Research group IBON said that non-delivery of emergency cash transfers almost three weeks into the Luzon lockdown is unforgivable. The government is insensitive to the plight of the poorest Filipinos and has even used its inaction to justify emergency powers. The group said that the government could have dispensed cash transfers immediately upon its military lockdown. The failure to do this is causing social unrest including food riots.
The Duterte administration declared a Luzon-wide enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) almost three weeks ago. This suspended mass transport and stopped work except for essential services. IBON estimates that the military lockdown has dislocated up to 14.5 million workers and informal earners, and affected some 7.5 million low-income families dependent on precarious livelihoods just in Luzon. There are also 3.8 million indigent senior citizens who are among the COVID-19 risk groups.
IBON said that the government already had the budget and the mechanisms to immediately deliver emergency cash transfers to the poorest Filipinos. The 2020 General Appropriations Act (GAA) already has Php145.3 billion in appropriations for conditional cash transfers (CCTs) and rice subsidies in its Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps, Php108.8 billion) and unconditional cash transfers (UCTs) under the Tax Reform Cash Transfer Project (Php36.5 billion).
There are also already existing cash card and other mechanisms immediately providing urgent relief even without emergency powers. The DSWD’s Listahanan or National Household Targeting System for Poverty Reduction (NHTS-PR) covers 15.1 million households and has been used to identify the 10 million UCT beneficiaries including 4.3 million 4Ps CCT beneficiaries.
Yet, IBON said, the Duterte administration chose not to immediately dispense cash transfers and instead even used the promise of Php200 billion in emergency subsidies to 18 million low income families to justify its sweeping emergency powers. In effect, the group stressed, the government deliberately withheld emergency relief to be able to justify demanding emergency powers.
IBON also pointed out that the Duterte administration is deliberately misleading in repeatedly claiming that it will give Php5,000-8,000 in emergency subsidies to 18 million Filipino households. Under the Bayanihan Heal as One Act and according to the guidelines for releasing the Emergency Subsidy Program (ESP), the government will stingily subtract existing CCTs and rice subsidies from the promised “Php5,000-8,000”.
With CCTS and rice subsidies averaging about Php2,150 per family, this means that the poorest families whose livelihoods have been most disrupted and who are most in need will in reality just get Php2,850-5,850 at most. The ESP just tops up existing pre-emergency subsidies.
IBON also stressed that despite emergency powers, the Duterte administration is still inexplicably dragging its feet. Poor families who have already been distressed for almost three weeks are now having to jump through bureaucratic loops and filling out social amelioration forms. Making things so difficult for the poor and not using existing mechanisms is just another sign of the Duterte administration’s grossly disorganized, incoherent and chaotic response to the pandemic and unnecessarily adds to the crisis.
IBON reiterated its proposal for the most vulnerable sectors: emergency relief packages at Php3,000 each for the poorest 5 million families at an estimated cost of Php15 billion; and Php10,000 in UCTs for each of the poorest 10 million families that would cost Php100 billion. These should be given for at least three months as support not just during the military lockdown and its after-effects but also amid the domestic and global recession.