Nearly four weeks into the government’s military lockdown and especially with the two-week extension, research group IBON said that emergency relief measures are still too slow and too small. The group said that millions of poor and vulnerable families are facing unnecessary difficulty in meeting their basic needs under the lockdown. The government needs to show greater political will and do away with bureaucratic obstacles to relief efforts.
The Duterte administration recently declared the extension of the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) of the entire Luzon island until April 30. This is supposed to help contain the spread of COVID-19 as well as give government more time to beef up its public health response and prepare for a post-lockdown scenario.
IBON pointed out however that government socioeconomic relief efforts are snail-paced and inadequate. The group said that if the administration remains indifferent and does not step up its response, the difficult situation of millions of vulnerable families will worsen under the extended lockdown.
IBON estimates 14.5 million dislocated workers and informal earners, and up to 7.5 million low-income families vulnerable to shocks to their livelihood just in Luzon. The government acknowledged that the poorest 18 million households in the country need assistance.
Based on Pres. Duterte’s most recent report to Congress, the group noted that only Php26.3 billion has been spent on COVID-19 response so far. This is just 9.6% of its supposed Php275 billion budget for dealing with the pandemic.
IBON interpreted budget items in the president’s report as detailing plans for the Php275 billion response. For socioeconomic relief, only the following was reported spent: Php63 million (55.3%) of Php114 million allocated for emergency packs, and Php22.7 billion (14.7%) of Php154.8 billion for cash transfers, financial assistance and pensions.
IBON said that millions of poor households, workers and informal earners have yet to be assisted. Only 190,217 food packs were distributed by the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD).
The group noted that the president’s report confusingly mentioned cash transfers to 3.7 million “beneficiaries of the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program” and also to 1.2 million “Conditional Cash Transfer beneficiaries of the DSWD”. In any case, this is at most 20-27% of government’s targeted 18 million beneficiaries. They reportedly received an average of Php4,400-5,000 each in cash and non-cash subsidies under the Emergency Subsidy Program (ESP). There was no report of financial assistance given to indigent senior citizens.
Only 88,388 workers received Php5,000 in financial assistance under the COVID-19 Adjustment Measures Program (CAMP) of the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE). This is just 0.8% of 10.7 million workers in formal establishments nationwide. Only 55,934 informal workers became work-for-pay beneficiaries of DOLE’s Tulong Panghanapbuhay sa Ating Disadvantaged/Displaced Workers (TUPAD) programs and received financial assistance (at an average of Php3,121 each). This is just 1% of up to 5.2 million non-agricultural informal earners nationwide.
Meanwhile, 357,614 farmers and fisherfolk supposedly received financial assistance from the Department of Agriculture (DA) but no figures were provided. In any case, this is just 3.7% of the country’s 9.7 million farmers, farm workers and fisherfolk.
IBON said that the government should waste no time in ensuring the socioeconomic needs of the poorest and most vulnerable Filipinos who are increasingly challenged to cope with the extended lockdown. The government can immediately implement urgent socioeconomic interventions such as substantial provision of emergency relief packages, unconditional cash transfers, wage subsidiesand financial assistance, among others, said the group.