Talk of the long arm of the law.
Malacañang said Tuesday criminal charges had been filed against 23 village officials, out of a possible 117, for alleged anomalies in the distribution of cash aid to the poor during the Enforced Community Quarantine or lockdown.
The alleged anomalies include splitting of the money, getting a cut or "tara," and falsification of the list of beneficiaries, Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque said in a virtual press briefing.
Four more cases will be filed in the next few days while 110 are under case buildup of the Philippine National Police-Criminal Investigation and Detection Group, Roque said.
At least 44 mayors have been asked to explain the slow distribution of cash aid, Interior Undersecretary Jonathan Malaya earlier told ABS-CBN's Teleradyo, beamed nationwide.
A P30,000 reward awaits citizens who report graft and corruption, he added.
The government, confronted with the coronavirus pandemic, earmarked P200 billion for emergency subsidies of P5,000 to P8,000 for poor families for the months of April and May to help them during the lockdown—from March 16 to May 31, 2020.
A total 18,046,093 families received financial assistance from the program, Roque had said.
Meanwhile, Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto on Tuesday said the government's second installment of financial assistance should be given to beneficiaries even if their communities had been downgraded to a general quarantine area.
"That it should be given in two installments and is not linked to the quarantine status of the place," said Recto.
The senator cited official records that half of the money for the assistance —about P100 billion—was still with the Department of Social Welfare and Development.
"This should be released pursuant to law. Withholding it is like pulling the financial ventilator of hard up families," he said.
Recto said the lifting of the lockdown would not give the government the excuse to end the assistance.
Section 4(c) of Republic Act 11469 provides an emergency subsidy to around 18 million low-income households, with an amount ranging from P5,000 to P8,000 a month for two months.
"This is for quarantined families who have lost their incomes. It was never contingent on the status of the lockdown. The first tranche will cover the first month of the quarantine. The lockdown has been 60 days, so it is only proper that the assistance be for two months;” Recto said.
The government's cash aid had an initial target of 17.7 million families. As of mid-May, the DSWD had disbursed a total of P96.15 billion, close to half of the P200 billion it got for the program from the Budget department.
"Instead of shrinking the SAP, the challenge is how to expand it, on how to include the new poor. This would be the 10 million Filipinos 'in the middle of the middle-income bracket' whose maximum subsistence capacity of four to six months is nearing empty," he added.
In his statement, Recto said the government’s economic stimulus package “should be as big and as bold” as the problem it was addressing, as “any piecemeal approach will just be wasting money without achieving the desired goals.”
Recto said he understood apprehensions against a package “with a large budgetary footprint, more so if it will be funded in part by loans.”
“But if the economy has flatlined, then we should not be scrimping on the voltage needed to shock it back to life,” he said.
He said there are two emerging “schools of thoughts” in the government on how to fight the pandemic, revive the economy, and transition to the new normal.
“One is conservative in funding, and with a short spending period. The other is an omnibus package, multi-year in disbursement, and premised on the worst-case scenario, like the absence of a vaccine,” he said.
“I would go for the second because that is the medicine cabinet approach, Recto said.
Recto said a “one-time, big-time” pandemic response and resiliency package would spare both Malacañang and Congress from “episodic and seasonal” passage of Iaws authorizing new rounds of spending.
A comprehensive package, Recto said, “will convey the comforting message to the nation that there is a long-term response. We have to give our people hope.”
Recto said “a stimulus package should be at least P1 trillion. You don’t use a fire extinguisher to fight a forest fire.”
“(The) response-recovery-resilience template is only as good as the funds that will be put into it. If joblessness has shot through the roof, if we have lost trillions in economic output, you cannot just
apply a small putty to repair a cratered economy,” Recto said.
“In the end, the President will have to decide when to push the spending trigger, based on the law,” he said.
Meanwhile, in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, lack of resources marred the distribution of the Special Amelioration Program funds to beneficiaries in some parts of the region, raising these early politicwl tirades against incumbent local officials.
Mayor Victor Samama of Datu Piang, Maguindanao said fake accounts on social media were made a virtual platform by critics to draw early political mudslinging, accusing local officials of shortchanging their people of the SAP funds.
Basilan Governor Jim Hataman Salliman told BARMM’s Ministry of the Interior and Local Government his office had been flooded with complaints like only a few families became SAP recipients in some barangays in Lamitan City.
The Bangsamoro government has said it fell short on its delivery of SAP funds to the region’s 2.4 million poor, as the Department of Social Welfare and Development in Manila had directed its
regional counterpart agency to return unused social services funds to Manila.
Lawyer Naguib Sinarimbo, interior minister and spokesman for BARMM Chief Minister Ahod Balawag Murad Ebrahim, said the regional government’s Ministry of Social Services and Development had been tasked to implement the grant of SAP assistance to the region’s indigents.
The office of lawyer Raissa Jajurie, BARMM MSSD minister, earlier asked the DSWD national to allow local augmentation of the SAP fund with unused financial resources earlier allotted for Programang Pantawid Pampamilya at Pangkabuhayan or 4Ps program—from which thousands have been delisted for various reasons in subsequent validation.
According to the Philippine Statistics Authority, 63 percent of BARMM’s 3,781,387 population or 2,382,273.81 people were poor as of 2015 when it was yet ARMM.
At 5,000 each, the region needed some P11.9 billion in SAP fund for its indigents. But sources said BARMM only received P 2 billion which explains Jajure’s request to DSWD to allow augmentation of its SAP fund.