To ease the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on Filipinos and prevent millions of Filipinos from sliding back to poverty, Senate Minority Leader Franklin M. Drilon pushed for funds for the social amelioration program (SAP) in the proposed PHP4.5 trillion national budget for next year.
“Ang kailangan ngayon ay tulong — walang pagkain, walang trabaho. Mas dumami ang pamilya na mas mahirap ngayon dahilan sa pandemic. (Assistance is needed now — no food, no work. Number of poor families increased because of pandemic). We should therefore continue the SAP,” said Drilon during an interview with radio station DWIZ on Saturday.
Drilon was referring to the financial aid, popularly referred to as “ayuda” given to about 18 million Filipinos when the country was placed under the enhanced community quarantine.
For Drilon, the grant of cash aid of PHP5,000 to PHP8,000 to poor families affected by the pandemic should continue next year.
“The way I see it, the proposed 2021 budget basically leaves the poor to fend for themselves. If we do not increase the allocation for the social services sector, then poverty could be even worse next year. We will be wasting away years of strategies to end poverty. We were winning the war against poverty before the pandemic. We can still win it by providing more meaningful assistance to the poor,” Drilon said in a separate statement.
The government think tank Philippine Institute for Development Studies (PIDS) estimates that as much as 5.5 million Filipinos can be pushed into poverty sans enough economic aid from the government, Drilon noted.
Drilon also pointed to the statement made by acting Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Karl Kendrick Chua that poverty could worsen by next year particularly in the urban areas.
The most recent SWS survey on hunger estimates that 5 million families are experiencing hunger, he noted.
“We must provide funding for SAP in the 2021 national budget to combat the worsening poverty. There are items in the budget that we can tap to provide the much-needed cash subsidies to the poor,” he said.
Drilon made the call amid the discovery of PHP469 billion worth of lump-sum appropriations in the National Expenditure Program (NEP) purportedly for various infrastructure projects requested by congressmen.
The minority leader said lump-sum appropriations are considered unconstitutional pursuant to the ruling of the Supreme Court on the pork barrel case.
Budget Secretary Wendel Avisado during a briefing in the Senate said his agency would submit an errata containing a list of projects to be funded from the said lump-sum appropriations.
Drilon said the social service sector should receive a bigger budget over infrastructure during a pandemic.
Drilon said that while infrastructure may be beneficial for the economic recovery, what the people truly need today are food and livelihood.
“What we need is direct and immediate government assistance through the SAP. Ang sabi nga aanhin mo pa ang damo kung patay na ang kabayo (As the saying goes ‘What good is the grass if the horse is already dead’,” he added.
He said he will ask the Senate committee on finance to look for excess funds in the budget that can be tapped to provide for SAP. (PR)