A month-and-a-half into lockdown, millions of workers and informal earners grapple in uncertainty as the government’s social amelioration program (SAP) and Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) aid are failing to reach them, said research group IBON. Six-out-of-ten or majority of government’s targeted beneficiary households have still not received the promised emergency subsidies while funding for DOLE assistance programs has run out. The sluggish response and lack of funds highlights the State’s continued indifference.
IBON said that the sorry state of emergency relief shows how even the granting of emergency powers to the president has failed to swiftly deliver promised aid to the 18 million poorest households. This includes millions of workers in the formal and informal sectors who lost incomes and livelihoods under the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ).
The latest Department of Social Welfare (DSWD) data shows only 8.1 million SAP beneficiaries were assisted, which means that 9.9 million, or a glaring 55% of the target 18 million low-income households, still await emergency cash aid into the seventh week of lockdown. IBON said that aid is long overdue for millions, and that the 8.1 million households helped should also be getting their second tranche of subsidies already due to the lockdown extension.
The government’s other assistance programs do not add much more. As of April 26, DOLE reported giving cash aid to only 345,865 workers, which is just 3.2% of 10.7 million workers estimated by IBON. Meanwhile, only 259,449 informal workers benefited from DOLE’s cash-for-work program which is just 5% of 5.2 million informal workers. Only 40,418 PUV and TNVS drivers have received emergency subsidies – with no new recipients in the last two weeks.
The DOLE also reported that just 49,040 affected overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) have been approved to receive Php10,000 cash assistance out of the 233,015 that have so far applied, as of April 26. The department said that the number of OFWs requesting aid exceeds the 150,000 targeted by the government. The Php1.5 billion funds under the Abot Kamay ang Pagtulong (AKAP) program for this will not be enough to cover all OFWs needing assistance.
IBON also noted that to date, only 354,875 rice farmers or just 3.7% of the country’s 9.7 million farmers, farm workers and fisherfolk have been given cash assistance by the Department of Agriculture.
Meanwhile, only 6,403 employers have been able to apply for assistance on behalf of 130,188 employees under the Department of Finance’s Small Business Wage Subsidy program. This is just 3.8% of the 3.4 million small business employee target, and actual payout will only start on May 1.
The poorest Filipinos continue to go hungry and fend for themselves amid over-delayed social amelioration, said IBON.
To make matters worse, the Duterte administration has announced that low-income households living in areas where the ECQ has been lifted will no longer receive emergency subsidies. IBON said with no other means to help compensate for their lost wages and incomes due to weeks under lockdown, many vulnerable families will be pushed into deeper poverty.
IBON said each week under lockdown further exposes the Duterte administration’s pro-big business and militaristic approach in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. If it continues to ignore the humanitarian crisis and not genuinely and substantially address the socioeconomic needs of affected Filipinos, many more will go hungry, human rights violations will rise and there will be even more unrest.