By Hannah Torregoza
Senators on Monday called on the national government to ensure that displaced workers in Boracay island would be able to benefit in the financial assistance program to help them cope with their everyday needs until the planned reopening on October.
This was after different government agencies and officials working on the rehabilitation of Boracay offered differing figures on the number of formal and informal workers that were affected and have availed of the government’s cash assistance program during a hearing set by the Senate committee on tourism, chaired by Senator Nancy Binay.
Benjo Benavides of the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE)’s Bureau of Labor Relations told the panel that only 20 percent of the 21,286 displaced formal workers in Boracay have received financial assistance.
Benavides also said they were also only able to get it two months after the island temporarily closed for renovation. Of the 21,000, he said only 10,058 workers in the formal sector applied for assistance, but of this figure only 20 percent — or 1,963 workers — were able to receive cash aid of P4,200.
When asked by Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV when the beneficiaries received the cash grant, Benavides said it was on June.
Boracay was closed for a six-month rehabilitation starting last April 26 after President Rodrigo Duterte described Boracay as a “cesspool” and insisted on a massive clean up of the popular tourist destination.
The delay in the distribution of cash assistance is proof that the closure of Boracay was not well-planned, Trillanes noted.
“Kung planadong planado ‘yan pagkasara nyo, by kinsenas meron na kaagad yung DOLE (financial assistance). ‘Yan ang efficiency. Kaso nga ang problema dito, padalos-dalos, (If the closure was planned, the DOLE should have been prepared with a financial assistance),” he said.
“Kung talagang pulido ang pagpaplano, immediately ‘yung kinsenas na ‘yun, may programa na para ma-alleviate ang kanilang hardship. April isinara ang Boracay, June pa naka-receive,” he added.
On the other hand, DOLE said it was able to grant some 4,764 from the 5,000 targeted informal workers cash assistance of P9,500.
But Malay Mayor Cecito Cawaling declared that there are around 18,000 informal workers and only around 19,000 formal workers in Boracay, based on the statistics of the municipality.
During the hearing, Cawaling also criticized the government’s lack of clear plan on the rehabilitation of Boracay.
“Ang kinikita ng mga manggagawa kada buwan ay dapat tumbasan ng ibibigay na tulong ng pamahalaan (The government should compensate the workers’ monthly wages with the financial assistance). We owe it to the displaced workers,” Sen. Paolo “Bam” Aquino IV said.
“Kaya ba nating dagdagan ang tulong sa ating manggagawa to at least match the minimum wage? Pagdating ng Agosto, ayaw din naming marinig na wala nang natatanggap na tulong ang mga tao roon (Can’t we add funds to our displaced works to at least match the minimum wage? We don’t want to hear that by August, none of the workers there are receiving anything from the government),” the senator suggested to the DOLE.
But DOLE assured that the agency is doing its best in reaching out to other beneficiaries who are supposed to be covered by their programs while Boracay is still under rehabilitation.
“Actually, of the 5,000 target of the DOLE, hindi pa po namin nauubus yung slots. We are inviting other individuals to avail of other program,” Benavides said.
Sen. Nancy Binay said she hopes that the different agencies tasked for the Boracay rehabilitation would be able to thresh out the problems hounding the tourist island destination so that its reopening would push through on October.
“I am hoping na talagang magbubukas siya by October 26 kasi maraming kababayan natin na talagang ang pangkabuhayan nila eh nakasalalay sa pagbubukas ng Boracay (I am really hoping that the planned reopening on October 26 will push through because many of our citizens rely on the reopening of Boracay for their livelihood),” Binay said.
“But siguro para hinid rin naman masayang yung effort dun sa pagsasara, dapat tignan, kung bubuksan man siya sa October 26, ilang bista lang ang pwedeng papasukin sa island. Yung detalye eh mukhang hinid pa nila napag-uusapan (But I think, just to make sure the government’s efforts on the closure would not be futile, if Boracay will reopen on October 26, they should know the capacity of visitors for this island. I don’t think they have discussed these details),” Binay lamented.