SAP hearing: Congress pushes for aid distribution efficiency

To identify the most efficient way for the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) in distributing financial assistance under the government’s Social Amelioration Program (SAP), the committee on good government and public accountability and the committee on public accounts of the House of Representatives conducted a hearing on June 23, 2020.

The House hearing seeks to investigate DSWD’s distribution of the first tranche of SAP worth PHP100 billion in financial aid for 18 million low-income households all over the country, P5,000 to P8,000 depending on the proposed subsidy in each region, under the Republic Act No. 11469 or Bayanihan to Heal as One Act.

The hearing included several representatives, DSWD undersecretaries, and regional directors. Committee chairman Rep. Jose Antonio Sy Alvarado said he did not include DSWD Sec. Rolando Bautista because the addressed inadequacies were at the level of regional implementation. As the inquiry aims to take a close look at possible wrongdoings and inefficiencies, Sec. Bautista is not included because he personally observed the secretary’s performance.

“Our objective for the hearing is simple – Congress wants to help DSWD fulfill the mandate given to them by the President, to assist the Filipino people in times of crisis,” Cayetano said.

Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano said among the deficiencies experienced by SAP beneficiaries during the 1st tranche of financial aid distribution were the following:

1. Bureaucratic with too many requirements and tedious process
2. Inadequate distribution
3. Slow distribution
4. Insensitive to vulnerable sectors (PWD, Seniors)
5. Problems on corruption
6. High risk of contracting Covid-19
7. Duplication of beneficiaries
8. Complaints posted on social media covered by mainstream media
9. Confusion among LGUs and barangays
10. Lack or breakdown of communication

Cayetano said the processes and requirements should be simplified to avoid delay of SAP benefits.

According to Cayetano, there is a need for house-to-house distribution, a transparent data monitoring system, an accessible grievance mechanism, and active coordination and communication among all stakeholders.

DSWD undersecretary Danilo Pamonag said “the major responsibility of the DSWD during the 1st tranche of the SAP was the transfer of the funds to the LGUs (local government units). The program was intended to assist the LGU’s and provide them the necessary resources in distributing the much-needed emergency subsidy to the 18-million low-income families.”

“As early as March 31, 2020, the DSWD started to distribute SAC (Social Amelioration Card) forms to some LGUs and this has provided an opportunity for them to determine the eligible beneficiaries in their areas based on the indicative allocation set by the economic cluster team,” Pamonag said.

According to Pamonag, the DBM (Department of Budget and Management) released an initial budget amounting to P100-billion on April 2, 2020. On the same day on April 2, 2020, DSWD Central Office downloaded funds to its Field Office NCR. On the next day, April 3, 2020, other DSWD Field Offices started to transfer funds to their respective LGUs.

Pamonag said among the challenges encountered that caused delays in first tranche SAP distribution were the following:

1. The stringent validation process of LGUs in determining eligible beneficiaries amplified by grievances received on exclusion from SAP and the emergence of waitlisted beneficiaries caused by prioritization.

2. Difficulty and mobility constraints to geographically isolated and disadvantaged areas particularly in areas that needed sea and air transportation support in order to distribute cash aid.

3. Exposure to health risks forced SAP implementers to undergo 14-day quarantine that caused the postponement of cash distribution in some areas.

4. The presence of security threats including communist terrorist and Muslim clan wars led to the postponement of scheduled distribution of emergency subsidy in the areas.

With the numerous grievances received by the department, the inclusion of waitlist also known as “left out families” was advocated by the DSWD. More than 5 million additional households will be included in the second tranche raising the total to 23 million low-income families.

To expedite SAP beneficiaries’ data and utilize digital payment schemes to aid in contactless aid distribution, the DSWD partnered with the DICT (Department of Information and Communications Technology), USAID (United States Agency for International Development), and (DevConPH) Developers Connect Philippines in developing mobile application.

For the first tranche from April 5 to June 21, 2020, the DSWD has provided the subsidy to 17.6 million families utilizing P99.6-billion.

To date, 1,214 out of 1,526 (80%) LGUs have already completed and submitted SAP liquidation reports to the DSWD for post validation audits for duplication check through cross-matching databases of SAP implementing agencies.

Pamonag said the DSWD activated its agency operations center, established a website to post the names of SAP beneficiaries for transparency, and grievances address mechanisms to respond to complaints.

Committee vice-chairman Rep. Mike Defensor said concerned local government unit representatives should be included in the next hearing session to explain the causes of delays. (