The House of Representatives’ rushed conclusion of budget deliberations without ensuring emergency cash assistance proves that government couldn’t care less for millions of poor Filipinos hit hard by repeated pandemic lockdowns, research group IBON said. The group said that the government is dismissive of how tens of millions of Filipinos suffer collapsed livelihoods and refuses to see how substantial ayuda and support to small enterprises can spur more rapid recovery.
The Duterte administration should add much-needed emergency COVID-19 cash assistance in the 2021 spending program and 2022 budget, IBON stressed. The group pointed out that important pandemic emergency aid programs implemented in 2020 were discontinued in 2021 and are also not in the proposed 2022 budget. In 2020, Php233.7 billion was allotted for COVID-19 emergency assistance programs for low-income households, displaced overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) and tourism workers, informal workers and public utility vehicle drivers, student and teacher subsidies or allowances, and rice farmer subsidies.
IBON also noted that the allocation for regular emergency and other social assistance programs increased only slightly by Php18.9 billion, from Php200.9 billion in 2021 to Php219.8 billion in 2022.
But the meager ayuda last year did little to mitigate the collapse in jobs and incomes caused by the lockdowns, IBON said. The official number of unemployed and underemployed increased from 2.3 million and 5.9 million in 2019 to 4.5 million and 6.4 million in 2020, respectively, although IBON estimates the real number of jobless Filipinos at 7-8 million or more that year.
The worst affected by the lockdowns were over six of 10 Filipino families who lived on less than Php30,000 per month pre-pandemic, and by the end of the year, over seven of 10 families did not have any more savings to fall back on. The poorest 70% of families lost Php13,000 to Php32,500 in incomes on average from March 2020 to July 2021, while the number of households without any savings rose from 15.4 million in the first quarter of 2020 to 17.8 million in the second quarter of 2021.
Many were working in badly-hit informal retail trade, transport, carinderias, small business, and other sectors, noted IBON. Meanwhile, government ayuda quickly dwindled from the Php293-billion Bayanihan 1 given in March-September 2020 to only Php22.8 billion under Bayanihan 2 until year-end.
The jobs crisis and poverty persisted in 2021, yet more counterproductive lockdowns were imposed and even less ayuda was given. The number of officially reported unemployed and underemployed Filipinos as of August 2021 remains high at 3.9 million and 6.5 million, respectively. Yet even among those reportedly employed, 18.9 million or four of 10 jobs are in poor-quality informal and irregular work, not yet counting millions more in contractual or merely short-term wage work.
Emergency assistance remains urgent with joblessness and underemployment still high and millions still not recovering from losses since last year. Yet the 2021 budget only gave Php18.4 billion for COVID aid, and more lockdowns were imposed. During the lockdowns in April and August 2021 that each lasted for more than a week, the government only allocated Php1,000-Php4,000 per family, which IBON said was too little considering many months of joblessness and livelihood and income losses that households have been enduring.
Combined with the correct health and other stimulus measures, ayuda is crucial in easing the economic distress of Filipinos, said the group. The budget and social welfare departments should bat for this in the 2022 expenditure plan in Senate and bicameral deliberations, IBON said.
The group also debunked the argument that there are not enough funds for ayuda and stimulus. There are concrete proposals where funding for ayuda can be sourced as already pointed out by IBON, the Makabayan bloc’s SHIELD+, and Bayanihan 3, aside from a long-overdue billionaire tax. ###
Photos: House of Representatives, Altermidya