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House panel looks into slow-motion aid releases

Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano on Friday said the House panel tasked to review the Bayanihan Act will conduct hearings through teleconferencing next week to assess the implementation of the law amid the slow release of cash aid for those hurt most by the lockdown imposed to contain the spread of COVID-19.

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At the same time Cayetano said he will leave it to the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases to determine the duration of the ongoing enhanced community quarantine that has paralyzed the country.

“While our primary concern is the increase in the number of COVID cases, my worry is the ability of the people to sustain unemployment in the long term, that may lead to starvation and death,” Cayetano said. “The cure may turn out to be worse that the disease”

In addition, Cayetano expressed concern over the snail-paced distribution of cash and food assistance by the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD).

READ: DSWD takes over distribution of aid

Cayetano said it has been more than a week since the law was enacted, and yet the supposed assistance has not been delivered by the DSWD.

Deputy Speaker for Finance and Camarines Sur Rep. Luis Raymund Villafuete said the DSWD should immediately deliver cash transfers to 18 million families that were hard hit by the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ).

“In keeping with President Duterte’s latest directive on the immediate delivery of cash transfers to 18 million families hit the hardest by the coronavirus pandemic, the Defeat Covid-19 Ad Hoc Committee of the House of Representatives believes the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) could actually do so right away by releasing the P5,000 to P8,000 subsidy this weekend to as many families possible on its list of poor and low-income families plus other vulnerable sectors,” Villafuerte said.

He said the ad hoc panel chaired by Cayetano will suggest to “the DSWD to do away with the tedious process of validating roughly 80 percent of the target beneficiaries of the Emergency Subsidy Program (ESP) by releasing the cash transfers to the 15 million families on its list, many of whom are already receiving financial aid from the government’s assorted social protection programs on a regular basis.”

“If the DSWD were to do so, the DSWD could kick-off this biggest ever social protection program in the country by releasing the emergency subsidy to an initial list nationwide this Friday, with the rest for delivery this weekend and next week,” said Villafuerte, a member of the House ad hoc panel and the principal author in the Bayanihan Act.

Villafuerte said the DSWD could then proceed with the sign up and validation of the remaining 3 million households targeted for financial aid under the new law but who are not yet on DSWD’s list.

“In keeping with the President’s April 1 directive that there should be no delay anymore in the delivery of financial aid to the most vulnerable Filipino families, the House panel believes the DSWD should distribute the money pronto to the 18 million beneficiary households, beginning with those on its... list,” Villafuerte said.

The Palace said Friday thousands of poor families from Manila and Paranaque were the first batch to receive their emergency subsidy.

Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles said beneficiaries of the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino and poor families in Manila and Paranaque will receive subsidies of from P5,000 to P8,000 per household monthly for two months to enable them to cope with the Luzon-wide lockdown.

Nograles, spokesman of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID), said the DSWD had already received the first P100 billion of the P200 billion worth of cash aid for about 18 million poor families affected by the month-long enhanced community quarantine of Luzon.

The grant of emergency subsidy to 18 million poor households is provided for in Republic Act 11469 or the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act that was signed by President Rodrigo Duterte on March 24.

Nograles said the subsidies for other beneficiaries living outside Manila and Parañaque would be distributed “in the next few days.”

He appealed to the public to wait for further instructions from their respective local government officials for the orderly distribution of cash benefits.

The Palace official also advised 4Ps beneficiaries to wait for further announcement to avoid large crowds in banks.

“For beneficiaries of 4Ps, the government will start depositing cash and must wait for announcements on when to go to banks to avoid crowding in ATM machines,” he said.

Poor families in Central Luzon and Calabarzon will receive P6,500 each, while those living in Western Visayas, Central Visayas, Northern Mindanao, and Davao region will get P6,000 each.

A subsidy of P5,500 will be distributed to each beneficiary-family in the Cordillera region, Ilocos region, and Cagayan Valley, while P5,000 inaid will be given to each low-income household in Mimaropa, Bicol region, Eastern Visayas, Zamboanga Peninsula, Soccsksargen, Caraga, and Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

Local government units (LGUs) have been directed to submit their existing beneficiary database to the DSWD to identify those who are eligible to receive the emergency from the national government.

The DSWD, in coordination with LGUs, has been tapped to lead the distribution of assistance to all 18 million low-income households.

Senator Panfilo Lacson reminded the public there is no perfect system of distributing assistance.

Considering the number of families involved in the cash dole-out, he said complaints against the DSWD were to be expected.

“Just as intelligence information can spell the difference between success and failure in my previous life in intelligence and law enforcement work, data is the key for our policy makers to make the right decisions at this critical time,” Lacson said.

In asking the government, particularly DSWD to expedite assistance, senators also said politics should not in any manner be involved in the distribution of relief.

Saying that aid should travel faster than the virus, Senator Grace Poe urged concerned government agencies to work round-the-clock so that the first installment of the P200 billion financial aid to poor families will reach them in hours.

Poe said that this is the only way to prevent “mass hunger from turning into mass anger.”

“I understand the logistics in organizing this cash transfer to 18 milllion families but time is of the essence so we must step on the gas,” Poe said.

Based on the report of the President to Congress on the implementation of the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act, Senator Juan Edgardo Angara noted that there is P141.7 billion that has already been released to the DSWD under the 2020 General Appropriations Act that can be used for COVID-19 response activities.

On April 1, Duterte said he tasked DSWD to handle the distribution of food and cash relief because there were complaints about corrupt politicians.

Philippine National Police chief Gen. Archie Francisco Gamboa, meanwhile, said they are speeding up the release of funds allocated for the hazard pay of police personnel who are rendering service as frontliners of the enhance community quarantine.

The PNP Directorate for Comptrollership said a uniform rate of P235 per day or a total of not more than P7,050 per month may be extended to all qualified personnel who are serving as frontliners in times of COVID-19. With Francisco Tuyay

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Topics: Alan Peter Cayetano , COVID-19 , Inter-Agency Task Force , Karlo Nograles , Bayanihan to Heal as One Act , Department of Social Welfare and Development
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