An initial 48,000 students benefited from the Department of Social Welfare and Development’s educational aid amounting to P141 million, DSWD Secretary Erwin Tulfo said Sunday.
Meanwhile, Tulfo said he and Interior Secretary Benhur Abalos will sign an agreement Monday for the smooth and orderly release of payouts to qualified student beneficiaries.
The Social Welfare Secretary on Sunday apologized again for the chaotic distribution of cash aid to poor students on Saturday and vowed to do better after unruly crowds gathered around the offices of his department and dozens of people rushing to get their handouts in Zamboanga City were injured.
Tulfo said the DSWD would work with local government units through Abalos to bring order to the distribution of cash aid, which the department planned to release every Saturday until Sept. 24.
A DSWD social worker will interview the student-client, while the local government is tasked to determine where the payout would be conducted, and to assign more cashiers, traffic enforcers, policemen, and barangay to the area.
“We do not want a repeat of what happened last Saturday when many were not able to receive the benefits due to huge crowds of people in different areas,” he said.
Tulfo also said recipients of the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps) are no longer qualified for the educational cash assistance.
Interviewed over radio dzBB, he apologized for his previous statement that 4Ps beneficiaries may still be entitled to the educational assistance.
Under the DSWD program, poor students can get between P1,000 and P4,000 in cash assistance.
The Ilocos Region and Western Visayas had the highest payouts, with more than P20 million worth of cash assistance distributed to more than 5,000 students in each region.
Tulfo had said that the payout will be done every Saturday from August 20 until September 24. Only up to three students per family can participate in the program.
The secretary did not say how many students would benefit from the cash aid but said the DSWD’s central office alone recorded 24,000 poor students.
In the wake of the chaos on Saturday, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. sought the orderly and immediate distribution of financial assistance to indigent students.
“President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. directed the Department of Social Welfare and Development to ensure the orderly and swift payout of educational assistance for students-in-crisis, which is part of the Assistance to Individuals in Crisis Situation,” Press Secretary Trixie Cruz-Angeles said in a Facebook post.
Marcos is monitoring the DSWD’s distribution of financial aid to eligible students, Cruz-Angeles said.
ACT Teachers party-list Rep. France Castro urged a higher budget for cash aid for students and a better system for distributing the cash aid.
She cited the overcrowding of beneficiaries in the agency’s central and regional offices, saying a stampede in Zamboanga two days before the start of classes was alarming, indicating that “there is an obvious and urgent need for aid for Filipino students and families.”
“The stampede, long lines, and large crowds of people asking for financial assistance could have been avoided if the DSWD had set up a more efficient way of distributing the cash aid,” she said in a statement.
“The DSWD could have maximized the Learners Information System of the Department of Education so that parents and students did not have to bombard teachers asking for certificates of enrollment,” Castro said.
“The DSWD also should have asked for the help of the LGU and barangays so that people would not have to crowd central and regional offices for the cash aid,” she added.
A child rights group urged Tulfo to take accountability for the chaotic and disorganized distribution of cash aids for students seeking educational assistance two days before the opening of classes.
“Saying sorry is not enough. DSWD Secretary Erwin Tulfo must take accountability for the injured crowds and the disorganized and poorly planned distribution of cash aid to students seeking financial help from the department,” said Salinlahi spokesperson Vinzar Samiana.
On Saturday, dozens of people were injured in Zamboanga City when a crush of around 5,000 students and parents seeking a cash handout surged ahead, authorities said.
“When they heard the gates were about to open, they rushed forward,” police officer Josen Samsula said.
“The driveway slopes downward so what happened was they stumbled and fell on the ground.”
Crowds began gathering outside distribution sites across the country Friday after the government announced financial aid of up to P4,000 for those struggling to cover educational expenses.
Twenty-nine people were treated in hospital for “minor injuries”, said Tulfo who had announced the cash payments in recent days.
Tulfo told reporters he had to call on riot police to stop people forcing their way through the front gate of his office compound in Manila on Saturday as they sought cash aid.
He described them as “people in crisis” and said he was sorry the distribution program had led to injuries.
The COVID-19 pandemic has worsened the financial misery for millions of Filipino families, who are now struggling to find the funds to get their children back to school.
Many schools are preparing to have face-to-face lessons on Monday for the first time since March 2020.
The Philippines is one of the last countries in the world to resume full-time in-person classes.
Experts have warned the prolonged closure of classrooms has worsened an education crisis in the country and could cause long-term damage to children. With AFP