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Congress should step up to the plate

"Lawmakers must show that they have the interests of the people at heart, and give them what they really need."

 

What can P10,000 do for the average Filipino family of five that’s struggling to keep alive amid the COVID-19 pandemic?  

At the very least, they would be able to buy their food and other daily needs for a month under current conditions. That’s according to the Philippine Statistics Authority, but maybe not for most labor groups. 

Hence, at a time when the need of the hour is bayanihan and doing everything possible to ease the plight of those adversely affected by the ongoing pandemic, we expect our lawmakers to keep their ears close to the ground and listen to the popular clamor for help.    

Up for consideration by Congress is a proposed bill seeking to provide each family with a P10,000 cash assistance to tide  them over during the pandemic. The bill has drawn popular support from the broad political spectrum. Among the calls of those who took part in the Labor Day observance last Saturday, in fact, was the immediate release of the P10,000 ayuda.

Opposition lawmakers have closed ranks and are asking the House leadership to pass the Ayuda Bill as soon as possible, saying that the recent phenomenon of community pantries proliferating in various parts of the country offers ample proof that Filipinos are hurting from the economic downturn caused by the coronavirus. Even administration lawmakers have joined the bandwagon and are urging the prompt passage of the measure.  

The P10,000 ayuda contemplated by the bill isn’t exactly a small  fortune these days considering inflation. We recall that labor federations have  decried the fact that the current daily minimum wage of a little more than P500 is woefully inadequate to cover the minimum food and non-food requirements of the average family. 

With many Filipino families reeling from the economic crunch, where would the money for the P10,000 ayuda come from? Former Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano and his colleagues in the movement called Balik sa Tamang Serbisyo (BTS) sa Kongreso hit upon the idea of tapping other sources of unused funds.

For instance, there’s around P1.5 billion allocated under Bayanihan 1 for the Social Amelioration Program for non-4Ps (Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program) beneficiaries that has not been disbursed.

There’s also the Department of Social Welfare and Development that still has P75 billion from its regular budget and P6.7 billion from Bayanihan 1 and 2 that are unused. The Department of Education also has P4 billion unused funding for its digital learning programs.

Cayetano’s group wants to consolidate all these unused funds from several  departments and programs for the 10K Ayuda Bill they filed last February 1. If P10,000 can be given to needy Filipino families, they reasoned, it would demonstrate the government’s genuine concern for their welfare amid the dire economic conditions we all now find ourselves in. 

But this is already the month of May, and last we looked, it appears that 10K Ayuda Bill had been integrated into Bayanihan 3. We’ve been  told that the joint hearing of the House Committee on Economic Affairs and Committee on Social Services did not adopt the proposed amount of P10,000 for cash assistance, for yet unknown reasons. 

Be that as it may, Cayetano and his allies have opted to go around and actually give P10,000 to a total of 38 beneficiaries from February to April to convince their fellow lawmakers of the soundness of their proposed measure.

The  P10,000 cash assistance can either be used by the beneficiaries to buy their daily needs or to start a small business. This would help jumpstart the economy during the pandemic. The National Economic and Development Authority wants family consumption to drive economic recovery starting this year.

On Labor Day, Cayetano and his allies launched the “Sampung Libong Pag-Asa” program in 13 different areas in the country. During the event, which was streamed live on Facebook, the group gave P10,000 each out of their own pockets to almost 200 beneficiaries. The beneficiaries thanked Cayetano and his group for giving them the means to cope with the entire country facing hard times from the pandemic. 

The “Sampung-Libong Pag-asa” program may have benefited only 200 families, but the more important message it wanted to convey was that the House leadership should look beyond purely partisan interests and give suffering Filipino hope amid deprivation and despair. Playing politics at this time is really unfortunate as many Filipino families need to be given a helping hand amid the coronavirus pandemic. Congress must show that it has the interests of the people at heart, and give them what they really need: The means to turn their lives around and for them to be able to prevail over difficult times and hope for a better life ahead instead  of mere survival. 

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Topics: Ernesto Hilario , Congress , Philippine Statistics Authority , COVID-19 pandemic , cash assistance , Bayanihan 1
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