Senators on Wednesday expressed their disapproval on the Department of Social Welfare and Development’s (DSWD) decision to withhold the release of some P10-billion worth of funds intended for distribution to needy families as part of the government’s social amelioration program (SAP).
Senate minority leader Franklin Drilon said the government ought to be spending money to stimulate the economy so long as it is within the bounds set by law.
“To stimulate the economy, the government should spend money so long as it is within the bounds that we have set. In yesterday’s hearing of the DSWD, however, the secretary of the DSWD said they have not spent P10-billion out of what was given to them,” said Drilon, during the Senate Committee on Finance’s hearing on the proposed 2021 national budget.
The P10-billion was part of the funds released to the DSWD under the Bayanihan 1 as “ayuda” or special amelioration program (SAP) to 18 million low-income households are entitled to receive P5,000 to P8,000 cash in financial aid as part of the government’s efforts to fight the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“(It’s) disheartening. We shouldn’t allow four million SAP beneficiary families to be left behind, no matter what happens, because we designed the Bayanihan laws to help the most vulnerable sectors of our society,” Sen. Joel Villanueva also said.
“Perhaps the DSWD can seek assistance from the DILG (Department of Interior and Local Government) to crack the whip on LGUs (local government units) who have yet to comply with their submission,” he said.
“With unemployment projected to rise in the coming months, more families will go hungry, and we need to do better in providing assistance,” Villanueva added.
Sen. Risa Hontiveros pointed out the Inter-Agency Task Force’s (IATF) ruling limited the coverage of the second tranche of SAP to areas that were under enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) by May 31, 2020.
While the DSWD may not have violated their own rules when they subsequently restricted the application of the rule to areas under ECQ or Modified ECQ (MECQ), it is unconscionable to know that funds are withheld for distribution to those who truly needed it especially during this time of a pandemic.
“Dapat itong ipamahagi lalo’t nagdeklara ulit ng MECQ noong Agosto nang humiling ng ‘time out’ ang ating health workers, (It should be distributed especially since the government declared an MECQ last August when our health workers called for a time out),” Hontiveros pointed out.
“National Capital Region (NCR), Rizal, Laguna, Bulacan and Cavite were yet again placed under stricter quarantine protocols, limiting business operations. May mga nawalan ulit ng kita sa loob ng 15 araw (There were people who lost livelihood again for 15 days),” she stressed.
Sen. Juan Edgardo Angara said he hopes the DSWD would release the amounts “left expeditiously and without the long lines we witnessed in some cases.”
“These were emergency funds after all which were diverted from other government programs so as to react to the damage caused to families and individuals affected by COVID-19,” said Angara, who chairs the Senate finance panel.
“The country’s prudent financial management in the past should give way to more spending now that people need it most,” he stressed.
Sen. Panfilo Lacson said hundreds of thousands of mouths are still waiting to be fed just to survive, and that the agency should at least mind “those poor souls.”
Lacson said the DSWD should have utilized the P10-billion for distribution, instead of prematurely declaring the same as “savings” as it scaled down the number of cash aid beneficiaries.
“If this is not failure of planning, preparation, coordination and implementation, I do not know how to describe it,” Lacson said.