On the sixth week of lockdown: Millions of Filipinos going hungry, suffer amid worst mass unemployment in history

April 21, 2020

by IBON Media & Communications

Research group IBON said that millions of Filipinos are going hungry and suffering the worst mass unemployment in the country’s history as the sixth week of lockdown begins. The group said that government relief efforts, especially to the poorest Filipinos, is sluggish and minimal. The Duterte administration is not giving emergency relief enough attention and appears more focused on using “martial law-like” measures to contain mounting social unrest, said the group.

Pres. Duterte’s latest report to Congress shows how government’s socioeconomic response is still dragging and meager, even in achieving its already low targets. Even with emergency powers granted to the President, bureaucratic hurdles and inefficiencies continue to stall urgent relief efforts. 

IBON said that there has been little improvement in the distribution of promised emergency subsidies. The group noted that just about 4.3 million or less than one in four (24%) of the government’s targeted 18 million low income families have received cash assistance. Contrary to the promise of supposedly up to Php5,000-8,000 in aid each, recipients instead received just an average of Php4,392 each.

No additional Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps) beneficiaries have been given assistance other than the 3.7 million families reported three weeks ago. Also, just 617,141 more non-4Ps beneficiaries have been served since then. Non-4Ps beneficiaries apparently include the previously reported 40,418 drivers of public utility vehicles and transport network vehicle service; this is only 9% of the 435,000 drivers nationwide targeted for cash aid.

This means that as many as 13.6 million or 76% of the 18 million poorest families have not received emergency subsidies and are going hungry, said the group. IBON said that millions of households are at risk of hunger because of the poor reach of emergency subsidies and even of government’s other financial assistance programs.

The Department of Labor Employment (DOLE) stopped accepting applications due to the depletion of the Php1.6 billion fund for its COVID-19 Adjustment Measure Program (CAMP). Only 264,154 formal workers have received Php5,000 each in financial assistance as of April 19. This is just 2.5% of the IBON-estimated 10.7 million workers in the country, a large majority of whom are affected by the lockdown.

The group said that it is unclear if affected workers unable to avail from CAMP will now be shouldered by the Department of Finance’s Small Business Wage Subsidy Program. Not all formal workers in need meet the criteria of being employed in small businesses and registered with the Bureau of Internal Revenue and Social Security System.

Meanwhile, just 235,949 informal workers were assisted by DOLE, which is still only 3.4% of 5.2 million non-agricultural informal earners estimated by IBON. They received just an average of Php2,300 each.

IBON said that financial assistance for farmers and fisherfolk is also slow and negligible. The Department of Agriculture has so far reported giving assistance to 300,994 farmers under the Rice Farmers Financial Assistance Program and 52,043 farmers under the Financial Subsidy for Rice Farmers Program. This means only a total of 353,037 farmers have been given subsidies or just 3.6% of the country’s 9.7 million farmers, farm workers and fisherfolk as per IBON estimates.

IBON expressed concern that the government is more focused on using a militarist approach instead of swiftly resolving inefficiencies and ensuring that emergency subsidies are given to all vulnerable households. Government’s neglect could lead to more and more Filipinos violating quarantine as they seek ways to feed their families.

If the government gives more emphasis on “martial-law like” measures instead of being more humane and sensitive to the plight of poor and low-income families under lockdown, millions of families will go hungry amid more human rights violations and mounting social unrest, said the group.