NAAWAN, Misamis Oriental (MindaNews / 18 April) — The SAP (Social Amelioration Program) financial assistance intended for the poorest of the poor ought to be distributed without distinction ASAP! Time is crucial.

The earlier pronouncements on across-the-board distribution of the SAP cash assistance to intended beneficiaries should have prevailed.

After a month-long lockdown, the people, needless to say, are already mighty hungry and getting restless and angry by the moment. This is particularly true among the poorest – the hand-to-mouth existence poor in Metropolitan Manila whose lives are badly compromised by the draconian measure to contain the corona pandemic. They are deprived to earn for what would be their food the following day.

Among these people, hunger or the fear of it is more dreadful than the invisible virus because it is not only palpable but tangible. Imagine a nursing mother who is forced to give water to her baby because she has no more milk to offer after missing several meals in a row; the kids’ unstoppable wailing because of empty stomach, and a hungry wilting elderly in an infernally hot shanty in a foul-smelling slum.

Some mayors publicly complained that a big percentage of their very poor constituents has not been reached by the Social Amelioration cash subsidy because of the stringent requirements of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD). This defeats the very purpose of the Bayanihan Act which is to help the very poor tide over the current crisis. One indicator of being very poor, missed by DSWD, is one’s inability to have identification documents on top of having no permanent address. This reality evidently escapes the vision of the DSWD because it is enamored with paper trail.

Hunger does not qualify. By this time, those in blighted communities direly need to have the SAP cash aid and food packs without distinction. Distribution should be vigorously done by house to house without further delay. No need to ask detailed identification questions, except, perhaps, for equity, the number of families residing in the house and the name of the recipient. The physical presence and number of residents during the house visit may help in making the decision.  Barangay authorities should advice all residents not to get out of their houses during the distribution schedule to avoid movements and possible double receipt.

Metropolitan Manila has 2.6M households reckoned from its 13M population at five members/household. Using NSO 2018 data, 17% or 442,000 households are poor or those who lived below the poverty line. If the poor are placed conservatively at 20%, it would be 520,000 households; at 25%, it would translate to 650,000 households in all 16 cities of the metropolis.  At a cash aid of P8,000/household, it would cost the government a total of  P5.2B a month for the conservative estimate of  650,000 households. And for the two-month duration of the ECQ, it would be P10.4B.

Obviously, the estimated amount is affordable under the P275-B Bayanihan budget for the purpose.

Here’s why. According to NSO (2018) the poor counts only 3 million families across the country not 18M per Bayanihan Act target. These 3M households nationwide at the maximum aid of PhP 8,000 per household would need only PhP 24B for a month or PhP 48B for the two-month duration of the Enhanced Community Quarantine. Even if we triple the number of poor families, that is, 9M, the amount needed is only PhP 144B  for the entire period.  The amount can easily be accommodated in the P275B Bayanihan budget for the purpose.

Meanwhile, the poor outside the ECQued Luzon are also now suffering and need attention, too. For instance, the suspension of classes nationwide alone, has deprived incomes to owners and workers of eateries and small shops, jeepney, motorcab and pedicab drivers, including private school teachers who belong to the no-work-no-pay class of workers, from Batanes to Tawi-Tawi. There is so much to give. It should be given now to all who direly need it. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. William R. Adan, Ph.D., is retired professor and former chancellor of Mindanao State University at Naawan, Misamis Oriental, Philippines.)