MANILA, Philippines — Some senators were taken by surprise after the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) revealed Tuesday about a P10-billion untapped funds under the government’s social amelioration program (SAP).
DSWD Secretary Rolando Bautista said during Senate deliberations on the proposed P171-billion budget of the agency for 2021 that they were able to have the “savings” since the number of low-income families to be covered in the cash aid program’s second tranche distribution was trimmed from 18 million to 14 million.
“Out of the budget, we still have a remaining P10 billion. It’s still within our fund and depending on what will be the instruction of the DBM [Department of Budget and Management] whether to realign this to other projects for recovery or return this to the Bureau of Treasury,” he said.
The DSWD chief’s disclosure comes as many low-income families and individuals, including jeepney drivers, clamor for additional financial assistance from the government since many among them are still unable to earn a decent income to feed their families amid prevailing lockdowns due to persistent threats of COVID-19.
Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto called into question DSWD’s P10 billion “savings,” pointing out that it would not “make sense” to return the money to the Treasury when there are Filipinos families still needing assistance amid the health crisis.
“So there’s P10 billion more with DSWD. Earlier, the testimony is meron kayong pagbibigyan na iba na waitlisted. And now you’re telling the committee that you will probably give it back to the Treasury?” he said.
“The reason why I am asking this is maraming nagtatanong. Marami pang ‘di nakakatanggap ng SAP. In my hometown in Lipa City, I’ve heard of complaints. In Metro Manila, many mayors are complaining that their constituents have not received the second SAP. Now we have P10 billion available. To me, dapat ito itulong natin sa mga tao,” he added.
Before this, Recto quizzed DSWD officials on the reason why not all of the 18 million catered in the first round of SAP aid distribution will no longer be covered for the second wave of subsidy.
He pointed out that the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act provides for the distribution of cash aid to 18 million low-income households in both tranches.
DSWD chief legal officer Paul Tacorda explained that the agency was “tasked” by the Office of the President (OP) to “serve only about 12 million to 14 million of the first tranche.”
This, he added, was to make way for the provision of financial assistance to the “waitlisted” beneficiaries – as identified by President Rodrigo Duterte – who also needs help aside from the low-income families covered in the first round of SAP distribution.
“In as much as the department would have wanted to serve the same 18 million catered in the first tranche, we were tasked by the Office of the President and pursuant to the collegial decision of the member agencies of the IATF-EID (Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases),” Tacorda said.
“The four million [family beneficiaries] that were not [covered] in the second tranche was because of these instructions from the OP and to cover the waitlisted beneficiaries who also suffered because of the COVID-19 pandemic,” he added.
Bautista also attributed the reduced number of low-income families covered in the SAP second tranche to the discovery of beneficiaries who are receiving “double compensation.”
“One family might have received an emergency subsidy from DOLE (Department of Labor and Employment) or DA (Department of Agriculture) and also from DSWD,” Bautista said.
“We did not include them in the second tranche,” he added.
So far, DSWD has disbursed P83.1 billion to 13.9 million families for the second tranche or 97.2 percent of the agency’s 14-million target, according to Undersecretary Danilo Pamonag.
Senator Nancy Binay was also “bothered” by the revelation of Bautista regarding the P10-billion untouched SAP funds.
She said she could not understand why the DSWD would have yet to release the “big amount.”
“Hindi ko maintindihan na bakit nagkaroon ng savings na P10 billion. ‘Di ba? Parang kulang na kulang. In fact, ‘yung mga jeepney drivers natin na na-displace hanggang ngayon nagrereklamo na wala pa silang natatanggap,” she stressed.
“I’m just bothered na there’s that big amount na dapat nakatulong na, lalung-lalo na nung kasagsagan ng lockdown,” Binay added.
Pressed on what DSWD plans to do with the P10 billion “savings,” agency officials said they intend to use the money to extend livelihood grants to small-time vendors and sari-sari store owners, among others.
DSWD director Resty Macuto told senators that the agency is proposing the provision of P15,000 for each informal vendors and sari-sari store owner.
But Recto said this move would run counter with the intent of the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act.
“Wouldn’t that be against the law? The law provides—under the Bayanihan 1—to provide SAP. It is clearly written in the law, for 18 million families,” he pointed out.
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