"Dapat lahat ng tao meron." (Everyone should have it.)
This was the reaction Tuesday of Sonny Africa, IBON Foundation executive director, on Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri's announcement raising the one-time inflation assistance for Senate employees to P50,000.
Speaking to ABS-CBN's TeleRadyo, Africa said increasing the inflation allowance for the Senate's nearly 3,000 employees is a political choice.
He said both chambers of Congress increased their budgets for 2023 while other programs such as the conditional cash transfer for the country's poorest families also have suffered budget cuts.
"Kung gusto, maraming paraan. Kung ayaw, maraming dahilan. Kasi at the same time na pinalaki nila yung budget nila sa kanilang sarili, binawasan naman ang budget para sa ayuda. Even sa flagship program na 4Ps, kinaltasan nang mahigit P4 billion at babawasan yung benepisyong ibibigay sa mahihirap," Africa said.
Describing Zubiri's announcement as "institutionalized patronage on full display", Africa noted that the larger question at hand is not how the Senate was able to source funds for its employees, but what government is doing to help those who lost their jobs during the extended COVID-19 lockdowns or are still struggling to make ends meet due to rising inflation.
"Ang pinaka-unsettling sa naganap na announcement na 'yan, hindi yung sa makakakuha ng benepisyo yung mga kawani - na chances are deserved naman nila yan - kundi kinakailangang ganun ba? Na nasa wisyo lang ng nasa poder, ay magbibigay ako kapag gusto ko..."
"Ang gobyerno ay nandiyan para sa lahat. Kung ang tao ay may karapatan sa ayuda dahil naghihirap sila, dapat lahat ng tao meron - malapit sa kusina o hindi, may kilalang pulitiko na senador, congressman, mayor, governor o wala. Dapat, lahat pantay-pantay. Kapag nangangailangan, mabibigyan ng tulong," he added.
"Nagulat kami hindi lang dun sa laki pero parang may halong yabang. Ewan ko, medyo upsetting yung naganap na yun."
Africa warned that such practices could ossify patronage politics wherein voters settle for whatever help government gives them while looking to their preferred politicians for support.
He also urged the National Wages Productivity Commission to revive computations for a family living wage, while government should also compute the average daily basic pay of workers.
Zubiri had said the Senate leadership will increase the P12,200 inflationary adjustment assistance for employees to P50,000. Medical assistance for Senate employees was also raised to P50,000.
Both assistance will be a one-time benefit, Zubiri said.
Members of the Senate's employees union defended the allowance increase, saying it is the fruit of a long struggle for increased benefits.
It said the increase should set the standard for both the private and public sectors.
"Ang nakabubuhay na sweldo at proteksyon sa paggawa ay tungkulin ng Estado sa kanyang mamamayan. Wasto ang pananaw ni Senate President Zubiri na ang kasalukuyang minimum na sahod ay hindi sapat at hindi nakabubuhay," the Sandigan ng mga Empleyadong Nagkakaisa sa Adhikain ng Demokratikong Organisasyon said in a statement.
It added: "Ang resolusyon at anumang panukalang batas sa Senado at Kongreso para sa pagtataas ng sahod ng mga manggagawa at mga kawani ay nararapat at makatarungan lalo na sa kasalukuyang panahon. Kami ay nakikiisa sa kanyang pahayag na dapat itaas ang minimum na sahod sa pampubliko man o sa pribadong sektor at ito ay dapat mag-umpisa ngayon na!"