By Ellson Quismorio
The Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) could have been much faster in distributing cash aid to some 18 million poor families under the P200-billion Emergency Subsidy Program (ESP).
Thus, reckoned Deputy Speaker and Camarines Sur 2nd district Rep. LRay Villafuerte on April 6, Monday, noting that the DSWD could have doled out the assistance right away to an estimated 15 million families using the agency’s “Listahanan” or list of poor and low-income families and other underprivileged sectors.
The 18 million-family target was set under Republic Act (RA) 11469, or the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act, which was rushed by Congress late last March in order to address the socio-economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Since then, all eyes have been on the national government and how it would accomplish the daunting task of delivering the P5,000 to P8,000 (depending on region) cash aid to millions of Filipinos.
Villafuerte said DSWD’s Listahanan includes the four million beneficiaries under the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps), the government’s long-running Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) initiative for the poor.
It also includes about 5.6 million non-CTT beneficiaries such as senior citizens, solo parents, and persons with disabilities (PWDs) plus another five million low-income families who are similarly qualified to receive ESP benefits—or a total of some 15 million households.
A portion of these Listahanan households are also beneficiaries of the Unconditional Cash Transfers (UCTs) granted to low-income families affected by the initial impact of tax hikes under the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion Act (TRAIN), Villafuerte said.
Moving forward, Villafuerte is pushing for the full implementation of three measures so as to avoid similar delays in the release of much-needed aid to the people.
“We need to harness digital technology to bring people closer to their government, more so in the ‘new normal’ scenario after this COVID-19 crisis where variations of modified quarantine and social distancing might become the way of life, and the government will probably need to extend subsidies to pre-selected groups of families and certain business sectors whenever necessary,” he said.
The deputy speaker’s “must-do list” includes the speedy and full implementation of the Philippine Identification System ID (PhilSys) project of the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) and the National Broadband Program (NBP) of the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT).
Rounding off this list is the approval of the proposed “Bangko sa Barrio” bill, which aims to widen access to financial services for unbanked Filipinos, most especially those in remote villages where private or state-run banks have no branches.
Villafuerte, the lead author of RA 11469, said the DSWD could have easily distributed the ESP cash aid had the national ID project been up and running since its system could have provided the agency with a database of its 18 million target households, complete with address details.
As for the “Bangko sa Barrio” bill that the solon authored himself, the measure would allow government to instantly send cash to the family-beneficiaries through accredited banks, remittance centers, and paycard platforms like GCash and PayMaya.
Proposed authorized cash agents (ACAs) from Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) and other banks could also be used to serve the people, particularly those living in far-flung villages with no access to banks.