On March 16, 2020, the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) announced the temporary suspension of some of its legally mandated social protection programs such as the payouts of Social Pension for Indigent Senior Citizens and Unconditional Cash Transfer (UCT); over-the-counter pay-outs and distribution of cash cards of the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps); Emergency Shelter Assistance (ESA), Supplementary Feeding Program (SFP), and the Sustainable Livelihood Program (SLP). The official reason is “to minimize the exposure of beneficiaries, especially those from vulnerable groups such as the elderly, children, person with disabilities, and individuals with pre-existing medical conditions.”
While it would appear that DSWD had the best interests of its clients , it is actually a betrayal of its sworn duty to “develop, implement, and coordinate social protection and poverty solutions for and with the poor, the vulnerable and disadvantaged” at a time of grave crisis brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The enhanced community quarantine that the Philippine government is enforcing on Luzon effective today March 17 until April 14, 2020 will have differential effects on people. It is expected to have the most adverse impact on the poor and marginalised sectors, particularly in urban areas where they are often unemployed, or if employed, are on a “no work, no pay” basis. Many rely on street vending and other informal jobs. They live in cramped dwellings where social distancing is impossible. Many are homeless. Moreover, they do not always have access to clean water, and quality health care. With the suspension of mass transit, the work-at-home arrangement, the enforcement of an 8:00 pm-5:00am curfew, the poor, especially the poorest among them, are worried, not about contracting COVID-19, but about how they will survive.
Thus, the COVID-19 pandemic aggravates the already insecure, vulnerable, and compromised lives of the poor. It is the worst time for a social protection agency that DSWD is to suspend cash grants and social pension under legally mandated programs such as the 4Ps. It gives rise to questions such as is there really no alternative to the distribution of cash grants and social pension outside of the normal mode of recipients queuing up which can constitute mass gathering? If the answer is no, ergo the suspension, how will DSWD implement the recent directive of Pres. Duterte under the Enhanced Community Quarantine to “institute measures to expedite the distribution of food assistance to the most affected residents of the entire Luzon?” Certainly, to comply with this directive, DSWD will have to come up with modes of distribution without people massing up. And when it does, it will have proven that political will is key to social protection.
Today is World Social Work Day. We challenge our colleagues in DSWD to search for innovative ways to continue to deliver, NOT suspend basic and mandated social protection measures and to come up with others measures to mitigate the enhanced community quarantine. It is also the time for DSWD to release unpaid cash grants and social pension. A concerned citizen has remarked that “it’s been a year and three months now that the DSWD-NCR has not distributed the allotted national social pension for senior citizens.”
If the current suspension stays, DSWD will be giving the message that the well-being of the poorest of the poor and the marginalised is of little value and may be sacrificed in times of crisis.
Social Work Action Network (SWAN) – Philippines
March 17, 2020