This year’s COVID-19 pandemic prodded the Duterte government to launch the first-of-its-kind and the biggest social amelioration initiative in the country’s history to provide financial relief to the country’s poor families who were economically displaced due to the coronavirus-induced lockdown.
All eyes were on the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), the primary government agency tasked to look after the welfare and protection of millions of low-income families in the midst of the pandemic.
Over 31 million low-income families have benefited from the national government’s Social Amelioration Program (SAP), which was provided under the already-lapsed Republic Act No. 11469 or the “Bayanihan to Heal as One Act”, popularly known as Bayanihan 1.
Under RA No. 11469, some 18 million low-income households were entitled to receive emergency cash subsidies ranging from P5,000 to 8,000 based on respective regional wage rates for two months starting April.
Under the law, the Duterte government allotted P200 billion worth of aid to most affected families by COVID-19 pandemic crisis.
SAP 1 manual payout by LGUs
For the first phase distribution of SAP, the DSWD started giving cash aid worth P16.4 billion to family-beneficiaries of the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps) on April 3.
The three day-payouts for the 4Ps families were conducted a day after the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) released the P100 billion to the DSWD for the first-tranche distribution.
The DSWD downloaded the SAP funds to 1, 634 local government units (LGUs) that were tasked to complete the distribution of the subsidies by April 30.
Citing a number of reasons, including the encoding of the beneficiaries’ data as contained in the Social Amelioration Card (SAC) forms and the weak internet connection that affected the duplication process, the LGUs failed to complete the SAP 1 payouts by the end of April.
Upon the appeal of the LGUs, the April 30 deadline for the SAP 1 distribution was extended thrice –on May 7, May 10, and May 13.
Following the snowballing complaints against the purported irregularities in the release of emergency subsidies, President Duterte directed the DSWD to lead the SAP distribution on May 11.
Despite the hindrances hounding the LGUs’ distribution of SAP, the DSWD attributed the “successful” distribution of the first tranche to the assistance extended by the local governments– “from the submission of the list of beneficiaries to the organized and safe distribution of the cash aid to the SAP beneficiaries.”
For the first tranche, P99.2 billion worth of cash subsidies were distributed to over 17 million beneficiaries.
SAP 2 digital, manual payouts by DSWD
In a move to expedite the second tranche distribution of cash aid under Bayanihan 1, the DSWD signed on June 30 a memorandum of agreement (MOA) with the Lank Bank of the Philippines (LBP) and six financial service providers (FSPs) for the “faster and more efficient” digital payment of SAP 2 subsidies.
For SAP 2, the DSWD as the lead SAP implementer conducted digital and manual payouts with the assistance of the LGUs, military, and police.
During the second tranche, the beneficiaries had to register at ReliefAgad app and they received their cash aid through their restricted transactional or nominated accounts, with Land Bank downloading the SAP funds to the FSPs which include GCash, RCBC, Robinsons Bank, PayMaya, Starpay, and Unionbank.
The 11 areas covered by SAP 2 are Region III, except Aurora province, the National Capital Region (NCR); CALABARZON; Benguet; Pangasinan; Iloilo; Cebu Province; Bacolod City; Davao City, Albay province and Zamboanga City.
Reduced number of SAP 2 recipients
For SAP 2, around 14. 4 million beneficiaries received the cash aid worth P86.5 billion.
The number of SAP 2 beneficiaries was trimmed down from 17 million to 14.4 million after the agency scrapped from the list around 675,933 duplicate recipients, 239,859 ineligible beneficiaries, and 58,725 families who voluntarily returned their cash aid to help poorer individuals.
Also behind the reduced number of SAP 2 beneficiaries was the LGUs’ submission of a list of 3.2 million “waitlisted” beneficiaries out of the 5 million targeted “waitlisted” recipients.
The DSWD initially eyed to cover more than 80 percent of the beneficiaries by the end of July, but only served over 5.1 million family-beneficiaries during that period.
