Addressing hunger amid the pandemic

Addressing hunger amid the pandemic

THE coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) pandemic has a tremendous worldwide impact. It kills both people and sources of income. The number of deaths continues to exponentially increase. The struggle of Filipino families to survive also persists.

Hunger is real, and many Filipinos ask this question: “Where can I get food for me and my family today?” People are compelled to provide for their families, and, inevitably, violate quarantine protocols. The government attempts to help in the plight of its people through the Department of Labor and Employment’s (DoLE) Order 209, dated March 17, 2020. It contains the guidelines on the implementation of the Covid-19 Adjustment Measures Program (CAMP).

But seeing that CAMP is not sufficient to provide for all the needs of the greatly affected citizens, the government enacted Republic Act 11469, also known as the “Bayanihan to Heal as One Act,” which is a more comprehensive and conclusive measure to address the effects brought about by Covid-19.

President Rodrigo Duterte issued a proclamation that declared a state of national emergency arising from the Covid-19 pandemic and authorized him to exercise additional powers in relation to the emergency. It was followed by Joint Memorandum Circular 1, Series of 2020, which consists of the special guidelines on the provision of social amelioration measures by the government.

Amelioration means “to make better or more tolerable.” This is precisely the goal of the government: to make the situation better, or at least, more tolerable for the intended 18 million poor Filipinos.

The target beneficiaries are those families that belong either to the poor or informal sector who are at risk of not earning a living during the enhanced community quarantine and who may have at least one member belonging to any of the following vulnerable or disadvantaged sectors: senior citizens; persons with disability (PWDs); pregnant and lactating women; solo parents; overseas Filipinos in distress; indigent indigenous peoples; underprivileged sector and homeless citizens; and informal economy workers or those who are independent, self-employed, small-scale producers and distributors of goods and services like the following:

– Directly hired or occasional workers (e.g., laundry maid) – Subcontracted workers (e.g., pakyaw workers) – Homeworkers (e.g., family enterprise such as those involved in craftsmaking, native delicacy production and home-based food processing) – Househelpers, as defined under the Domestic Workers Act, who are currently not receiving any remuneration from their family of work or who cannot report to work because of the community quarantine (e.g., kasambahay or family driver) – Drivers of pedicabs, tricycles, public utility jeepneys, public utility vehicles, public utility buses, taxis and transport network companies (e.g., Angkas and Joyride) – Microentrepreneurs and producers, operators of sari-sari stores and the like, and family enterprise owners (not limited to owners of carinderia, fruit or vegetable vendors, and street vendors, etc.) – Subminimum wage earners (e.g., dishwashers or helpers in carinderia); 8.9. – Farmers, fisherfolk and farm workers – Employees affected by the “no work, no pay” policy and not covered by DoLE Order 209, Series of 2020 or any DoLE issuance/s on the adjustment measures program – Stranded workers (e.g., construction workers stranded in their respective construction site/s).

The government has implemented the Emergency Subsidy Program (ESP), which is a social amelioration program to provide cash or non-cash subsidy to 18 million household beneficiaries, as enumerated above, in the amount of at least P5,000 to P8,000 a month for months, for basic food, medicine, and toiletries.

Parenthetically, the difference in the treatment of employees from the formal sector and informal sector would appear to be unfair for some. Under the CAMP, the one-time cash assistance extended to employees from the formal sector is only P5,000 , while those from the informal sector would receive P5,000 to P8,000 for the months of April and May. Could it be said that the government should have done more? Or is it better to say that the government can only do so much? The ESP shall be provided by the national government, through various national and local government social amelioration programs. The amount shall be computed based on the prevailing regional wage rates, taking into account the subsidy given under the Department of Social Welfare and Development’s (DSWD) conditional cash transfer programs and the rice subsidy program, estimated at an average of P2,150 per month per family.

In the National Capital Region (Metro Manila), the subsidy amount per month per household is P8,000, while in the Cordillera Administrative Region and Regions 1 and 2 it is P5,500; Regions 3 and 4A, P6,500; Regions 4B, 5, 8, 9, 12, Caraga and Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, P5,000; and Regions 6, 7, 10 and 11, P5,000.

To determine whether a certain family may be considered a beneficiary and for these families to access the social amelioration programs of the government, a Social Amelioration Card (SAC), a form which captures the family profile, would be distributed at the barangay level through a house-to-house method. After filling out the same, the barangay should transmit the collected SACs to the DSWD for validation. Each family shall keep one copy of the SAC. Now, let us further discuss the benefits arising from the programs under the JMC.

Food and non-food distribution

Food and non-food items (FNI) are food and essential personal hygiene and family items regularly provided by the DSWD during disaster operations.

The DSWD shall coordinate with Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and Philippine National Police (PNP) in the hauling of FNI. The AFP and/or PNP shall bring the FNI to the delivery or distribution points designated by the local government units (LGUs), and the latter shall be responsible for the distribution to the target beneficiaries. During the distribution of FNI, all are enjoined to observe strict home quarantine and prohibition of mass gatherings.

Assistance to individuals in crisis situation

The Assistance to individuals in crisis situation (AICS) is the provision of integrated services by the DSWD to individuals and families in crisis or difficult situations that serve as social safety nets or stop-gap measures to support their recovery.

This assistance is in the form of outright cash amounting to P3,000 provided to the target beneficiaries. However, a family shall be entitled to a cash assistance amounting to P5,000 when two or more family members belong to the beneficiaries mentioned above. This assistance shall only be given once a month during the quarantine period.

In addition, burial assistance in the amount of P25,000 may also be claimed by the beneficiaries who suffered loss due to death of members who are a confirmed Covid-19 positive or a patient under investigation whether they, at the time of death, are undergoing home quarantine or admitted in a public or private facility, to defray the funeral expenses of the deceased.

