When messaging and realities collide

“We have money” was the consistent mantra of President Rodrigo Roa Duterte (PRRD). This was echoed by House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano as he boasted of the P275 billion funds under Republic Act No. 11469 or the Bayanihan Heal as One Act of 2020. The biggest part of the funds, amounting to P200 billion, is allocated as a social amelioration package (SAP) in the form of emergency subsidies to low-income households affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Unfortunately, the eagerness to share the ‘good news’ increased expectations that every household, will be entitled to the SAP. Frustrations increased when the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) imposed quotas to local government units (LGUs) on the number of families that will serve as beneficiaries. As a result, LGUs complained as the quota given them ranges from 30% to 65% of the household population in their respective jurisdictions. A poor village composed of 1,600 households in Legazpi City, for example, was given only 500 forms. The City of Manila with 435,237 households got only 185,000; Valenzuela with 155,000 households got only 95,000; and so on, and so forth. (Figures on the quota of recipients as against the total household population for some of the cities and municipalities in the greater Manila area are documented here.)

But the bigger problem is how PRRD casts a doubt on the credibility of the local officials. In his April 3, 2020 address to the public, he said “Pero maya ‘yung magdating doon makulang ang pera ‘pag ibigay mo 5,000, ibigay 3,000 lang. Kupit doon, kupit doon.” This puts the local officials at risks especially from the expectant and hungry public. Note that it was expectations and hunger that toppled the monarchy in France.

While we understand that the officials in the national government are consistently inconsistent in their messages and at some point undiscerning of their personal opinions and public statements, them holding their tongues in this trying times is in order. The national government passed on to the LGUs the responsibility of responding to the crisis. It will be more helpful if the national officials hold their acts together; assign and do not compete with a single mouthpiece from the Executive Department; and provide the appropriate policy and technical support to LGUs. Remember that the objective is to heal as one and not “epal everyone”. And, more importantly, note that we can only heal as one if we act as one.

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