Many migrant Filipino workers and Filipino immigrants are familiar with pandemic-related aid. I’m not talking about paltry sums of Social Amelioration Program (SAP). I’m talking about adequate aid.
The US government sent $2,000 checks to Americans. That’s on top of social welfare benefits like unemployment for those who lost their jobs, and Medicare/Medicaid for senior citizens. Yes, there were debates in Congress about direct aid, but fortunately common sense prevailed that if there’s any way to help Americans, it was through those checks that people needed for basic needs, rent, electricity and heating. It did not help conservatives that they were backing tax cuts and aid for multimillionaires and billionaires who don’t need them.
In many other countries, similar steps were taken by governments which focused on protecting their most vulnerable people, the middle class and small businesses. In many countries of Europe, states provided subsidies for workers and students, in order to save them the companies and schools.
Only in the Philippines is there a pushback against aid. Not a few have claimed we don’t deserve aid, especially the poor who are routinely blamed for being poor. Some of those who are vehemently opposed to aid are the persons who show a certain level of entitlement that can only be satisfied by the continued work of the poor and the lower middle class: Having food delivered to them whenever they please; have public markets, groceries, gas stations, banks, and other essential services kept open; a steady food supply; and medical services, of course.
The think-tank Ibon Foundation has taken a look at the facts and figures, and they have calculated that Filipinos deserve to demand and to receive aid.
First: Joblessness is up. The 3.4 million reported unemployed in March 2021 is 1.1 million more than before the pandemic in January 2020. The real number of unemployed could be as high as 5.4 million if “discouraged and unavailable workers” not considered unemployed by the government’s methodology are also counted, according to Ibon.
Second: Quality of work is worsening. Ibon took a look at the government’s claim of 2.8 million new jobs created between January 2020 and March 2021, and found the figure “overblown.”
Ibon said: By hours worked, over 3.2 million of the additional employment was just in part-time work (less than 40 hours), and full-time employment (40 hours or over) actually fell by 550,000.
Third: Incomes are falling. Ibon says that the real value of the NCR minimum wage is 7.2 percent less today than at the start of this administration; measured at 2012 constant prices, this fell from P468.06 in June 2016 to P434.47 in April 2021.
Fourth: Household savings Filipinos have been depleted. The savings of some 3.2 million families were wiped out in 2020.
Crunching the numbers, Ibon said that by the fourth quarter of 2020, around three-out-of-four (75.3 percent) of Filipino households did not have any more savings. This is equivalent to some 18.6 million families completely dependent on their daily incomes or debt.
Fifth: Hunger is growing. Around 15 million or 62.1 percent of families went hungry last year. This was mainly from not having enough money or not being able to borrow enough to buy food.
Sixth: Small businesses are shutting down. As much as 206,000 small businesses and entrepreneurs have closed shop due to the pandemic.
The government’s apologists would be quick to say that there was SAP or ayuda.
Under the so-called Bayanihan 1 and 2, the amount of ayuda amounted to a grand total of P6.00/day. That’s not ayuda, that’s loose change. And the coverage is tiny: Total number of ayuda recipients was a mere 2.9-million.
Under Bayanihan 3, the biggest recipients of ayuda are retired military and police personnel. They will receive P54.6-billion for their pension.
The government’s usual alibi for not giving Filipinos what they need or deserve — “walang pera” — is unacceptable and without basis. The total national budget for 2020 was P4.1-trillion, while for this year it is P4.5-trillion. President Duterte has also borrowed P13.7-trillion in new loans.
More and more groups are thus justified in demanding P10,000 monthly aid for every worker and student for at least two months, to tide them over and provide a “salbabida” considering the economic situation we are mired in. This kind of money could be put in better use by our people, and help nurse back the economy. Adequate aid for small businesses and entrepreneurs, right?