Published On: Tue, Apr 7th, 2020

[OPINION] Unsolicited advice for the IATF chair on the social amelioration fund

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Sir:

The past few days, after the process of distribution of the social amelioration fund (SAF) was disseminated to the LGUs and the public, a couple of issues were raised by mayors and barangay officials regarding the selection of the target beneficiaries. (READ: [ANALYSIS] Challenges facing social amelioration for the coronavirus)

Apparently, the funds to be given to them are not enough to cover the total number of families in need of the support. Therefore, it would be left to them to choose who among their constituents would get the financial assistance while facing the wrath of those who won’t. Plus, there is this administrative nightmare of encoding and validation by the DSWD before the funds are eventually released. This bureaucratic layer alone could mean several weeks of delay. (READ: TRACKER: DSWD assistance during coronavirus crisis)

Now, if the government intends to extend the ECQ, it is imperative that the poor get hold of that financial assistance as soon as possible in order to avoid a social volcano eruption. (Editor’s note: The ECQ has been extended until April 30.)

To resolve the aforementioned issues, the following is my unsolicited advice/policy recommendation:

A. Beneficiaries

Instead of distributing to qualified families at 5k to 8k each, the SAF should instead be given to all individual Filipino citizens at 2.5k each, except for the following:

1. All government employees (and spouse).
2. All private sector employees (and spouse) who are still receiving salaries.
3. All current recipients (and spouse) of different government financial assistance programs (such as 4Ps, TUPAD, etc.).
4. All owners of registered businesses (and spouse).
5. All minors aged 17 yrs and below. They are presumed to be living with either qualified beneficiaries or exempted individuals as stated in #1 to 4 above.

First, this proposal does away with the arbitrary selection and lengthy validation processes, so the funds could be distributed in as early as 2 weeks.

Second, it is allowed by the law as the latter provides for a wide latitude in the actual implementation of the distribution process.

Third, while the proposed amount to be received by the individual beneficiary is less than the 5k to 8k of the current system, if there are 2 qualified beneficiaries in one household, they would still get 5k in total.

Fourth, based on cursory calculations, if we take out the exemptions, there would be a maximum of about 40 million individual beneficiaries under this proposal. At 2.5k each, this would amount to 100 billion/month, plus the 20 billion/month for the 4Ps and other government programs, the amount would be roughly 120 billion/month or 240 billion for 2 months. The total amount of 240 billion for 2 months would still be below the 275 billion fund allocation.

B. Admin/Logistics

1. All barangay halls would be designated as the distribution center in their respective barangays.
2. Barangay officials and accredited volunteers would facilitate the distribution to be supervised by DSWD personnel. Barangays could be clustered to compensate for the lack of DSWD personnel in certain areas. PNP/AFP personnel would be assigned to secure the distribution centers. All must wear PPEs or at least masks and goggles/eyeglasses. Alcohol stations would be placed at different areas of the barangay centers.
3. All qualified beneficiaries would be required to wear masks and social distancing would be observed at all times.
4. The order of distribution would be as follows:
Day 1: 7 am to 12 pm, PWDs and senior citizens (60 yrs old and above); 1 pm to 6 pm, 40 yrs old to 59 yrs old.
Day 2: 7 am to 12 pm, 30 yrs old to 39 yrs old; 1 pm to 6 pm, 18 yrs old to 29 yrs old.
This way, the distibution centers would somehow be decongested.
5. All beneficiaries must have a valid ID (driver’s license, postal ID, passport, etc.).
6. Each distribution center must have a smart phone, indelible ink, pentel pen, stamp pad, etc.

C. Process

1. At the designated time/day (as stated in para B4 above), the beneficiary would proceed to the nearest barangay hall and present any valid ID to the barangay official. The beneficiary need not have the same barangay indicated in the ID since he/she may have decided to spend the quarantine period in the province or another place before the lockdown or is an OFW who just got home, etc. This is convenient for our beneficiaries since the prohibition of PUVs would have made it impossible for them to go back to their original barangays. (Remember, the distribution is done by the national government for all its qualified citizens. The barangay centers are merely being used as distribution centers, so the political boundaries are irrelevant.) The beneficiary may also be reminded that criminal charges may be filed if they are found later on to be among those exempted from receiving the funds.
2. The ID would then be photographed through a smart phone.
3. Thereafter, with a marker, the name would be handwritten on a white sheet of paper.
4. The beneficiary would then be photographed holding the paper with printed name (similar to a mugshot).
5. Afterwards, the 2.5k would be given to the beneficiary.
6. Then the beneficiary would sign a receipt (a pre-printed form) and certification that he/she is a qualified beneficiary and then place thumb marks beside the signature.
7. Lastly, an indelible ink would be placed on the finger of the beneficiary. This would guard against individuals who would line up multiple times at different barangays.

D. Accounting and other safeguards

1. The photos of the IDs and beneficiaries would be forwarded to a designated number through a secure app. These would be consolidated and reconciled with the signed receipts with thumb marks.
2. The DICT could provide the DSWD with an image recognition/document reading software so all photographs could be automatically encoded into an expanded main database. This process shortcuts the whole manual encoding process.
3. The signed receipts as well as the photos could be used as clearing documents for COA.
4. Also, through this database, all those unqualified beneficiaries could be unmasked when cross referenced with other databases of government employees, 4Ps beneficiaries, etc. Same with those who lined up multiple times at different barangays. These offenders could be apprehended and be charged with falsification of public documents, etc.

The above proposal is not, in any way, perfect or complete. However, it hopes to provide a working template that would not only remove the LGUs’ dilemma of subjectively selecting who among their constituents get to receive the funds (which leaves out millions of target beneficiaries), but also shortcut the tedious administrative process of encoding and validating of the documents by the DSWD, thereby expediting the whole distribution process. Moreover, it provides for enough transparency and accountability mechanisms to ensure that the P275-billion fund would be given to our countrymen who need it most.

Antonio F. Trillanes IV

– Rappler.com

Antonio F. Trillanes IV is a lecturer on public policy and former senator.

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