MANILA - Senator Panfilo Lacson on Tuesday questioned a number of Department of Social Welfare and Development’s (DSWD) pro-poor programs, which to him, are similar to a number of government policies alleviating the plight of the poor.
According to Senator Imee Marcos, DSWD's budget sponsor, 54 percent of the agency's proposed P203.4 budget in 2022 goes to Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps).
But Lacson, vice chairman of the Senate's finance committee, grilled Marcos about the similarity of 4Ps, Pamana (Payapa at Masaganang Pamayanan), Kalahi-CIDDS, (Kapit Bisig Laban sa Kahirapan), Sustainable Livelihood Program (SLP), to other pro-poor projects by the government.
The Pamana was launched in 2011 as a priority program supporting the peace negotiation track of the government.
The Kalahi-CIDDS program, on the other hand, was created in 2002 with an aim to alleviate poverty in the countryside.
Lacson pointed out that many of the 16 pro-poor programs from the DSWD are similar to that of National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC), which suffered budget cuts next year.
Marcos admitted some of the supposed similarities.
“The SLP is the one that met some controversies… kasi maliwanag po yung Sustainable Livelihood at saka Kalahi-CIIDS," said Marcos.
"Although the DSWD has repeatedly claimed not to have any part on the NTF-ELCAC budget, we are also aware that the SLP, or the livelihood program, as well as the Pamana has derived a lot of funding from Kalahi, as well as [Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process],” the lawmaker added.
Although she defended DSWD's budget, Marcos still admitted her difficulty of appreciating an off-shoot of the Kalahi-CIDDS program dubbed as Kalahi-CIDDS KKB.
The second one is supposedly designed to assist those covered by the “Balik-Probinsya” program, she said.
Lacson also noted the possibility that some of the programs in DSWD are "interrelated" with 4Ps.
“We counted nasa mga 16 yung programs, different programs… Parang over-arching programs nito is the 4Ps. Ito yung ina-address natin yung (these are what we addressed for the) poorest of the poor. But then other programs could be interrelated," said Lacson.
"We want to find out kung walang duplication in the goal, in the program itself, and the beneficiaries. Baka we’re wasting a lot of money, and not addressing the root cause of the problem,” he added.
SLP, Lacson alleged, may also be overlapping the NTF-ELCAC’s functions.
“Baka pareho yung target beneficiaries nito. Because kung database rin nila gagamitin, yun ang target nila para sa NTF-ELCAC funds for the Sustainable Livelihood Program… Baka ina-address na ng DSWD yung beneficiaries under the Sustainable Program, tapos meron pa rin tayong budget under the NTF-ELCAC," he pointed out.
(Maybe the target beneficiaries are the same, because if we would base it on the database, the NTF-ELCAC targets the same for the Sustainable Livelihood Program. Maybe DSWD already addressed the beneficiaries under the LSP, then we also have the same budget under NTF-ELCAC.)
But Marcos said the P202 million fund for SLP are dedicated only for conflict, vulnerable, and affected areas.
Lacson, however, rebutted the female lawmaker, asking why the beneficiaries in conflict areas are supposedly "not covered" by the agency.
“Are there two sets of marginalized sector in this country? Hindi ba isa lang yan?” the former police chief said.
“Territorial. Parang yung 823 barangays nakatutok dun yung SLP... In effect, (prioritized) yung conflict areas… this P5.9B for SLP. They only carved out P202M para sa conflict-ridden areas,” Marcos explained.
Lacson later on moved to “integrate” all the available funds bearing the same objective.
Marcos said the Senate national defense committee, which Lacson chairs, has already cut the almost P1 billion proposed Pamana Peace and Development Fund by half or P500,000.
She also expressed her concern about the newly-introduced Pamana-DSWD-LGU-led livelihood program which bears P418.6 million, which for her, “will also look like the NTF-ELCAC.”
The senator also admitted her puzzlement over the creation of the Kalahi-CIDDS KKB to aid individuals wanting to return to the province.
Lacson, who repeatedly expressed his exasperation over his unanswered questions, also took note of the DSWD’s inability to spend all its received budget as showed by the 68 percent fund utilization report of the department.
“I have more questions. But as you’ve mentioned earlier, parang nakakatamad na ring magtanong kasi hindi rin naman nasasagot,” Lacson said.
(I no longer want to ask questions because nothing gets answered.)
Marcos said the disbursement of funds for this year – majority of them assistance to beneficiaries – is now at 88 percent.
As of this writing, at least P30.7 billion DSWD funds remain “unused," senators said.
“How can we be assured by the department that they will be able to utilize their budget for this year... if they are not able to obligate their budget for this year, what’s the point of giving them additional budget for next year?” Lacson asked.
“We are promised that this will be utilized and they will be racheting up their MOAs with various LGUs.. as well as on their digital payments,” Marcos said.
“To promise or to commit is the easier part. But the question is, how?” Lacson said.
“Year-on-year, we have a lot of promises during the budget,” Marcos replied.
MORE FUNDS FOR SENIOR CITIZENS
Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto pointed on the need to expand the number of senior citizens currently covered by the DSWD’s 4Ps.
For next year, the DSWD would only cover 3.8 million senior citizens out of the total 9 million elderly Filipinos.
Such program will only receive P25 billion, but covering all eligible senior citizens will require an overall funding of P92 million, Marcos said.
The DSWD only covers elderly individuals aged 65 years old and above.
“Maybe another P25 billion to P40 billion may be necessary to cover everyone… We can do the math on that,” Recto said.
Recto likewise moved for a larger coverage of “Food-for-Work” program to aid more pandemic-affected Filipinos.
The DSWD’s proposed budget for next year, was still “deemed approved” at the plenary later in the day.