By Genalyn Kabiling and Jun Ramirez
Four million poor households will be added to the list of the beneficiaries of the government’s emergency subsidy program upon the order of President Duterte, Malacañang announced yesterday.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said the President wants to provide assistance to more people affected by the quarantine restrictions due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.
The government had earlier launched a ₱200-billion subsidy program for 18 million low-income families for the months of April and May. The relief distribution, however, has been marred by complaints of slow distribution and discrepancies in the lists of beneficiaries, among others.
“Dati 18 million lang dapat ang pagbibigyan, naging desisyon ni Presidente lahat po ng nangangailangan dapat bigyan, so nadagdagan pa po ‘yang 18 million na ‘yan ng — kung di ako nagkakamali — something like 4 million pa (around 18 million are supposed to be given aid but the President decided that everyone in need should be assisted. So we have added — if I’m not mistaken — 4 million to the 18 million beneficiaries),” Roque said in a television interview Friday.
“’Yan yung figure na nagugutom based on current data at hindi ‘yung 2015 data pa. So isa pang naging problema po ‘yan kasi
kinailangan maghabol ng mga pangalan,” he added.
Roque asked for public understanding over concerns on the slow distribution of financial assistance, assuring them of efforts to hasten the process. He noted that the government’s massive aid distribution to target beneficiaries during the coronavirus pandemic is “unprecedented.”
Roque said local government units have already been given until May 7 to complete the first tranche of the subsidy distribution. The second batch of aid distribution must commence afterwards.
“Inaasahan namin dahil itong parating na buwan na ito, pangalawang buwan, na maiiwasan ang ganitong aberya at inaasahan namin na sa lalong mabilis na panahon ay maibigay ang kabuuan na first tranche sa lahat ng dapat makatanggap nito (We expect that in the second month, we can avoid these problems and we hope the first tranche will be given to the rightful beneficiaries as soon as possible),” he said.
Local government units were originally directed to finish the distribution of the financial aid to poor households last April 30 but this was hampered by some problems. They have been given a seven-day extension by the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) to complete the task.
Roque said local government units (LGUs) had difficulty distributing the financial aid due to the physical distancing protocols being enforced in quarantine areas.
He said Malacañang also could not blame the LGUs for the delay in the aid distribution due to changing guidelines issued by the national government. The government had initially required validation of the beneficiaries before giving aid but later amended the policy to speed up the distribution.
“Dahil tumatagal ang verification, sinabi ng Presidente na ibigay na ninyo ‘yan, magvalidate na lang kayo later. Ito nga sabi ni Presidente naiwasan sana ito kung may national ID system (Because the verification is taking so long, the President told authorities to just give the aid and validate it later. The President said this could have been avoided if there is a national ID system),” he said.
BIR approves wage subsidy
applications The Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) has approved the wage subsidy applications of more than one million workers who lost their jobs when their companies were temporarily closed due to the Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ).
The number of beneficiaries would have doubled if the deadline for the availment of the Small Business Wage Subsidy (SBWS) had been extended for at least one week. The cash assistance program expired the other day.
Records show that over 75,000 business owners have applied for SBWS, which is intended to cover the estimated 3.5 million workers nationwide.
Eligibility is limited to employees who did not receive salaries when the (ECQ) was implemented in March.
The joint memorandum of agreement among the DOF, BIR, and Social Security System disqualifies certain groups of workers from the program, such as those who work from home or are part of the skeletal force, as well as employees on leave for the entire duration of the ECQ, whether with or without pay.
Employees with unsettled accounts or in-process SSS final claims are also excluded.
The agreement stipulated that the SSS will release the cash aid to individual employees after the BIR issues the tax clearance to their tax-compliant employers.