Promised SAP zapped

August 18, 2020

by Xandra Liza C. Bisenio

The social welfare department has been trying its best to window-dress the slowness and stinginess of government’s Social Amelioration Program (SAP) distribution by diligently updating the public on how much has been distributed to how many households. Somehow it is a relief that it has mobilized finance service providers (FSPs) for swifter distribution. Still there is no guarantee of smooth payout because of various remaining obstacles such as bureaucratic procedures, untransparent validation, recipients’ lack of familiarity with new modes of service, and other technical requirements.

Overall, the Duterte administration’s SAP in the time of COVID-19 has been hit as stingy, snail-paced, chaotic, and marred with controversy and corruption. The promise of providing 18 million poor and low-income households (plus an additional 5 million wait-listed families) with emergency aid worth Php5,000 to Php8,000 for two months, has been broken. Distribution has been long delayed – families have had to fend for themselves until the first tranche arrived over a month late in May or June. Then the government started giving out the second tranche only in July and moving double time only in August.

One of the weaknesses of SAP that is not underscored enough is how the government has effectively reduced the number of beneficiaries despite its acknowledgement that millions remain without work.

Second tranche recipients reduced

Through the Department of Social Welfare and Development’s (DSWD) Joint Memorandum Circular No. 2 Series of 2020 (JMC No. 2-2020), a memo on second tranche recipients, government declared that only residents of enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) and modified ECQ (MECQ) areas as of June are to receive the second wave of aid. The reason was that there were no more resources for everyone to get “ayuda”. This spells indifference on the part of government because economic activity is still just resuming, and jobs and livelihoods remain precarious in general community quarantine (GCQ) areas.

The JMC No. 2-2020 effectively reduced the original 17.8 million SAP beneficiaries—presumably the “18 million” beneficiaries stipulated in the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act – to only 8.7 million beneficiaries. Then, according to DSWD’s Memorandum 14-2020, of the 5 million additional low-income families categorized as ‘wait-listed’, only 3.5 million residing in ECQ/MECQ areas were to get the second tranche. So, after promising emergency relief to a total of 22.8 million combined original and wait-listed beneficiaries, only 12.2 million ECQ/MECQ households get the second tranche. This leaves 10.6 million families to stretch one month’s worth of aid across several months of lockdown.

The number of first and second tranche recipients has been reduced further, however. As a result of the DSWD’s de-duplication and validation of beneficiaries, the local government units (LGUs) reportedly registered only a total of 3.2 million additional low-income families nationwide. This means a 1.8 million reduction of the much-publicized 5 million wait-listed beneficiaries. Applying Memo 14-2020, government now targets to give the second wave of aid to only 2.2 million wait-listed beneficiaries who are ECQ/ MECQ residents. So now there are only 10.9 million families getting the second tranche, leaving out 11.9 million families.

How is it then that government reported that after de-duplication and validation, there are now 14.1 million families getting the second tranche? A review of the DSWD dashboard and press releases shows that the agency has also included in its “SAP2” or second wave of SAP the now 3.2 million validated wait-listed families nationwide. This erroneously bloats the number of second tranche beneficiaries with the number of validated wait-listed beneficiaries who are really just getting aid for the first time. Still it will also no longer be a surprise should this number be pared down further due to the de-duplication and validation process.

Not just numbers

One thing that government has repeatedly reminded the public in its midnight addresses is how there are no more funds. In reducing the recipients of the second tranche, it abandons millions of low-income families who fight daily to make ends meet. Skirting hunger is a feat, but when they get sick, these families may not be able to afford even a ride to the nearest health facility, whether or not they are afflicted with COVID. And tests are another expense they cannot afford. There are reports that some crematoriums are being overwhelmed by bodies presumed but not confirmed to have been COVID cases. They were either turned away by overwhelmed hospitals or they had no money for a check-up.

The expired Bayanihan Act earmarked Php200 billion for emergency relief to households. As of August 15 around Php175.2 billion has already been distributed for this purpose. The aid programs through the labor and agriculture departments have also been shown to be tokenistic, not covering the total population of workers, informal earners, farmers and farmworkers affected by the lockdowns.

But those that are no longer targeted by government to receive aid aren’t just numbers but actual families being left to wriggle out of the crisis on their own.

Still not having a comprehensive plan six months into the worst health and socioeconomic crisis this country has faced unmasks the government’s long-running deception of having “malasakit” for the people and motherland. Now that a stimulus and recovery plan has come about, we have yet to see if it intends to truly save the critically-ill health system, correct problematic aid for vulnerable families and the production sector, and build the country’s own long-time capacity to face future health and economic crises by boosting agriculture and manufacturing which are the economy’s core.

Saying that people just have to live with the virus which is here to stay means survival of the fittest and comes from a high place oblivious of the daily miseries of the many – they couldn’t care less for the poor majority of the Filipino people. ###