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On 7th week of lockdown: 10M worker and informal earner households still waiting for emergency subsidies

by IBON Media

A month-and-a-half into lockdown, millions of workers and informal earners grapple in uncertainty as the government’s social amelioration program (SAP) and Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) aid are failing to reach them, said research group IBON.

Six-out-of-ten or majority of government’s targeted beneficiary households have still not received the promised emergency subsidies while funding for DOLE assistance programs has run out. The sluggish response and lack of funds highlights the State’s continued indifference, said the group.

IBON said that the sorry state of emergency relief shows how even the granting of emergency powers to the president has failed to swiftly deliver promised aid to the 18 million poorest households. This includes millions of workers in the formal and informal sectors who lost incomes and livelihoods under the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ).

The latest Department of Social Welfare (DSWD) data shows only 8.1 million SAP beneficiaries were assisted, which means that 9.9 million, or a glaring 55% of the target 18 million low-income households, still await emergency cash aid into the seventh week of lockdown.

IBON said that aid is long overdue for millions, and that the 8.1 million households helped should also be getting their second tranche of subsidies already due to the lockdown extension.

The government’s other assistance programs do not add much more.

As of April 26, DOLE reported giving cash aid to only 345,865 workers, which is just 3.2% of 10.7 million workers estimated by IBON.

Meanwhile, only 259,449 informal workers benefited from DOLE’s cash-for-work program which is just 5% of 5.2 million informal workers.

Only 40,418 PUV and TNVS drivers have received emergency subsidies – with no new recipients in the last two weeks.

The DOLE also reported that just 49,040 affected overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) have been approved to receive Php10,000 cash assistance out of the 233,015 that have so far applied, as of April 26.

The department said that the number of OFWs requesting aid exceeds the 150,000 targeted by the government. The Php1.5 billion funds under the Abot Kamay ang Pagtulong (AKAP) program for this will not be enough to cover all OFWs needing assistance.

IBON also noted that to date, only 354,875 rice farmers or just 3.7% of the country’s 9.7 million farmers, farm workers and fisherfolk have been given cash assistance by the Department of Agriculture.

Meanwhile, only 6,403 employers have been able to apply for assistance on behalf of 130,188 employees under the Department of Finance’s Small Business Wage Subsidy program.

This is just 3.8% of the 3.4 million small business employee target, and actual payout will only start on May 1.

The poorest Filipinos continue to go hungry and fend for themselves amid over-delayed social amelioration, said IBON.

To make matters worse, the Duterte administration has announced that low-income households living in areas where the ECQ has been lifted will no longer receive emergency subsidies.

IBON said with no other means to help compensate for their lost wages and incomes due to weeks under lockdown, many vulnerable families will be pushed into deeper poverty.

IBON said each week under lockdown further exposes the Duterte administration’s pro-big business and militaristic approach in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.

If it continues to ignore the humanitarian crisis and not genuinely and substantially address the socioeconomic needs of affected Filipinos, many more will go hungry, human rights violations will rise and there will be even more unrest. #

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Kodao publishes IBON articles as part of a content-sharing agreement.

Duterte govt can end lockdown sooner and help every Filipino in need

by IBON Media

The Duterte administration can end the lockdown sooner and help every Filipino in need. It can raise the resources needed for this if it lets go of its infrastructure fantasies, prioritizes life over debt, and is bolder in tapping the accumulated wealth of elites and large corporations. Not doing any of these means making the people bear the disproportionate burden of dealing with the pandemic.

Funds are available

In their most recent taped address last Thursday, April 24, the president and other members of the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) on Emerging Infectious Diseases took turns lamenting how little funds there are for responding to the COVID-19 crisis. No one doubts that huge resources are needed. However, using this an as excuse for failing to implement the necessary public health measures against the pandemic and for failing to help millions of poor Filipino families not just during the lockdown but amid the country’s worst economic crisis in decades is completely unacceptable.

Pres. Rodrigo Duterte declared: “Our country comes first.” For this to mean anything, the Duterte administration needs to take bolder measures to raise funds for dealing with the pandemic including letting go of its sacred cows.

Realigning the national government budget away from items that have fallen in priority is a start. However, the finance secretary’s latest declaration that the administration is preserving funds for its Build, Build, Build (BBB) program is particularly out-of-date. These BBB projects were conceptualized and justified at a time of giddy optimism about the economy. The pandemic, global recession, and domestic economic collapse mean that many projects in the Php989 billion public infrastructure program for 2020 are no longer viable and of much less priority than urgent health measures, emergency relief, and social protection.