Livelihood assistance grants

Financial assistance, which may be released through cash or check, is also granted to qualified Sustainable Livelihood Program (SLP) beneficiaries whose livelihoods were affected by the declaration of community quarantine.

The Livelihood assistance grants (LAG) aims to assist the SLP beneficiaries’ recovery from economic losses and can be used as a seed capital to start up new or enhance existing feasible and viable micro-enterprises, purchase inputs or starter kits needed for the identified micro-enterprise and/or for employment-related activities such as, but not limited to, transportation/fare expenses.

The SLP beneficiaries are families having at least one member who is a worker in the informal sector, and is displaced by reason of the declaration. The family must be in the master list endorsed by the LGU to the DSWD FO and its eligibility for LAG shall be subject to the assessment of DSWD staff.

The maximum amount of LAG per eligible family shall not exceed P15,000 and a family shall only be qualified to avail the assistance once regardless of the number of family members belonging to the identified sectors.

Families assessed to be qualified recipients of LAG shall be provided with the grant as soon as the declaration of public health emergency or community quarantine, whichever comes first, is lifted. However, in case proper authorities require, the DSWD may distribute the LAG to the beneficiaries during the quarantine period.

The LAG shall be directly released to the recipients through cash pay-out by the special disbursing officers (SDOs) designated by the DSWD CO or FO. The release of LAG can be through house-to-house or on a designated site of pay-out, or through any mode that is most convenient and safe for both the SDOs and the beneficiaries.

Bahay ko Disinfection Sanitation Project (TUPAD #BKK)

The Bahay ko Disinfection Sanitation Project (TUPAD #BKK) is a 10-day emergency employment program with four hours per day of work that provides temporary wage employment to the informal economy workers who have lost their livelihood or whose earnings were affected due to the community quarantine against Covid-19.

The work involves disinfection/sanitation of the qualified beneficiaries’ houses and immediate vicinity. Those covered are the underemployed, self-employed and displaced marginalized workers. The following are disqualified:

– Those who have availed of the P5,000 one-time cash assistance through the DoLE CAMP
– Those who are under the expanded and enhanced Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps)
– Those who have already received cash assistance through the DSWD AICS
– Rice farmers who have received cash assistance from the Department of Agriculture.

As compensation, workers would be paid wages equivalent to 100 percent of the prevailing highest minimum wage in the region through remittance centers or direct cash pay-out.

But it must be noted that the total amount of benefits received from DoLE and the LGU concerned must not exceed the P8,000.00.

Expanded and enhanced 4Ps

Assistance under this may be in the form of cash or non-cash, whichever is more practicable.

The DSWD and DoLE shall implement an expanded and enhanced 4Ps, for a period of two months. They shall transfer cash, cash voucher or goods through the LGUs or directly to families who have no income or savings to draw from, including families working in the informal economy and those who are not currently recipients of the current 4Ps, of an amount adequate to restore capacity to purchase basic food and other essential items during the duration of the quarantine.

At the time of writing, P100 billion have already been released to DSWD and the Social Amelioration Programs are being implemented in some LGUs.

We all know that these Special Amelioration Programs are intended to help and not harm. However, there are glaring ambiguities as to the target beneficiaries entitled to receive the cash aids.

It also remains unclear whether the Emergency Cash subsidy of P5,00 to Php8,000 would be over and above the FNIs, AICS, LAG and TUPAD #BKK.

In previous Inter-Agency Committee for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases’ media briefings, Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles made it clear that target beneficiaries are those who belong to the underprivileged or “poor” sector, based on the list submitted by the LGUs to the DSWD. Earlier, it was announced that senior citizens already receiving pensions are not entitled to cash assistance; those who received cash from the 4Ps are already disqualified from the program; and pregnant women, PWDs and kasambahay are not automatically entitled to the benefits. Now, it was explained that pensioners and 4Ps beneficiaries are eligible to receive cash subsidy. Secretary Nograles said that pensioners and 4Ps beneficiaries are only excluded from filling-out the SAC because they are already included in the database of the DSWD.

The ambiguities as to who are entitled to the benefits under the Social Amelioration Program further add to the lingering question on whether these programs will be effectively, efficiently, and fairly implemented by the DSWD and the respective LGUs.

Taking those into account, both the national and local government should improve on:


Since this health crisis is indeed a matter of life and death, the government should act with extreme urgency and cut all the red tapes.

Four weeks into the quarantine, can an ordinary Filipino citizen say that the government acted with the urgency that the situation calls for?

Strict implementation

Strict implementation involves making sure all the money intended for the people are ultimately and completely received by them. This also includes clear guidelines and timetable, on all the programs mentioned above.

Effective communication

Ensuring the 18 million poor Filipinos that food is on the way is no easy task, but it is still possible.

The government should be wary not only on the contents of all its information and publications, but also on the manner how these are delivered so that the message would be communicated well. Otherwise, instead of providing clarity, confusion would ensue. Citizens would have more questions than answers.

It is best if the government would issue further guidelines to avoid misinterpretation of the law and confusion on entitlement to the benefits in the social amelioration programs.

Then, the guidelines should be communicated to the public in in the simplest and clearest manner possible; to be understood even by those who were not given the opportunity to study — for they are the ones who need those benefits the most.

To conclude, effective communication coupled with urgent action and strict implementation, would certainly prevent conceivable chaos and anarchy brought about by hungry stomachs.

Indeed, no one has sufficient time to plan thoroughly in times of crisis. However, this is the best time that the government should make agile decisions. This is the perfect time for them to be the best leaders.

We hope, at the end of this, we all heal as one.