Gov’t to consider ‘legalities’ of waiving public utility charges up to May

Published April 8, 2020, 12:00 AM

by manilabulletin_admin

By Genalyn Kabiling

The government might look into the “legalities” of the proposal to extend free water, power, and rent services for middle-income families during the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) in Luzon, according to a Palace official.

Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles  (PCOO / MANILA BULLETIN)
Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles

Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles acknowledged that water and electricity are considered public utilities, but the payment for these services involve private transactions.

“Tingnan natin iyong mga legalities ha, kasi siyempre, those are private transactions. Although the utilities have a public aspect, pero iyong mga renta private transactions iyong karamihan diyan eh,” he said in a virtual press conference Wednesday when asked about the proposal to waive the water, power, and rent charges of middle class households for the months of April and May.

(We will look into the legalities because those are private transactions. Although utilities have a public aspect, the rental fees and others are mostly private transactions.)

For now, Nograles said President Duterte has tasked the government’s economic team to explore possible assistance programs for the middle class. The funding source for such benefits must also be secured by the economic group.

“Ayaw ko pong pangunahan ang grupo na binuo ni Pangulong Duterte para pag-aralan kung anong mga benepisyo ang maaari nating ibigay sa ating mga middle income earners,” Nograles said.
(I don’t want to pre-empt the group formed by President Duterte to study the possible benefits for the middle income earners.)

“I don’t know kung kailan matatapos (when it will be done), but they’re working on it already, and we’re seeing some proposals, possible proposals,” he added.

He said the assistance package for the middle class won’t be similar to the social amelioration package for the low income households. Under the Bayanihan law, he said the President is authorized to give emergency subsidy to 18 million low income households.

”So hindi kayo papasok dito sa emergency subsidy kasi batas po ito eh (So the middle class is not covered by the emergency subsidy because this is the law) and obviously executive can only work with what Congress gives us, sa executive,” he said.

“So do we need another law? At this point, we can give other assistance to middle income families, but not a social amelioration package.”

Nograles also said the government will sustain the emergency subsidy program for low-income families even as it explores relief programs for the middle class.

“Iyong para sa mga mahihirap, marginalized na informal sector workers, sila po sa Social Amelioration Program po sila. ‘Yung sa middle income or middle class po natin, ibang programa po iyon. So hiwalay po, kaya hindi maaapektuhan iyong budget natin para sa ating mga mahihirap na kababayan,” he said.
(The poor, the marginalized informal sector workers will benefit from the social amelioration program. The middle income or middle class will have a different program with a separate budget, so as not to affect the programs for our poor countrymen.)

The government has started distributing cash aid amounting to P5,000 to P8,000 to low-income families under the two-month emergency subsidy program. Around 18 million low income households are expected to benefit from the program.

Cavite Governor Jonvic Remulla recently sent a letter to President Duterte asking him to include middle class families in the government’s social amelioration program for households affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

The President, in his public address late Monday night, said he agreed about the impact on the middle class, but stressed that government’s priority is looking after the “poorest of the poor.”