The finance department’s earlier position that debt servicing will continue unhindered is also out-of-date. The national government is paying Php1.03 trillion to service debt in 2020 – Php451 billion for interest payments and Php582.1 billion for principal amortization. The current crisis however means that millions of Filipino families are at risk not just from the coronavirus but from disrupted livelihoods and loss of incomes. COVID-19 response spending should be prioritized over debt payments, starting with at least moratoriums on US$5.2 billion in debt service to so-called development agencies and supposedly friendly governments. The government’s human rights obligations to its people far outweigh debt service obligations.

The president said that the government will do everything necessary to raise money to fight COVID-19. This should include tapping the huge concentration of wealth and income in the country’s richest families and largest corporations. The 50 richest Filipinos had a combined wealth of Php4,061 billion in 2019, according to Forbes. The 50 largest conglomerates meanwhile had combined profits of Php856.4 billion in 2018 alone.

Much of this wealth and income is more socially useful today spent on COVID-19 response rather than accumulated as personal wealth or used for self-interested business purposes. The Duterte administration can take the bold step of issuing COVID-19 emergency bonds on solidarity terms targeted at these elites. There is also the daring step of reforming the tax system to become progressive with higher personal income and wealth taxes on the richest Filipinos and higher corporate income taxes on the largest corporations. The Duterte administration cannot say it has no money if it is not doing anything to mobilize concentrated income and wealth for socially urgent purposes.

Photo by Joseph Cuevas/Kodao

Lockdown can be ended

Millions of Filipinos are looking forward to the end of the lockdown, especially the vulnerable majority who have gone hungry and desperate over weeks of sparse or non-existent emergency relief from the Duterte administration. However, despite Malacanang’s posturing and government agencies’ reports, the fact remains that the national government is still being slow in putting the necessary health measures in place for the lockdown to be lifted safely.

The government needs to accelerate the pace of health measures for battling the coronavirus. At the same time, it needs to immediately arrest the enormous backlog in socioeconomic relief and assistance for millions of poor and vulnerable households affected by the lockdown.

The coronavirus continues to take its toll. As of April 23, the total number of reported cases has reached 6,981, with 462 fatalities. These include 1,062 infected health care workers with 26 fatalities.

Health experts such as from the UP COVID-19 Pandemic Response Team point out that the epicenter of the virus is the National Capital Region (NCR) and surrounding regions but also that it continues to spread elsewhere and still needs to be contained. The Department of Health (DOH) concedes that it is too early to say if the curve of COVID-19 transmission has begun to flatten.

While experts attest to the contribution of the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) in controlling the spread of the coronavirus, it has heavily impacted on the poorest sections of the population, especially in Luzon, and the economy as a whole. The ECQ is disrupting 73% of the economy, corresponding to Luzon’s share in the gross domestic product (GDP) in 2019. IBON estimates that 14.5 million workers and informal earners have been dislocated. The 7.5 million lowest-income families in Luzon are most in danger of deeper poverty and hunger since they have little savings or means to absorb the shock of disrupted livelihoods.

The lockdown need not have been expanded or dragged on for so long had the government been more efficient and immediately started putting the necessary health measures in place. Yet three months since the first case of COVID-19 and almost six weeks into the lockdown, the government is still ill-equipped to contain the pandemic.

Despite the arrival of donations and test kits, only 55,465 individuals have been tested as of April 22. This is too few, according to health advocates, compared to the potential community and hospital transmission of the virus. There are still only 17 COVID-19 testing centers out of 78 that the DOH plans to install nationwide. Only 7,000 have been contact-traced, which is low compared to the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases.

Quarantine, isolation, and treatment facilities remain insufficient: the health system is not yet ready for when infections and hospitalizations peak in the coming months. Frontline health workers still lack protective equipment. This has already resulted in the Philippines having among the worst infection rate and highest number of COVID-19-infected health workers in the world.

Photo by Joseph Cuevas/Kodao

Unnecessary suffering

At the same time, the government is failing to ensure that all poor and vulnerable families affected by the lockdown get adequate emergency relief. Their rights to food, health, water and sanitation, and social protection are grossly unmet and even violated.

