Amid reports of corruption and red tape, President Rodrigo Duterte has stripped local government units of their role in distributing P200 billion in cash aid to the 18 million most vulnerable households across the country amid the spread of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19).
Duterte said the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) will now take the lead in the distribution of cash aid and relief goods to hasten the process.
He said he was fed up of complaints that some corrupt local politicians have been pocketing aid meant for Filipinos affected by the Luzon-wide enhanced community quarantine and lockdowns in other areas across the country.
READ: Duterte orders strict audit of med donations
“I have removed from politicians the distribution of money and rice and food because there have been several complaints...Some local officials were embezzling relief funds. Instead of seven, you make it five in the repacking,” he said in a televised address to the nation aired late Wednesday evening.
“I put Secretary (Rolando) Bautista in charge of all these because the DSWD has its own distribution network through the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program...That money is yours. But I cannot give everything unevenly so we in government will distribute and to determine how much (you will receive),” Duterte added.
He said Bautista will focus of the distribution of relief goods while Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr., presidential peace adviser and chief implementer of the National Action Plan against COVID-19, will focus on releasing the cash aid.
“Do not entertain doubts about dishonesty and corruption. This is not the time for that. Not this time, I am telling you...I removed all politicians, and this is now purely national government operations,” Duterte said.
He expressed confidence that Galvez, a former chief of staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, and Bautista, a former Army chief, will have the discipline to distribute the aid efficiently and quickly.
READ: Duterte: Don't challenge government, aid will come; tasks shifted to DSWD
“The goods, rice – whatever government can release – we will hasten the release. Money will arrive. Food will arrive.… Bear with it if there are delays in delivery, but aid will come and you will not go hungry. You will not die of hunger,” the President added.
Under the P200-billion cash assistance program, select households will receive subsidies ranging from P5,000 to P8,000 for two months.
Among those entitled to receive cash aid are senior citizens, persons with disability, homeless persons, and solo parents.
The DSWD is reportedly planning to distribute part of the money in the form of relief goods, but Senate President Vicente Sotto III said cash aid is preferred.
He said under the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act, the intention of Congress was to release cash aid and not relief goods.
“We have to clarify that and iron that out. If that is the understanding of the executive or the DSWD, then we will have to talk to them immediately,” Sotto said, adding that cash is easier to distribute that relief goods.
“We passed this law with cash aid in mind so that people will have the capacity to buy the goods that they need, so that they can budget their own money,” he added.
In the House of Representatives, Magdalo party-list Rep. Manuel Cabotchan III said allowing centralized operations with DSWD at the helm is a step in the right direction.
Deputy Speaker and Camarines Sur Rep. Luis Raymund Villafuerte earlier berated the DSWD for its snail-paced action on the distribution of cash aid.
“I am sorry but I don’t share the same sentiment [as Villafuerte]. I respect his view from where he sits but for me putting the blame on and singling out the DSWD leadership is most unfair,” he said.
Villafuerte said DSWD sat on the requirements for the release of the Emergency Subsidy Program funds 10 days since Congress convened in a marathon special session to approve special but limited powers for President Duterte to best deal with the COVID-19 global health crisis.
He said the DSWD should have released the requisite forms to all local government units for them to enter into a memorandum of agreement with the department as soon as Duterte signed into law the Bayanihan Act.
“No wonder that not a single LGU has yet to sign a MOA with the DSWD. It has started to do only now what it should have accomplished last week, which was to send the requisite MOA documents to each and every LGU covered by the Bayanihan Act,” Villafuerte said.
ESP funds can only be downloaded to local governments through their accredited banks after their respective MOA are endorsed by the legislative council and then signed by the local chief executives with the DSWD.
READ: Luzon in for ‘new normal‘ as post-lockdown loomsREAD: Government eyes forced quarantine
COMMENT DISCLAIMER: Reader comments posted on this Web site are not in any way endorsed by Manila Standard. Comments are views by manilastandard.net readers who exercise their right to free expression and they do not necessarily represent or reflect the position or viewpoint of manilastandard.net. While reserving this publication’s right to delete comments that are deemed offensive, indecent or inconsistent with Manila Standard editorial standards, Manila Standard may not be held liable for any false information posted by readers in this comments section.