The Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) has said "only eight percent" of the allocated P22.9 billion in financial assistance was disbursed in the NCR Plus area which was under an enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) for two weeks, ending last Sunday.
Social Welfare Secretary Rolando Bautista made the statement in a televised briefing with President Rodrigo Duterte, saying that P1,757,281,000 of the P22,915,422,000 social amelioration program fund was disbursed to the beneficiaries affected by the lockdown.
"As of April 11, based on the data of the DILG (Department of the Interior and Local Government), the actual beneficiaries paid total 1,757,281 and amount disbursed is P1,751,281,000 so eight percent of the amount has been disbursed," said Bautista during his presentation.
He also admitted that there was a "slow start" in the disbursement of assistance but he assured the beneficiaries that distribution would accelerate in a few days.
"There was really a slow start as it was last year. It took four to five days to start the distribution of the special assistance," Bautista said.
Of the disbursed funds, residents from Metro Manila got the most cash aid with more than P1.5 billion distributed to 1.5 million beneficiaries.
The national government earmarked P22 billion for 22.9 million beneficiaries in Metro Manila, Rizal, Bulacan, Cavite, and Laguna. The government also let the local governments decide on whether to give assistance in cash or in kind.
The Department of Budget and Management said the funds were sourced from unused funds under the Bayanihan to Recover As One Act.
Meanwhile, a leader of the House of Representatives sought an investigation of the reported delay in the release of the benefits due to health workers.
Manila Rep. Manuel Luis Lopez, chairman of the Committee on Metro Manila Development, filed House Resolution 1704 which directs the concerned committees to look into the matter.
He cited the need for a congressional inquiry since such benefits are mandated by law and to determine the effectiveness of the measures instituted by various agencies to address the Coronavirus Disease 2019 pandemic, including preparedness to administer vaccines.
The investigation, Lopez said, would also determine the compliance of public and private entities to provide health workers with all the benefits mandated by law.
“The complaints from our essential workers should not fall on deaf ears, but rather, should compel us to review and reformulate the country’s COVID-19 response for the safety and welfare of our citizens and the nation as a whole,” Lopez said.
“Undue delay in the provision of benefits and allowances to our essential workers who continue to work tirelessly and valiantly for the country is absolutely reprehensible,” he added.
Recent reports and complaints have revealed that health workers and other essential workers were demanding for their long-overdue and much-deserved benefits and allowances such as special risk, meals, transportation, and accommodation allowances, and performance-based bonuses. Some health workers were also reportedly being charged for their RT-PCR tests, while others were not given pandemic or quarantine leave apart from their vacation or sick leaves, nor pay for those under a job order.
At the same time, opposition lawmakers deplored the delayed distribution of cash aid under the Social Amelioration Program of the Department of Social Welfare and Development through the local government units.
House Minority Leader Joseph Stephen Paduano said in a statement: "Last year's experience should have taught them lessons how to avoid delays in the distribution of the cash assistance.”
Paduano added the DSWD and LGUs could have devised a more effective distribution scheme based on the past experience.
The Abang Lingkod party-list solon said he could not understand why the "topsy-turvy, unsystematic and, in several instances, chaotic" distribution of the financial aid had to happen again."
The minority leader said the setting up of a grievance committee by the DSWD to cater the complaints of beneficiaries was "not an excuse to their apparent inefficiency".
Reps. Carlos Zarate of Bayan Muna and Arlene Brosas of Gabriela, for their part, criticized President Rodrigo Duterte and the DSWD for the dismal distribution of cash aid.
Zarate, a deputy minority leader, demanded an accounting for the trillion peso loans of President Duterte, as he challenged the chief executive to call for a special session of Congress.
“The Asian Development Bank reported that in 2020 the Philippines got the largest assistance of $ 3.6 Billion second only to India which got $4 Billion. This includes the $ 1.5 Billion loan and $800 Million for Pantawid Program and cash transfers to poor households from ADB and World Bank” Zarate said.
House Speaker Lord Allan Velasco disclosed the country’s economic managers had begun looking at potential funding sources for Bayanihan 3, a proposal seen as a “lifeline” amid the raging pandemic that continues to cripple the economy and hurt the livelihood of millions of Filipinos.
Velasco said Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III and Budget Secretary Wendel Avisado told him in a virtual meeting last April 8 that the Department of Finance and the Department of Budget and Management were now identifying sources of funds to move forward Bayanihan 3, meant to hasten the country’s economic recovery from the ravage of the health crisis.
“I am very thankful to Secretary Dominguez and Secretary Avisado for recognizing the importance of Bayanihan 3 in addressing financial gaps to better manage the government’s response to the impact of the pandemic,” Velasco told leaders of key political parties and party-list groups in the House of Representatives during a virtual meeting held on late Monday.
“Our economic managers see Bayanihan 3 as a lifeline for many Filipinos facing economic hardship during this crisis, and I’m very glad that we are aligned on this,” Velasco added.
Velasco and Marikina City Rep. Stella Luz Quimbo earlier filed their own version of Bayanihan 3 under House Bill 8628 or the “Bayanihan to Arise As One Act,” which proposes a P420-billion fund to stimulate the nation’s economic recovery from the COVID-19 crisis.
The bill proposes to allocate P108 billion for additional social amelioration to impacted households, P100 billion for capacity-building for impacted sectors, P52 billion for wage subsidies, P70 billion for capacity-building for agricultural producers, P30 billion for internet allowances to students and teachers, P30 billion for assistance to displaced workers, P25 billion for COVID-19 treatment and vaccines, and P5 billion for the rehabilitation of areas impacted by recent floods and typhoons.
Under the measure, each household member will receive P1,000 regardless of their economic status. On top of this, a P1,000 allowance will be provided to each student and teacher, and P8,000 for every displaced worker.