Over 13 million of government’s targeted 18 million low income families have not received emergency subsidies and are going hungry.  Only 264,154 formal workers out of the IBON-estimated 10.7 million workers in the country have reportedly received assistance, and just 235,949 informal earners out of 5.2 million nationwide. Only 353,037 of 9.7 million farmers, farmworkers, and fisherfolk are reported to have received emergency subsidies.

The government claims to have released Php205 billion for emergency assistance. However, it is unconscionable for the government to have created so many bureaucratic barriers before this much-needed aid reaches the poor. These should be immediately removed.

The ECQ will be extended until May 15 in selected high-risk areas including the NCR, Calabarzon, Central Luzon, Benguet, Pangasinan, Albay, Catanduanes, Mindoro Island, Antique, Ilo-ilo Cebu, Davao Del Norte, and Davao City. Other parts of the country considered “low-risk” or “moderate-risk”, meanwhile, have been put under a “general community quarantine”, where aside from ECQ measures, “non-leisure stores” can partially open, higher education can finish the academic year, some construction projects may resume, and public transportation may operate on reduced capacity.

Affected families need expedient emergency relief in the period to come on top of what is due them for the past six weeks.

Making the most-affected families wait a day longer for aid that should have started coming many weeks ago nullifies government’s facade of being resource-capable with supposedly Php1.49 trillion towards its 4-pillar socioeconomic strategy against COVID-19. This amount gives the impression of huge spending but is really bloated by items that should not be counted as a ‘budget’ for the response.

In truth, the government plans to spend just Php366.9 billion with another Php133.7 billion for loan programs and credit guarantees. There is just Php50.7 billion for health response – it remains to be seen if this is enough to address the worst public health crisis in the country’s history.

The balance of Php316.2 billion is for social assistance. Yet this barely covers the Php297.1 billion in emergency socioeconomic relief that IBON estimates is needed for every month of the lockdown, which should include: emergency relief packages for the poorest 5 million families (Php15 billion); unconditional cash transfers for the poorest 10 million families (Php100 billion); wage subsidies for 10.7 million workers in formal establishments (Php53.5 billion); financial assistance for 5.2 million informal workers (Php26 billion) and 9.7 million farmers and fisherfolk (Php97 billion); and emergency support for 5.6 million indigent seniors and pensioners (Php5.6 billion).

Protecting people’s lives is the paramount concern, and the government should do everything necessary for this. This includes ensuring that the millions of families do not go hungry or suffer. It also includes giving special attention to high risk groups aside from the poor, such as the sick, elderly and those in congested jails. It however does not mean setting aside human rights as the Duterte government’s militarized approach is doing.

The lockdown may help contain the spread of the virus but this is at great social and economic cost and will be more and more untenable the longer it drags on. The necessary health measures have to be secured for the lockdown not be put to waste. At the same time, the government must ensure that it is giving enough attention to mitigating the lockdown’s effect especially on the poorest Filipinos. The country must deal with the pandemic, and the Duterte administration has the responsibility and obligation to ensure that this is done humanely and compassionately. The government also cannot claim that it does not have the money to respond well if it is just being blind to what really needs to be done. #

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Kodao publishes IBON articles as part of a content-sharing agreement.

‘Our basic rights are not on lockdown amid this pandemic’

On the killing of retired Corporal Winston Ragos:

“Our basic rights are not on lockdown amid this pandemic — and to effectively combat this pandemic, the government needs to implement the needed public health measures, to address the people’s legitimate demands especially the poor and marginalized, and to uphold people’s rights, welfare, and dignity. We demand justice, and we will hold the government accountable.”

Cristina Palabay
Secretary-General, KARAPATAN

Jo Maline Mamangun

ECQ, extended until May 15

List of areas under enhanced community quarantine until May 15:

National Capital Region/Metro Manila
Albay
Bataan
Batangas
Bulacan
Catanduanes
Cavite
Laguna
Nueva Ecija
Occidental Mindoro
Oriental Mindoro
Pampanga
Quezon
Rizal
Pangasinan (may change by April 30)
Benguet (may change by April 30)
Tarlac (may change by April 30)
Zambales (may change by April 30)

Areas that are still subject to review:

Aklan
Antique
Cebu
Cebu City
Capiz
Iloilo
Davao del Norte
Davao City
Davao del Oro

PH 0 of 6 in WHO condition for ending COVID lockdown

By Sanaf Marcelo

A community medicine expert said that the Philippines scores zero out of six in the World Health Organization (WHO) list of conditions for ending coronavirus lockdowns.

