Cash aid for ECQ residents eyed

The Department of Budget and Management (DBM) will recommend to President Rodrigo Duterte the handing out of cash assistance to 22.9 million low-income earners living in the National Capital Region (Metro Manila) and four outlying provinces that are under enhanced community quarantine (ECQ).

ECQ BITES Divisoria, the country’s bargain center, was deserted on March 29, 2021, the first day of the implementation of an enhanced community quarantine. Malls, stalls and stores were shuttered in the usually busy district. PHOTO BY RENE DILAN

Budget and Management Secretary Wendel Avisado made the announcement at a briefing on Monday, the same day the ECQ was reimposed in Metro Manila, Bulacan, Rizal, Cavite and Laguna to stem the mounting cases of coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19).

The ECQ will be in force until April 4

The recommendation for cash assistance comes after Sen. Christopher Lawrence Go made several appeals to the national government to help indigent residents in ECQ zones.

Avisado said the funds for the “special amelioration assistance” would come from P23 billion unused allocation in the Bayanihan to Recover as One Act or Bayanihan 2.

He did not say how much each household would be getting, but said it would “definitely be lower than what we have given during the Bayanihan 1 (Bayanihan to Heal as One Act).”
Around P5,000 to P8,000 was given to each poor family in areas under ECQ last year through the Bayanihan 1.

The President is expected to decide on the DBM’s recommendation within the day, Avisado said.

Once Duterte gives his approval, the DBM will issue the special allotment release order and the notice of cash allocation for the funds’ release.

Avisado said the presidential economic team agreed on the need for the speedy release of cash aid for those who would be affected by the ECQ declaration.

How fast the cash aid would be distributed would depend on the local government units, he added.

Go, meanwhile, said the government must do everything to prevent the locked-down residents from going hungry.

“Sa bawat araw na lumilipas kung saan nakakulong at limitado ang galaw ng mga tao para matigil ang pagkalat ng sakit, isang araw din na bawas ito sa kita na dapat ipapakain nila sa kanilang mga pamilya, lalo na ‘yung mga isang kahig, isang tuka (Every day of confinement and limited movement of the people in order to prevent the spread of the disease is also a day of lost income that should have been used to feed their families, especially those living a hand-to-mouth existence),” he said.

Go, who heads the Senate’s Health and Demography committee, urged concerned
government agencies to maximize available funds for the proposed new social amelioration program, since many Filipinos had been reported to experience hunger due to quarantine restrictions.

He said he talked to Avisado and Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez last Friday concerning the source of funds for the cash aid.

Senators Mary Grace Poe and Ana Theresia Hontiveros on Monday joined Go in pressing for cash assistance for the families affected by the weeklong lockdown.

Poe urged the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Diseases to ensure the effective enforcement of health protocols, “but with respect to the rights of our people.”

“We seek timely and sufficient cash aid and other assistance to needy families, so they won’t be forced to go out of their homes to find food and basic needs,” she said in a statement.

She also called for adequate transportation for workers who need to be on site and coordinated policies to ensure the unimpeded flow of goods.

“As we remain in our homes, we hope vaccination, testing, contact tracing and isolation will be relentless and wide-ranging,” Poe, chairman of the Senate Committee on Public Services, said. “If this lockdown is a necessary replay of the past, we hope for a better ending this time, one that will bring us closer to overcoming this pandemic.”

In a separate statement, Hontiveros said the cash aid would be made possible through the completion of “Listahanan 3,” the roster of beneficiaries qualified for the government’s social protection programs such as the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program.

She deplored that the public was forced to accept a reimposed ECQ “because of gross negligence and incompetence.”

She stressed that so long as the same people were in charge of the pandemic response and there was failure to address the problem head on, enforcement of mobility restrictions would still be inadequate and ordinary Filipinos will continue to suffer.

“We need better leadership. We need health experts who will carry out scientific, evidence-based solutions. We need competent and empathetic medical professionals to get us through this crisis,” Hontiveros said.

“We cannot expect better if they can only praise their own past actions and blame the viral mutations. Let’s break this vicious cycle once and for all,” she added.