Residents of the so-called NCR Plus bubble formed long lines – and sometimes stood shoulder to shoulder under the midday sun – in a largely orderly process on Wednesday, as the government handed out cash assistance for nearly 23 million people who lost jobs amid the strict pandemic lockdowns.
In separate statements, the Social Welfare and Interior departments lauded Filipinos for doing their best to observe social distancing amid the COVID-19 pandemic as crowds in Manila, Quezon City, and elsewhere queued patiently to receive P1,000 per person or up to P4,000 for each household.
The government is relying on a comprehensive database to weed out “ghost beneficiaries” and ensure a “swift and manageable” distribution of pandemic cash assistance to residents affected by the reimposition of the Enhanced Community Quarantine in Metro Manila and nearby provinces.
Social Welfare Secretary Rolando Bautista said Wednesday both national and local governments had provided a database of beneficiaries that would expedite the distribution of the cash aid to families affected by the hard lockdowns in parts of the “National Capital Region Plus” bubble.
“After the implementation of the Social Amelioration Program and the Bayanihan 2, we have seen the faces of those beneficiaries who are qualified to get the financial assistance during ECQ,” Bautista said in Filipino in an interview during the rollout of the government’s aid in Parañaque City.
DSWD spokesperson Irene Dumlao said Manila, Parañaque and Caloocan had started initial payouts of the P1,000 financial assistance to low-income families.
“We have full trust in our local chief executives, on our local government units that they would be able to distribute the assistance to their constituents within the prescribed period,” she told ANC.
Based on the joint memorandum circular issued by the Department of Budget and Management, local government units have 15 days to distribute the cash aid upon receipt of a notice of cash allocation.
In the interview, Dumlao said the DSWD provided the LGUs last week the list of beneficiaries of the social amelioration program as reference on who would benefit from the new cash aid.
“This serves as a reference to the local government units. They still have the full discretion in identifying who will be identified and prioritized, provided of course they would follow [and] adhere to the provisions of the guidelines where it was stipulated that priority will be given to the low-income sector, including of course the beneficiaries of SAP,” she said.
Last year, the government provided financial assistance to 18 million families through SAP, which is mandated by Republic Act 11469 or the Bayanihan To Heal as One Act.
In case residents encounter problems in the distribution of cash aid, Dumlao said LGUs should create a grievance and appeals committee.
Meanwhile, former Speaker and Taguig Rep. Alan Peter Cayetano has renewed his push for the distribution of additional cash aid nationwide despite the rollout of P1,000 in assistance to those living in areas currently under ECQ.
At the same time, Cayetano supported the proposal for Congress to hold a special session for the passage of bills on financial aid for those affected by the COVID-19 lockdown.
Cayetano said while he welcomed the decision to provide P1,000 per affected individual in the National Capital Region and neighboring provinces, the amount would not be enough to cover the needs of Filipino families.
“We’re facing a bigger problem now after one year,” Cayetano told the media after distributing food packs and hygiene kits in Bicutan, Taguig City on April 6.
The local government units, Bautista said, might request the DSWD for an extension if they had not completed the payout within the given period.
“If the request has weight and if they have a reasonable justification, then why not?” Bautista said.
He said the joint monitoring committee of the cash assistance program would assess the validity of the request for extension.
“We also have (the) means to validate if the reasons are valid but if there are justifiable reasons, then we might consider,” he added.
Bautista, however, urged the LGUs to implement the financial payout within the given time.
“We have computed the days because that’s an immediate (need) and that should be given expeditiously so that’s our request to the LGUs – as much as possible, hasten the distribution of assistance,” he said.
He said the DSWD had left the distribution of the cash aid to the discretion of the LGUs.
“We have to refer and consult our LGUs,” Bautista said, adding that the DSWD was relying on local government processes in terms of distributing the financial aid.
Meanwhile, Department of the Interior and Local Government spokesperson Undersecretary Jonathan Malaya warned the LGUs about the inclusion of “ghost names” or unqualified individuals in the list of the beneficiaries.
Malaya said violators could face either administrative or criminal charges before the City Hall of Justice or at the Ombudsman.
“We will just repeat what we did last year, and we will just keep an eye on the people’s money,” he said.
On March 31, the DSWD, DILG, and Department of National Defense issued Joint Memorandum Circular 1 that provides guidelines on the distribution of financial assistance after President Rodrigo Duterte approved the release of P22.9 billion to those affected by the ECQ.
The LGUs were directed to release the cash assistance to their constituents within 15 days upon receipt of the funds.
In-kind assistance should be given within 30 days.
The Department of Budget and Management recently released its guidelines for the new round of aid, which will be distributed either in cash or in kind to around 80 percent of low-income individuals in the NCR-Plus area.
Nearly 23 million residents from Metro Manila, Bulacan, Rizal, Cavite, and Laguna are set to receive aid this week.
Cayetano urged the leadership of the House of Representatives to hold a special session to allow lawmakers and department secretaries to discuss whether the government has funds for new aid programs, such as the proposed 10K Ayuda Bill.
The bill, which he and his allies filed last February 1, seeks to distribute P10,000 per Filipino household.
Saying he did not agree with the distribution of aid in kind as this would only benefit manufacturers of canned goods, Cayetano said placing money directly into the hands of the people would not only help families, it would also stimulate the economy.
“If you put money directly in people’s hands, they will use it to ride a tricycle or jeep. They will use it to buy things in the sari-sari store. They will use it to buy mobile phone load. It will stimulate our entire economy,” Cayetano said.
He asked Congress to act with urgency on pending measures that would stimulate the economy and provide relief for Filipinos.
“We’re done with Holy Week. We’ve already prayed. Now, it’s time to put action to our faith,” said Cayetano.
“If it hadn’t been for the ECQ, the pleas of those living in the NCR-Plus and other parts of our country would not have been heard,” he added.
Congress went on recess last March 26 and will resume session on May 17.
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