Anakalusugan Representative Mike Defensor slammed the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) for implementing policies that endangered Filipinos into getting COVID-19 as they availed themselves of government support.
In the first hearing of the House probe into the emergency subsidy program (ESP) on Monday, June 22, Defensor noted how certain policies called on beneficiaries of social welfare programs to leave their homes and line up at designated distribution points.
In different areas of the country, there have been crowds of people lining up to get their cash aid from the ESP.
Photo by Angie de Silva/Rappler
Photo by Dennis Abrina
In the original 4-step distribution process released in March, the DSWD said the ESP beneficiaries would receive their subisidies on a “house to house basis,” where officials would be the ones to go to the beneficiaries. (READ: Paano maaaring tumanggap ng tulong mula sa emergency subsidy program ng DSWD?)
However, this wasn't what happened on the ground all the time.
"There is an urgent need to mitigate, if not contain, the transmission of COVID-19 [and] immediately mobilize assistance in the provision of basic necessities to families and individuals affected by the imposition of community quarantine, especially indigents and their families," Defensor said, quoting from the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act.
"Ang beneficiaries, pinapapunta sa barangay para mag-apply [sa AICS program]. Eh COVID-19 nga. Paano mo papaalisin mga tao, mag-apply sa barangay, para makakuha ng suporta?" said Defensor.
(The beneficiaries are made to go to the barangay to apply for the Assistance to Individuals in Crisis Situation (AICS) program. But we're in a COVID-19 pandemic. How could you make people leave their homes and go to the barangay halls just to avail themselves of the aid?)
Defensor also noted an incident when the lawmakers asked why there were many lines of people along Batasan Road. It turned out they were there to avail themselves of the cash aid from DSWD's headquarters, which is located next to Congress.
"Yung pinakainiiwasan natin at punto ng [ESP] na hindi magkahawa-hawa ang tao, 'yun po ang naging problema. Nagkaroon tayo ng isang polisiya ng distribution na nagdidikit-dikit 'yung mga tao," said Defensor.
(The thing we are trying to avoid the most, which is a point of the ESP, is transmission between people, and that's exactly the problem we created. We had a distribution policy that made people stay close to each other.)
The DSWD clarified that AICS was a separate program from the ESP, but did not explain in its presentation why payouts in public areas were still done in some areas for the first tranche. (READ: Lawmakers berate DSWD regional directors over delays in aid distribution)
The second tranche, the DSWD said, was being distributed through digital payouts. (READ: DSWD, DICT launch 'ReliefAgad' app for electronic cash aid distribution)
DSWD Undersecretary Danilo Pamonag said 1,324 of the agency's personnel have had to undergo self-quarantine from March to June. Nineteen of them were found to be COVID-19-positive.
The House is investigating the delays in the implementation of the ESP. Confusing policies on eligibility and availing the subsidies have left thousands of Filipinos waiting for aid that wasn't always guaranteed to them. (READ: IN LIMBO: Poor families still await subsidies during coronavirus lockdown)
The distribution of the second tranche, which was meant for the month of May, only began on June 11.