Among the reasons cited that caused the delay were the low registration turnout at the ReliefAgap app, the failure of the beneficiaries to supply their necessary information, such as phone numbers and middle names; and limited mobility of SAP frontrunners in COVID-stricken areas.
According to the DSWD, its quick relief system, ReliefAgad recorded only over 4.3 million registrants which prodded them to rely on the LGUs’ submission of an encoded list of beneficiaries.
The ReliefAgad platform was launched on May 14 to speed up the process of collecting beneficiaries’ data and of releasing the SAP subsidies to qualified recipients.
In mid-July, the agency set another target and vowed to complete the digital and manual payout for the second tranche on July 31, except in geographically isolated and disadvantaged areas (GIDAs) and conflict-affected areas that were expected to be covered until mid-August.
As it scrambled to complete the SAP 2 distribution, the DSWD launched on August 13 a grievance portal, uSAP TAYO website to respond to the concerns, complaints, and questions regarding the implementation of SAP, including the issues on eligibility of beneficiaries, violation committed during the distribution of the subsidy, and the delayed payout.
Just like in SAP 1, the DSWD failed to meet its deadline to complete the SAP 2 distribution with DSWD Secretary Rolando Bautista asking for public understanding, three days after the August 15 deadline.
He attributed the delayed distribution of cash aid to the LGUs’ failure to upload the SAC forms of more than 300, 000 SAP 2 beneficiaries, and the failure of over 200,000 SAP beneficiaries to supply their personal information, like their mobile phone numbers.
COVID-19 cases among SAP frontliners
In fulfilling its mandate to distribute SAP subsidies and implement other pro-poor programs, the agency recorded around 247 cases of coronavirus disease, as of September.
Because of this, around 24,449 DSWD personnel were given personal protective equipment worth P15.52 million. Currently, the DSWD has around 35,443 personnel nationwide.
The DSWD also granted P342 million in hazard pay to its personnel engaged in the SAP implementation.
Bayanihan 2 emergency subsidy
The DSWD continues to implement social protection programs to identified family-recipients under Republic Act No. 11494 or the Bayanihan to Recover as One Act, popularly known as Bayanihan 2. The Department clarified that the emergency subsidy under Bayanihan 2 is “not to be interpreted as “SAP 3”.
As of 8 p.m., Dec. 24, the DSWD has distributed P157.5 million worth of emergency subsidy to 29, 653 beneficiaries in granular lockdown, and P1.4 billion to around 204, 409 additional recipients or those who did not receive SAP 1 and 2 subsidies.
Relief augmentation support to LGUs
Year 2020 also saw the DSWD’s commitment to extend assistance to victims of disasters and calamities that hit the country— the phreatic eruption of Taal Volcano on January 12, the 6.6 magnitude earthquake that struck Cataingan, Masbate on August 18, and Typhoons “Quinta”, and “Ulysses” and Super Typhoon “Rolly” that struck the country in November, as well as Tropical Depression “Vicky” that affected Caraga and Davao regions this month.
For this year, the DSWD’s disaster response utilization fund amounted to P1.2 billion. It has distributed around 861, 490 Family Food Packs (FFPs), and P2 million worth of various non-food items.
The assistance extended to calamity victims totaled P841.9 million.
This year, the DSWD also decided to streamline the process of providing relief assistance and basic services to calamity-stricken areas.
Even without an official request from local chief executives or administrators, DSWD Field Offices can now release food and non-food items to LGUs based on the official recommendation of DSWD field workers who conducted on-the-ground assessment and validation.
Secretary Bautista has assured the public that the implementation of various intervention programs to aid in the recovery of poor households during this time of pandemic and disasters will continue.
These include the Assistance to Individuals in Crisis Situation (AICS), Supplementary Feeding Program, Social Pension for Indigent Senior Citizens Program, and the provision of food and non-food items as augmentation support to the LGUs.