan at tanghalian, kasi pang-isang kain na lang ang meron kami.”
There
are countless, grimmer accounts of such despair.

As of May 16, exactly two months after Luzon and some parts of the country were put under a lockdown to contain COVID-19, the official count of beneficiaries that have not received the first tranche of social amelioration was still quite a number – 811,193 families or some 4 million people. Even if everyone gets served eventually, the point is that millions of Filipinos were made to wait that long for the much-needed aid to come. Yet the Duterte administration dilly-dallies about distributing the second tranche of the social amelioration program (SAP), as if it is an option to give or not to give.

Those who are in modified enhanced community
quarantine (MECQ) areas unarguably need continued support from government. The
lockdown has caused two months of difficulty in terms of jobs, livelihood and
incomes.

But the over 13 million families who now fall in
the category of general community quarantine (GCQ) also still need continued
support. They were also under lockdown for six to eight weeks and, at best,
only got a small amount of support under the first tranche. Moreover, data as
of the exact second month of the lockdown showed that there were even 659,850
households in GCQ areas who have actually not yet received their first tranche.
This included 189,467 households in the new GCQ areas.

There should be no question that the second
tranche needs to be distributed not just in the remaining MECQ areas but in the
GCQ areas as well.

Bayanihan is explicit about it

The SAP targets 17.7 million beneficiaries. The
National Capital Region, Region III except Aurora and Tarlac, Laguna, Mandaue
City and Cebu City are under MECQ until the end of the month, covering about 4
million beneficiaries. Erstwhile ECQ areas Benguet, Pangasinan, CALABARZON
except Laguna, Ilo-ilo, Cebu, Davao City and Bacolod City now join the rest of
the country under GCQ – bringing the number of SAP beneficiaries in GCQ areas
up to 13.7 million.

The usual economic activities can resume in GCQ areas.
There are still minimum health requirements such as physical distancing,
frequent handwashing, and bodily protection because the battle against the
coronavirus continues. MECQ areas meanwhile maintain restrictions on mobility
outside the home, as well as on non-essential activities.

Malacañang initially announced that only MECQ
areas will get the second tranche of social amelioration. Soon after, the
president gave orders to not just give it all 18 million families but to
actually add 5 million more, earning him additional popularity points. Yet is
this really something for the president to give or not give according to how
generous he is feeling?

The Bayanihan to Heal as One Law or
Republic Act 11469 is actually clear. Section 4 (c) of explicitly states that
the government shall “Provide an emergency subsidy to around eighteen (18)
million low income households: Provided, That the subsidy shall amount
to a minimum of Five thousand pesos (P5,000.00) to a maximum of Eight thousand
pesos (P8,000.00) a month for two (2) months.”

Making the people wait

At the onset of the Bayanihan law, the
government promised Php250 billion for social amelioration and health response.
It acknowledged the huge task of strengthening the country’s health system to
contain the coronavirus and to save lives. It also recognized that the lockdown
would result in widespread displacement of jobs and disruption of livelihoods,
badly hitting the majority of the country’s low-income households.

Two months later, there is still no consensus
among scientists and medical professionals on whether or not the pandemic curve
is flattening. The number of confirmed cases continues to rise, now exceeding
12,700, and also deaths at over 830 already. Our health workers and frontliners
are holding the line as best as they can. But they are also the first to take
the brunt amid a private sector-dominated health system that is itself ailing
from a gross lack of equipment, facilities, infrastructure and manpower to  deal with the pandemic.

The government owes the health sector a grand
boost, in the same way that it owes the people in the GCQ areas the second
tranche of SAP.

To what end

Is the administration’s dilly-dallying part of a
script where, to be able to give help to now 23 million SAP beneficiaries, the
government will now be forced to sell public assets to fund social
amelioration? Who is buying – China?

Time and again, Malacañang has said that it doesn’t have enough funds, and that it’s only thanks to the president’s prudence that the government has found money to spend. Still, resources are limited so the people have to wait. Or even sacrifice – social welfare secretary Rolando Bautista even once said that not receiving the second tranche is perhaps actually in the spirit of Bayanihan, in freeing up resources for others.

Yet there are funds that can be tapped without
the government selling off its assets. IBON estimates a universe of Php3
trillion worth of funds that can be explored and tapped. This includes:
realigning Build, Build, Build and confidential and intelligence funds;
realigning debt service payments by pushing for a debt moratorium,
restructuring or even cancellation; and raising new revenues from issuing
COVID-19 solidarity bonds and higher income taxes and wealth taxes on the
super-rich.

This would indeed mean a big shift for the
Duterte administration whose economic managers already have their minds set on
a recovery program that pushes instead of thwarts those business-biased
measures, for example, big-ticket infrastructure, tied debts, lower corporate
income taxes, and tax incentives for investors. But there should be no second
thoughts either about doing everything necessary to help the people survive the
crisis.

Some Metro Manila local government units (LGUs)
did not make people trapped in the lockdown wait for too long. They defied the
apparent limitations of the bureaucracy by tapping internal funds to distribute
assistance to their constituents early in the ECQ. They combined technology and
people’s volunteerism to deliver help as expediently as they could.

The people have been at the center of these LGUs’
emergency relief operations. This does not seem to be the case with the Duterte
administration or even its predecessors. Because, if they were, why is our
health system still at a loss with COVID-19? Why can’t the government drop
everything to make sure that all vulnerable households get the first and second
tranche of social amelioration immediately?

Why are more hapless citizens arrested than are
tested? Also, why are relief volunteers, community leaders, mobile kitchens,
and even journalists – who are merely trying to fill in gaps in emergency
assistance – being harassed, arrested, or even killed by law enforcers?

The huge health and economic crisis that the country is facing now can only be hurdled, humanely and effectively, if the people were heeded and not hindered from actively participating.

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