Rolando de la Cruz, a 67-year-old balut vendor, died the other day while waiting with hundreds who lined up to answer actress Angel Locsin’s birthday invitation to the community pantry she had set up in Barangay Holy Spirit, Quezon City. As early as 3 a.m., a long queue had formed; stubs were reportedly given out to the first 300 in the line. But many had come from as far as Pasig City so that barangay tanod were hard-pressed trying to enforce social distancing in a sea of people wearing face masks and face shields.
Meantime, a motorist uploaded a viral video clip showing that the queue at Maginhawa Street a few kilometers away was already several blocks long. Apparently, the poor and the needy are oblivious of the red-tagging antics that prompted the heads of the National Privacy Commission and the Commission on Human Rights to join senators and civil society advocates in calling out the heavy-handed stance adopted by overzealous government functionaries.
The “Maginhawa” phenomenon underlines the urgent need to strengthen the social safety nets for the poor and the needy. Income distribution in the Philippines is heavily skewed. Sixty-six percent or two out of three families earn only about P700 a day for five persons. Then there is a middle class band that earns up to three times more. The richest one percent have a monthly income of over P50 million.
In April 2019, President Duterte signed into law Republic Act No. 11310 or the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program Act. Popularly known as the 4Ps program, this was initiated by then President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo before it was adopted as the flagship anti-poverty program in the administration of President Benigno Aquino III.
The 4Ps beneficiaries are mostly farmers, fisherfolk, indigenous peoples, homeless families, those in the informal settler sector, those who live in geographically isolated and disadvantaged areas and areas without electricity. Also included are poor and near-poor families with young members up to 18 years old. They receive monthly cash grants and assistance for health and education needs.
The first two Bayanihan emergency laws emphasized assistance to the poor and needy families. But many more have been pushed down even lower by the successive waves of restrictive lockdowns. The latest ayuda of P4,000 per family of four in the NCR Plus bubble has not yet been fully distributed, according to Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque.
Will the government now consider extending social safety nets beyond what the 4Ps program presently provides to the growing number of poor and hungry families?
‘Maginhawa’ is one of the three aspirations of AmBisyon 2040, the country’s long-term program for sustainable socio-economic growth and development: Matatag, Maginhawa at Panatag na Buhay, or a strongly rooted, comfortable, and secure life.
Being Maginhawa or comfortable – or just being able to keep body and soul together – has become a daily existential challenge for millions of poor Filipino families. They would gladly accept help from their neighbors – while stronger social safety nets are not yet in place.