A civil society organization urged government to set up a more ambitious social protection program to provide more aid to more people affected by the pandemic, especially after authorities vowed to distribute aid to the most vulnerable sectors following another strict lockdown in the National Capital Region.
Instead of a one-off approach to providing assistance, the government should come up with a more substantive and inclusive mechanism that will provide meaningful aid to all those who need it, especially in times of disaster, according to Social Watch Philippines.
“This continuing pandemic is a wake-up call for the government to strengthen its technical capacity and administrative competence in providing social protection schemes,” Ma. Victoria Raquiza, Social Watch Philippines co-convenor, said in a statement issued a few days after another enhanced community quarantine was imposed in Metro Manila and nearby regions.
Raquiza once more issued the call for a more universal approach to social protection after Social Watch Philippines held a roundtable meeting that discussed findings of studies on government’s health, economic relief, and social protection programs.
The outputs of these welfare schemes were set by the COVID-19 Active Response and Expenditure Support (CARES) program loan that was implemented during the first year of the pandemic. CARES is co-financed by the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank through a $750-million loan, together with other loans from the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA). [See: AIIB COVID-19 Loan Project Brief]
During the roundtable discussion, the studies revealed that while the government managed to meet the programs’ goals — increasing testing capacity to 8,000 per day by May 2020, providing wage subsidies to those temporarily unable to work during the lockdown by December 2020, and distributing cash to vulnerable households by July 2020 — the demands for these subsidies were so huge that provisions were insufficient.
All told, the case studies’ findings showed that once more, the informal and vulnerable sectors — the very same sectors that need the most help during a disaster such as a pandemic — were not adequately provided for. [See: Case Study presentation for COVID-19 Testing and Wage Subsidies, Case Study presentation about the Social Amelioration Program]
Among the findings include:
• Informal workers and disadvantaged sectors found it difficult to access COVID-19 testing, risking the possibility that they may contract, and even spread, infection.
• Wage subsidies under the Department of Labor and Employment’s (DoLE) COVID-19 Adjustment Measures Program (CAMP) and the Department of Finance’s (DoF) Small Business Wage Subsidy program fell below the prevailing minimum wage and only benefitted one-third (or 658,886) of the 2.3 million workers who were temporarily dislocated during the lockdown. What is perplexing is that in spite of the urgent need to increase subsidies for workers and distribute them to as many workers as possible, the SBWS program returned P5 billion of unused funds to the national treasury in July 2020.
• Households that had members who were considered vulnerable — or those families which had seniors, persons with disabilities, solo parents, and pregnant and lactating mothers, among others — only received one tranche of Social Amelioration Program (SAP) funds, even if they were entitled to receive more than one by virtue of having more than one member who was considered vulnerable. Moreover, the civil society organization said that the urgency to provide SAP assistance at the soonest possible time during the strict lockdown period could have justified an expedited validation process. The protracted validation process of beneficiaries delayed the SAP distribution. In the case of the distribution of the second tranche, the delay was about five months, which, in turn, further prolonged the agony of recipients.
• The case studies have been unable to determine whether the economic relief and the wage subsidy programs helped uplift the welfare of women owing to the lack of additional gender-disaggregated data such as in the case of micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs) (of which 58% were registered by women) and their workers. [See: Case Study presentation for COVID-19 Testing and Wage Subsidies, Case Study presentation about the Social Amelioration Program]
According to Social Watch Philippines, these findings show that the beneficiary targeting system employed by the government’s welfare programs risked being too narrow.
The lack of data about MSMEs, their workers, and 4Ps beneficiaries only emphasize what has been confirmed all along: that women continue to bear most of the brunt of hardship, especially during times of crisis and disaster.
With these findings, the group emphasized the need for welfare schemes to cast wider nets so that they can help more people, not only in terms of providing for their daily needs but to assist them in leading more productive and fulfilling lives, during and after the pandemic.