"We have seen widespread suffering."
Millions of poor Filipinos were still waiting for their cash benefits under the Social Amelioration Program (SAP) as of this writing, April 30, the deadline set by the Department of the Interior and Local Government for the local government units (LGUs) and the barangays to finish the distribution.
In my interview Wednesday with Senate President Tito Sotto, he said at least 97 percent of the first tranche of P100 billion social amelioration cash SAC had been downloaded by the Department of Social Welfare and Development to the LGUs. This is easily P97 billion.
Unfortunately, less than 50 percent of the SAC has been distributed so far at the barangay level. If I'm not mistaken, we have 81 provinces, 146 cities, 1, 488 municipalities, 42,045 barangays.
It’s a shame that one month and a half into the Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ), which is extended to May 15, over 50 percent of the supposed beneficiaries are literally languishing in hunger, still awaiting for cash to buy food with.
What’s more frustrating is the finger-pointing that the DSWD, the LGUs and the barangay officials have resorted to instead of putting their heads together to figure out a way to get this task of doling out cash done.
At the grassroots level, the barangay officials blame the DSWD for taking too long in validating the list of recipients they have submitted.
DSWD officials, in turn, have called out a number of barangays for submitting questionable lists of recipients, which included names of deceased persons, double entries of the same names in different barangays, and multiple entries of names in the same households. Why, are such lists the ones used for vote buying during the elections?
We are hoping that this bullcrap does not repeat once the second tranche of SAP authorized by Congress is released soon.
Senator Sotto said such fundamental problems would be avoided if the national identification system were in place, a task assigned to the Philippine Statistics Authority.
It is further disheartening that while the poorest of the poor have not received the social amelioration cash, there are reports of abuse by the very people who are supposed to extend assistance to those displaced by the public health crisis.
Needless to say, the ECQ is designed to save and protect people’s lives, not to license authorities to harm them like the incident where a team of the Quezon City Task Force Disiplina beat up and dragged away a fish vendor caught not wearing a face mask.
We commend the Quezon City Mayor Joy Belmonte for swiftly ordering a full investigation of the incident, categorically stating that her administration does not condone unnecessary violence and abusive behavior.
This incident followed our heartbreaking story of a 76-year-old man who was thrown in jail for complaining at the barangay hall about not being included in the list of cash assistance program in Barangay Ilais, San Isidro, Surigao del Norte. I don’t think the senior citizen could have hurt anybody no matter how loud he was complaining about not getting any help to appease his family’s hunger.
In another incident, a 67-year-old man literally died from hunger, collapsing while he waited in line for relief goods for hours at a barangay hall in Nabua, Camarines Sur. The poor old man who did not make it the hospital had to fend for himself because his three sons could not return home from Manila.
In connection with our public service, through the ACT-CIS Party-list headed by Cong. Eric Yap and the Erwin Tulfo Center for Media and Public Assistance, we have witnessed widespread sufferings like these.
Now, while we keep count of the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases, the number of deaths and the number of recoveries from the dreaded disease, perhaps concerned authorities should start keeping count of those who actually die from hunger while waiting for government cash assistance to buy food with.
Aanhin pa ang damo kung patay na ang kabayo?