DSWD head moves to shield welfare services from use as 'hidden pork'

Inday Espina-Varona, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Aug 05 2016 02:23 PM

DSWD Sec. Judy Taguiwalo

Poor people needing welfare and emergency aid no longer have to beg legislators and other powerful figures for referrals. Those all-important letters from members of Congress, local executives or any sector of the country’s mighty officialdom no longer carry their old weight in the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD).

DSWD Memorandum Circular No. 9, signed by Secretary Judy Taguiwalo, seeks to shield social workers and field office staff that traditionally face pressures to accommodate or deny citizens the benefits of the Protective Services Program (PSP)

Taguiwalo said referral letters “are not integral to the implementation of the PSP.”

While these may be considered, she stressed that these should not be binding on DSWD staff who evaluate the qualifications of beneficiaries.

“The DSWD retains sole authority to determine beneficiaries,” the memorandum said, enjoining all personnel to strictly adhere to new guidelines.

Taguiwalo also told all DSWD staff to directly seek her aid and report any threat or attempt or pressure to circumvent the provisions of her circular.

The DSWD will take appropriate action and provide support to staff who are harassed for following instructions aimed to prevent past abuses, Taguiwalo said.

Referrals have been a main tool of patronage when legislators still enjoyed millions of pesos worth of pork perks annually.

Following the Supreme Court ruling banning congressional pork as unconstitutional, both Congress and the executive branch continued using referrals as a way around the landmark ruling.

HIDDEN PORK

The PSP is an umbrella that includes aid to individuals and families in crisis situations, including transportation and medical aid, burial, education and food assistance; stipend to indigent senior citizens not covered by social pension systems; cash/food for work, food packs.

For 2016, the department has a P2.6 billion budget for protective services.

Taguiwalo made it clear that she would follow the Supreme Court’s unanimous decision striking down the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), a main component of the Philippine pork barrel system.

WATCH: SC unanimously votes to declare PDAF as unconstitutional

According to the Supreme Court, it is unconstitutional for legislators, whether as individuals or as committees, to intervene in post-enactment stages of budget execution.

It has been a long-standing practice in the country that the poor who need government benefits beg referrals from legislators or local government officials to get some attention. Politicians use these "favors" as a way of ensuring voters' loyalty, giving rise to corrupt practices where the genuinely needy are swept aside in favor of favored constituents.

OLD MEMO

The 2015 Memorandum Circular No 4, issued by former DSWD Secretary Corazon Soliman expanded the protective services program and provided implementation guidelines.

The old memorandum states that beneficiaries are constituents of a congressional district of a local government who seek aid directly or are referred to the department’s field crisis intervention units and satellite offices.

In the portion of Assistance to Individuals in Crisis Situations (AICS), the 2015 guidelines for acceptance of beneficiaries include “referrals” when applicable.

Among services that come under this is educational aid. AICS includes conditions of poor health conditions, natural and man-made catastrophes and other emergencies.

A DSWD statement said 540,384 individuals and families in crisis situations were assisted in 2015 amounting to P1,850,214,233.91.
From January to April 2016, AICS has released P479, 272,375 to respond to various needs of some 167,240 individuals who sought help.

Even with the SC ruling against PDAF, legislators were exposed meeting with officials of executive agencies in a bid to circumvent the high court ruling.

ACT-Teachers party-list Rep. Antonio Tinio blew the whistle on efforts focused on the Department of Health and the Commission on Higher Education.

Read: PDAF ‘DEAD’? WELL, GOV’T HAS RAISED THE ZOMBIE

Read: PNoy admin 'secretly' used PDAF in 2014 budget: Tinio

Earlier, Taguiwalao expressed alarm over a COA report that noted millions of worth of relief goods spoiling in DSWD warehouses.

“We are rather alarmed on the COA report because this involves millions worth of food items that can feed thousands of calamity victims. This is an issue that needs proper handling and evaluation,” she said, adding that her office would prioritize implementation of the COA’s recommendations.

The COA found deficiencies under the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps) 4Ps information system such as duplicate entries in the 4Ps payroll, exclusion/suspension of compliant beneficiaries from payroll, and delays in the distribution of cash grants.

“This is the very purpose why we are undertaking the review of 4Ps. We want to explore more effective means to review the financial system and other processes of the program to ensure that such findings will never be repeated,” Sec. Taguiwalo continued.