MANILA—City hall workers got dagger looks early this week from incensed villagers expecting to receive forms for an upcoming cash aid to tide them over during the government-imposed quarantine against the new coronavirus.
But not everyone would be covered by the P200-billion dole-out since the social welfare department kept Valenzuela City’s quota at 82,000 households, which was said to be less than half of its actual number of families in need.
“Pagdating dun sa street at naubos na yung form, yung mga tao naglabasan at very irate. Dinuduro talaga yung mga barangay officials,” Mayor Rex Gatchalian recalled.
(When the forms ran out, people went out very irate. They were confronting the village officials.)
As late as Friday, he said local officials were hard-pressed to explain the fine details of the social amelioration program, while also belying accusations that they pocketed a portion of the P650-million budget received by city hall for it.
Local governments in the front lines of the war against COVID-19 are bearing the brunt of angry constituents demanding help and facing an uncertain future beyond the pandemic.
The national government earlier rolled out a multibillion-peso aid package to cushion the impact of a Luzon-wide community quarantine triggered by the contagion.
But cities and municipalities were in disarray on how to distribute between P5,000 and P8,000 in “emergency subsidy program” to 18-million low-income households for 2 months.
Confusion over documentary requirements on Friday prompted the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) to revise its rules and validate beneficiaries “after” they received the money. Local governments were instructed to distribute the amounts within 24 hours after receiving the budget.
“Damage done,” Gatchalian said on ANC’s “Matters of Fact” podcast, citing the “tedious” process of the past few days when residents also had to line up for “interviews” with DSWD representatives.
“There was a buildup of people already and now you’ll say you’re going to recalibrate the process?”
A DSWD official earlier acknowledged that the validation process took time and slowed down cash distribution, which covered only 4 million out of 18 million families as of Thursday last week.
"May proseso kasi na ginagawa. Nililista ng barangay kung sino ang dapat makakatanggap, gagawa ng payroll, i-encash ang pera at doon mag-uumpisa ang pamimigay," Undersecretary Milo Gudmalin told DZMM.
Gatchalian said part of the problem also had to do with messaging from the national government, which announced the massive dole-out but came out with the “fine print” only afterward.
By then, many communities already thought they would receive money regardless of differences in income levels, he said.
“So it’s hard for us now to explain to those who believe they are entitled to it,” he said. “Up to now, I was talking with some barangay captains, sinusugod pa din sila ng mga tao thinking they were withholding forms.”
(… people were still confronting them thinking they were withholding the forms.)
The DSWD requires beneficiaries to fill out social amelioration card forms to determine which families would receive the 2-time aid.
But given the DSWD quota and the absence of a national ID, city hall representatives were spending a lot of time looking for heads of families and interviewing them to make sure they were included in the criteria, such as informal economy workers.
Problems could also be as basic as preparing documents, said Gatchalian.
“Ang nangyayari tuloy ngayon sa Valenzuela, lumalabas yung mga tao… para magpa-photocopy, so again, that’s defeating the purpose of staying at home,” he said.
(What happened in Valenzuela, beneficiaries went out to photocopy documents…)
“Nakakatawa, mundane as it may sound, hindi lahat ng mga tao may stapler sa kabiling mga tahanan so… lalabas na naman sila.”
(It’s funny and mundane as it may sound, not everyone has a stapler at home so they need to go out again.)
Gatchalian said the city later opted to put up drop boxes in 24 satellite offices where beneficiaries could leave their completed documents. But he said the DSWD later sent representatives to validate each submission, causing crowding on site.
“I’m sad that there’s really a disconnect with the DSWD,” he said. “There are national announcements by the DWSD but sometimes, they don’t consider tailor-fitting it on the ground.”
Gatchalian said cash distribution was planned for Wednesday next week in designated centers such as basketball courts. It will likely be scheduled by batch to ensure that residents will still practice physical distancing, he said.
In mid-March, when Valenzuela recorded its first confirmed COVID-19 case, he said the city was already pushing for mass testing. But it had to wait for the Department of Health’s instructions on which type of test kits to purchase and where samples could be brought.
Accreditation of more test kits and laboratories came later during the enhanced community quarantine, frustrating local governments willing to do mass testing early.
“The DOH… I think has been very slow and has been in that regulatory mindset rather than the mentor mindset,” Gatchalian said, noting the “lull” in COVID-19 cases in February.
Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, he said, should have taken advantage of that period to come out with a list of approved testing kits and labs.
“Kaya naman pala ng DOH gawin yun. Bakit ngayon lang? Bakit ngayon lang kayo nagka-mad rush to accredit when we’re already 1 month into the enhanced community quarantine?”
Early this month, Valenzuela tapped The Medical City to process swab samples then rolled out mass testing in the city a week later.