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NAAWAN, Misamis Oriental (MindaNews / 8 April) – There is a need to examine and possibly to overhaul the entire plan and corresponding guidelines of the Social Amelioration Program.

The Bayanihan Act targeted for cash assistance 18 million Filipino households, which accordingly comprise the poorest of the poor in our society that are badly hit by the Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ), the government draconian strategy in the battle against the coronavirus pandemic.

Government planners have come up with a budget of P200 billion for the purpose, with more accordingly is coming to respond to and jibe with developments or exigencies, along the way.

But, before everything, let us look at the figures.

How’s the 18 million-household target arrived? The figure was apparently reached this way. The current population of the country is 109M. Computed at an average of 6 members per household, that would yield 18M total households. Clearly then, the 18 million-target is the entire households nationwide, not just the poorest of the poor. The assistance is for all citizens across the board affected by the lockdown.

Consider this. If the cash aid is placed at P5K/household, that would be a total of P90B. If given at P8k/household, that would give us a total of 144B for all households across the country. If we put the cash aid at the maximum range, then we still have a surplus of P66B (P200b-P144b) from the P200B budget.

The DSWD guidelines do not operate in the frame above. It remains focused on the poorest of the poor from out of the 18M households, looking for them through a discriminatory guideline that excludes a great number, which it presumes will survive the difficulties caused by the lockdown.

For instance, pensioners are excluded from the cash dole-out. A great number of pensioners, especially those who retired 15 or 10 years ago, received mediocre GSIS pensions, which are likely below the poverty line, like DepEd teachers, support personnel – like clerks, utility workers, drivers, etc. The SSS pensioners, who are mostly wage earners in private establishments, cannot be in a better place, but are likely in far worse plight. And consider the pensioners who retired 10 or 15 years ago; by this time, they would already be 75 and 80 years old, all are likely suffering from an illness or two, some of which are needing medical care, maintenance medicines, therapy, and a caregiver. And these retirees possibly receive only from P3K – P12 k/month.

Exempted also, reportedly, are households with members working outside the country (OFW), on the presumption that they are well off because they have bigger and well-furnished houses. But appearances in these crazy times are no good basis for judgment. Families with OFW members are in far more gripping circumstance, not only financially but also psychologically, and greatly, because their loved ones, mostly domestic or construction workers, are also locked down in distant land, penniless like everyone.

The emergency financial assistance applies to all in the 18M households, unless a beneficiary waves his privilege.

The recently announced P600B reinforcement to the fund, as a cushion to the possibility of ECQ extension, will now cover, accordingly, the “middle class” who have just been recognized recently to have also been reeling from the crisis, will make everyone a little secured and happier.

For what is now, the distribution of the cash aid to the needy suffers from so much unnecessary red-tape delay. In this emergency, what was the need for the Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) between the national and the local government? Cannot the President simply order the local executives to do what need to be done to hasten the delivery of urgent services to the people?

A simple non-discriminatory distribution strategy should be immediately adopted to accommodate those left out from the current measure.

We thought the emergency power was granted to do away with red tapes. Those responsible for the life-threatening delay should be made accountable, if not fired right away.

With the P600B infusion to the Social Amelioration Fund, no citizens should be left out in the harrowing darkness of the coronavirus pandemic.

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. William R. Adan, Ph.D., is retired professor and former chancellor of Mindanao State University at Naawan, Misamis Oriental, Philippines.)

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