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Groups press a more ‘inclusive system’ in grant of pandemic aid

Marilyn Raga wearing a mask to prevent the spread of the coronavirus stands beside their trolley as a train passes by in Manila, Philippines. She said her husband used to earn a living by pushing their handmade trolley to ferry people along the railways before the pandemic broke. Raga’s husband now seeks work at a construction site because passengers hardly come by due to the quarantine measures. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)

The Philippines needs an ambitious welfare program to provide assistance to millions of Filipinos whose sources of livelihood have been affected by the pandemic, according to Social Watch Philippines.

In a news statement issued on Monday, Social Watch Philippines co-convener Ma. Victoria Raquiza said that rather than providing a one-off approach, the government should create a “more inclusive system.”

A Social Watch Philippines study found that assistance programs such as the Small Business Wage Subsidy program only benefitted a third of dislocated workers and returned P5 billion of unused funds from the national treasury, among others.

“This continuing pandemic is a wake-up call for the government to strengthen its technical capacity and administrative competence in providing social protection schemes,” Raquiza said.

The study also found that vulnerable households such as those with seniors, persons with disabilities, solo parents, pregnant and lactating mothers, among others, received only one tranche of assistance from the Social Amelioration Program (SAP).

It added that the “protracted validation process of beneficiaries” was the main culprit why SAP was delayed. The second tranche, the study stated, was delayed by five months.

Further, Social Watch Philippines said there was the absence of a data-driven targeting system for the SAP. The lack of a system such as the National ID at the time the SAP was distributed led the government to do manual targeting of 14 million recipients.

The study stated that the lack of a targeting system also caused some 369 local governments to be unsuccessful in distributing the SAP in a timely manner.

“With these findings, emphasized the need for welfare schemes to cast wider nets so that they can help more people, not only in terms of providing for their daily needs but to assist them in leading more productive and fulfilling lives, during and after the pandemic,” Social Watch Philippines said.

Second chance

In a separate statement, Ibon Foundation Inc. said the national government should immediately distribute emergency aid and strengthen pandemic management during the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ).

Ibon said the ECQ is the government’s second chance to improve its response to the pandemic. Last year, Ibon said, the government’s poor response dislocated 14.5 million people after two weeks of “insufficient and insensitive response.”

The group said the government can extend P1.5 billion in financing for emergency amounts. This would provide assistance to the poorest families, Filipino-owned, domestically oriented MSMEs, cash-for-work programs, agriculture, informal earners, the health sector, and distance education.

“Government can also take a look at similar proposals forwarded by lawmakers such as the Makabayan Bloc’s People’s Strategy for Strengthening Health, Social Protection, Economic, and Local Industrial Development (SHIELD) and the Bayanihan To Arise As One Act (Bayanihan 3),” Ibon said.

Apart from emergency aid, Ibon said the government should also address inadequacies in the health system, particularly in terms of testing and tracing for Covid-19.

Ibon said the testing capacity of 40,000 per day is below the 50,000 target, while the current national average tracing ratio of 1:7 is also below the 1:37 goal.

The ECQ, Ibon said, would aggravate the current crisis. “Government should come up with fast and real action, starting with prompt aid distribution to all affected households.”

On Monday, economists said the government can maximize lockdowns and more stringent quarantine measures if these are implemented in tandem with other medical and nonmedical measures.

These nonmedical measures include the provision of targeted cash transfers and food subsidies, Action for Economic Reforms (AER) Coordinator Filomeno Sta. Ana III told BusinessMirror on Sunday.

Meanwhile, De La Salle University economist Maria Ella Oplas said the government should also focus on better data analysis and implement mass testing.

For one, mass testing should have been implemented as early as the onset of the pandemic to trace all infected persons and isolate them as soon as possible, Oplas said.

She added that if mass testing were implemented now, the Philippine economy could remain open even without the arrival of vaccines to inoculate the population.

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