Questions on cash aid remain as Congress expects Duterte’s 8th report on special powers

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 17) — Questions from some lawmakers on cash aid for poor families are still lingering ahead of President Rodrigo Duterte’s eighth weekly report to Congress on his special powers to tackle the COVID-19 crisis.

Senate Social Justice Committee chair Leila de Lima, in particular, questioned the government’s plan to cut cash aid beneficiaries in the second tranche of its distribution so only families in areas under enhanced community quarantine will be covered.

De Lima suggested that the decision is illegal and unfair, citing the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act which granted Duterte special powers and provided that 18 million low-income families should get subsidies ranging from ₱5,000 to ₱8,000 for two months.

“This perfunctory exclusion of those 15.5 million families, who are in the non-ECQ areas starting May 16, is also unfair — nay, inhumane — considering that they would have already spent the first half of the month of May still in lockdown,” she said in her comment on Duterte’s seventh report on his special powers.

De Lima also asked what the role of local government units would be in the distribution of the second tranche of cash aid as the Department of Social Welfare and Development, along with the Department of National Defense and the Armed Forces of the Philippines, would now directly handle its distribution.

Senator Joel Villanueva, meanwhile, asked what the DSWD’s plan would be for the remaining beneficiaries who have not yet received cash aid.

Latest data from the DSWD show that 17.2 million of the target 18 million families have been served by the cash aid program, leaving around five percent of beneficiaries still not receiving financial assistance.

Villanueva, who chairs the Senate Committee on Labor, is also seeking clarity as to why the distribution of aid to drivers of public utility vehicles and transportation network vehicle services “froze” at 44.9 percent of the target beneficiaries.

He said he wants to know what caused the delay in the distribution of subsidies to drivers.

Aside from cash aid, Duterte is also expected to detail part of the spending for COVID-19 response, which is sourced from realignments within the executive department.

Congress granted Duterte in March additional powers to tackle the COVID-19 crisis, but also required him to report back to the legislature every week about his administration’s fight against the viral disease.

To date, 12,513 have been infected with coronavirus in the Philippines. Of them, 824 have died, while 2,635 have recovered.