University of the Philippines College of Medicine Assistant Professor Gene Nisperos told an online forum organized by the health group Second Opinion PH last Thursday, April 23, that the Philippines is failing to meet any of the conditions set by the global health organization for lifting lockdowns aimed at reversing the pandemic.

Nisperos said the way heath workers continue to be at risk indicates how the Philippines is so far failing to turn the tide against the disease.

“The Department of Health (DOH) has reported that there are 1,062 health workers infected by the COVID-19 which, at 13%, is the highest in Asia,” Nisperos said.

In its Covid-19 strategy update published last April 14, the WHO said the following must be met before governments could think about lifting their imposed lockdown:

1. Disease transmission is under control;

2. Health systems are able to “detect, test, isolate and treat every case and trace every contact”;

3. Hot spot risks are minimized in vulnerable places, such as nursing homes;

4. Schools, workplaces and other essential places have established preventive measures;

5. The risk of importing new cases “can be managed”; and

6. Communities are fully educated, engaged and empowered to live under a new normal.

“We must admit that our country is one of the countries that have a weak health system even if the Department of Health keeps denying it,” Nisperos added.

Sean Velchez, a nurse at the Philippine Orthopedic Center, said that it looks like the government is still on Day One of its lockdown even if the enhanced community quarantine in wide areas throughout the country has already passed its 38th day.

‘We in the hospitals are mainly dependent on the PPEs and medicine donations from the private sector because the government cannot provide enough protective equipment for the health workers,” Velchez said.

 The two health workers urged the DOH to take the lead role in directing the country’s response to the pandemic and cease from simply listening to directives from politicians.

DOH should be more proactive and must have the plans and recommendations for this to fight COVID-19, they said.

Gov’t extends ECQ to May 15

Meanwhile, Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque announced that the government has decided to extend the ECQ to 15 more days when the first extension expires on April 30.

Roque said President Rodrigo Duterte is extending the ECQ on the National Capital Region, Central Luzon and Southern Tagalog to May 15.

Roque said Duterte agreed with the recommendations submitted by the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases to also extend the lockdown on other high-risk areas in Luzon, such as Pangasinan, Benguet, Mindoro island, Albay and Catanduanes.

ECQs are also being imposed in Antique, Iloilo, Cebu and Cebu City, Aklan and Capiz in the Visayas and Davao del Norte, Davao City and Davao de Oro in Mindanao. # (With reports from R. Villanueva)

‘Tulong Guro’ sa panahon ng COVID lockdown

Habang nasa ika-anim na linggo na ang enhanced community quarantine sa buong Luzon dahil sa Covid-19, marami sa mga Filipino ang higit nangangailangan ng tulong.

Ang ACT for People’s Health na pinangungunahan ng mga progresibong guro ay naglunsad ng “Tulong Guro” na ang layunin ay makapagbigay-tulong sa mga frontliner, laluna na sa mga health workers at mahihirap na pamayanan habang lockdown.

Background music: A life in a day Cinematic Folk Ambient Cinematic Sounds [KK No Copyright Music] / Bidyo nina Jola Diones-Mamangun, Arrem Alcaraz at Joseph Cuevas

On the sixth week of lockdown: Millions of Filipinos going hungry, suffer amid worst mass unemployment in history

By IBON Media

Research group IBON said that millions of Filipinos are going hungry and suffering the worst mass unemployment in the country’s history as the sixth week of lockdown begins.

The group said that government relief efforts, especially to the poorest Filipinos, is sluggish and minimal.

The Duterte administration is not giving emergency relief enough attention and appears more focused on using “martial law-like” measures to contain mounting social unrest, said the group.

Pres. Duterte’s latest report to Congress shows how government’s socioeconomic response is still dragging and meager, even in achieving its already low targets. Even with emergency powers granted to the President, bureaucratic hurdles and inefficiencies continue to stall urgent relief efforts. 

IBON said that there has been little improvement in the distribution of promised emergency subsidies.

The group noted that just about 4.3 million or less than one in four (24%) of the government’s targeted 18 million low income families have received cash assistance.

Contrary to the promise of supposedly up to Php5,000-8,000 in aid each, recipients instead received just an average of Php4,392 each.

