Government assistance for the poor worth billions of pesos could end up as “savings” to be used at the discretion of the Aquino administration.
The Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) headed by Sec. Corazon “Dinky” Soliman has not made this public but for several months, it had stopped remitting funds for beneficiaries of the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps), also known as Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) program and once called “Dinky’s dole-out” by Sen. Chiz Escudero.
Scheme to generate savings?
The reason allegedly used by the DSWD? To give them time to prepare Automated Teller Machine cards for beneficiaries. Banks could take a few days to issue an ATM card to depositors but don’t expect the same efficiency from a government agency. Either thru incompetence or deliberate slowness to generate “savings,” the DSWD took several months before it could issue to the beneficiaries their much-awaited ATM cards. I guess the full implementation of this well-funded “poverty alleviation program” isn’t getting priority from the Aquino administration.
Last week, about a dozen women ahead of me were excitedly hovering over an ATM machine of East-West Bank branch in Intramuros in front of the Manila Times office. Each had an ATM card and papers showing their PINs. In a little while, more women came. One said they were all beneficiaries of 4Ps and that they were finally getting the grant that had been suspended for four or more months.
The deposit in her name showed a balance of P999.99 and she tried to withdraw the full amount. When the machine rejected the amount, she reduced the amount to P990, then to P950. Finally, she was able to withdraw P900 when I told her that the ATM machine could give out cash only in hundreds. The next one had a balance of P1,599.99 but most of those ahead of me had P999.99 like the first one.
One woman said that they were told that the aid that they had failed to receive for several months would all be given to them once they receive their ATM. As it happened, they didn’t receive any back pay. I don’t think they’ll complain about this for they appeared very happy at the resumption of the aid from the government.
The recipients may not be a complaining lot but this won’t make this question go away: what happened to the aid that the beneficiaries of 4Ps didn’t receive? The budget for the 4Ps or CCT covers the entire year so the unspent amount will become government “savings.” Or, has the Aquino government already used the 4Ps funds for something else?
Audit of 4Ps funds needed
Definitely, those women in Intramuros weren’t the only ones who had failed to receive anything from the DSWD for at least four months. Our part-time driver from Philcoa in Quezon City said his wife hadn’t received even a single centavo for three or four months already. A lady farmer in my barangay in Lupao, Nueva Ecija told me that she had received none for six months. They both echoed the reason given my by those in Intramuros – the 4Ps was suspended until they could get their ATM cards. I’m sure many supposed 4Ps beneficiaries in many other parts of the country were similarly situated.
The actual total of the unspent 4Ps funds could be determined only by an honest-to-goodness by the Commission on Audit. However, even assuming the least amount possible could already run into at least P1.56 billion already.
The 4Ps has a current budget of P40 billion for 3.9 million family-beneficiaries. A family-beneficiary currently gets P300 per child aged 3 to 14 years who goes to school and posts a minimum attendance rate of 85 percent. Assuming that the 3.9-million family-beneficiaries receive an average of P1,000 a month each and that only one-tenth of them or 390,000 didn’t receive anything for four months, then the “savings” would amount to P1.56 billion, a huge sum indeed.
The budget of DSWD for the 4Ps or CCT will increase by P10 billion for 2014 ostensibly to cover about 2.2 million more children aged 14 to 18 of family-beneficiaries, with each child of this age bracket due to receive P500 a month. Congress might be unaware of the “savings” generated under the program or it wouldn’t have been that liberal in increasing its budget. Or, was Congress complicit in this?
A few months back Soliman received the ETON International School’s “Pillars of Hope” award and the DSWD, the “MY World Outreach Award for Asia-Pacific and Oceania, both for the “outstanding” promotion of the CCT program to alleviate poverty. The program wasn’t really implemented as efficiently as touted by Aquino administration. This raises the question of how deserving Soliman and the DSWD were of those awards.