'May sweldo sila': Villar opposes cash aid for middle-class families during COVID-19 crisis

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 20) — Senator Cynthia Villar has expressed apprehension over middle-class families receiving financial aid from the government during the COVID-19 crisis, claiming they are taking away help that should be reserved for the poorest of the poor.

The lawmaker on Tuesday said the middle-class families do not need help from the government as they are receiving their salaries during the lockdown.

She asked the Department of Social Welfare Development why families belonging to the middle class are included in the social amelioration program or SAP, which is intended to help low-income families and no-work, no-pay workers. During the hearing of the Senate committee of the whole on COVID-19 pandemic response, she said the government allotted P5,000 to P8,000 financial help to 18 million families or 82 percent of the country's population. She claimed only 59 percent belong to the sector that should receive aid.

"'Yung 82 percent, kasama na doon ang middle class. May trabaho sila, na kahit lockdown pinasusweldo sila ng gobyerno at pinasusweldo ng mga private companies. Bakit sila pa ang bibigyan ng SAP? Eh may sweldo sila, mapalad sila may sweldo sila," she said.

[Translation: The 82 percent who are covered by SAP includes the middle class. They have work during the lockdown and they are receiving their salaries either from the government or private companies. Why do they need to receive cash aid? They are lucky they are being paid.]

She added, "Hindi ko ma-accept ang numbers na yon kasi nade-deprive ang mahihirap dahil binibigyan pati ang middle class."

[Translation: I cannot accept the number of beneficiaries because the poor are being deprived of help because you are also helping the middle class.]

Villar, the wife of businessman Manny Villar — the richest Filipino on Forbes' list for 2020, said several businesses are losing money because they are paying their employees even though they barely earn during the lockdown.

She asked DSWD Secretary Rolando Bautista to explain how the department came up with the list of beneficiaries. He explained that LGUs are tasked to identify the beneficiaries as they are more knowledgeable of the status of the families in their areas.

Acting Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Karl Chua explained that population projections show that there are now 24.6 million families in the country, compared to the 22 million families in 2015 — when the last census was conducted. He said 18 million families belong to the low-income and informal work sectors or no-work no-pay workers.

Some 23 million families received help through the SAP during the first tranche of distribution. Under the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act, the national government has allotted ₱200-billion-worth of aid for those most affected by the pandemic.

The national government also has a separate emergency aid program for those employed in small business.

Villar has since apologized, saying she recognizes the vast contribution of middle-class workers.

"My statements during the hearing yesterday was not in any manner meant to be an affront to the hardworking middle class of the country. I might have framed my questions and statements in such a manner that made it seem I was insensitive to the plight of the middle income sector. I am NOT. I am concerned and I lookout for the welfare of the middle income workers. If I have offended anyone with my statements, I humbly apologize," she said in a statement on Wednesday.