No additional Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps) beneficiaries have been given assistance other than the 3.7 million families reported three weeks ago.

Also, just 617,141 more non-4Ps beneficiaries have been served since then.

Non-4Ps beneficiaries apparently include the previously reported 40,418 drivers of public utility vehicles and transport network vehicle service; this is only 9% of the 435,000 drivers nationwide targeted for cash aid.

This means that as many as 13.6 million or 76% of the 18 million poorest families have not received emergency subsidies and are going hungry, said the group.

IBON said that millions of households are at risk of hunger because of the poor reach of emergency subsidies and even of government’s other financial assistance programs.

The Department of Labor Employment (DOLE) stopped accepting applications due to the depletion of the Php1.6 billion fund for its COVID-19 Adjustment Measure Program (CAMP).

Only 264,154 formal workers have received Php5,000 each in financial assistance as of April 19.

This is just 2.5% of the IBON-estimated 10.7 million workers in the country, a large majority of whom are affected by the lockdown.

The group said that it is unclear if affected workers unable to avail from CAMP will now be shouldered by the Department of Finance’s Small Business Wage Subsidy Program.

Not all formal workers in need meet the criteria of being employed in small businesses and registered with the Bureau of Internal Revenue and Social Security System.

Meanwhile, just 235,949 informal workers were assisted by DOLE, which is still only 3.4% of 5.2 million non-agricultural informal earners estimated by IBON. They received just an average of Php2,300 each.

IBON said that financial assistance for farmers and fisherfolk is also slow and negligible.

The Department of Agriculture has so far reported giving assistance to 300,994 farmers under the Rice Farmers Financial Assistance Program and 52,043 farmers under the Financial Subsidy for Rice Farmers Program.

This means only a total of 353,037 farmers have been given subsidies or just 3.6% of the country’s 9.7 million farmers, farm workers and fisherfolk as per IBON estimates.

IBON expressed concern that the government is more focused on using a militarist approach instead of swiftly resolving inefficiencies and ensuring that emergency subsidies are given to all vulnerable households. Government’s neglect could lead to more and more Filipinos violating quarantine as they seek ways to feed their families.

If the government gives more emphasis on “martial-law like” measures instead of being more humane and sensitive to the plight of poor and low-income families under lockdown, millions of families will go hungry amid more human rights violations and mounting social unrest, said the group. #

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Kodao publishes IBON articles as part of a content-sharing agreement.

BM: Kasiyahan sa likod ng paglilingkod

Dumating kahapon, Abril 20, ang ika-limang batch ng mga gulay mula sa Benguet. Mabilis itong nirepack ng mga volunteers ng Bayang Matulungin sa kanilang opisina sa Quezon City.

Ayon kay Tatay Louie, isa sa mga volunteers, masaya at nakakawala ng pagod ang pagbabalot ng mga gulay sapagkat marami ang matutulungan nito. Dagdag pa niya, hindi raw kayang tumbasan ng anumang salapi ang kanilang kasiyahang nadarama.

Ipinamagi ang mga ito sa mga barangay sa Quezon City kasama rin ang Caloocan at Maynila. Kabilang sa mga napamahigaan ay ang Brgy. 181, Caloocan City, Maisan, Sampaloc, Manila, at Brgy. Old Balara, Brgy. Payatas, Brgy. Tatalon, at Brgy. Pansol sa Quezon City.

Bidyo nina Jo Maline Mamangun, Jola Diones-Mamangun, at Reggie Mamangun

‘We underwent through a proper process’

On the arrest of former Anakpawis Representative Ariel Casilao and Sagip Kanayunan volunteers:

This illegal and immoral arrest could be one of the major blunders of the Duterte government’s continued effort to red-tag progressives, reaching to the point where one agency refuses to recognize the authority of another agency to issue food passes. Contrary to the statement of Usec. Malaya, we underwent through a proper process in applying for the food pass, so that our delivery of relief packs to the distressed fishing and farming communities will not be hampered.

Fernando Hicap

Chairperson, PAMALAKAYA

Former Anakpawis Party Representative

Carlo Francisco

‘The potential for abuse is high’

“The current COVID19 crisis is a health issue with far-reaching social implications. It should not be treated as a mere peace and order problem where enforcement is the main concern. The potential for abuse is high if Martial Law-type enforcement is implemented.”

Renato Reyes, Jr.

Secretary-General,

Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN)

Carlo Francisco