By INA ALLECO R. SILVERIO
MANILA — It’s a sure sign that national elections are just around the corner: the Benigno Aquino III government is calling for a P6-billion ($139.5-m).increase in the budget for the controversial conditional cash transfer program (CCT).
Gabriela Women’s Party Rep. Emmi de Jesus said it’s impossible not to link the government’s move to seek a P45 billion ($1.04 billion) budget for the CCT to the upcoming May 2013 polls. De Jesus said the major item in the proposed P2 trillion ($46.5 billion) budget for 2013 is likely connected to the administration’s preparations for its electoral campaign.
Already, Department of Budget and Management (DBM) secretary Florencio Abad made the admission that CCT program would continue until 2015 and that its budgetary allocation will substantially increase annually.
De Jesus said the proposed P45 billion ($1.04 billion) budget for the CCT scheme or what the government refers to as the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps) for 2013 as a “ growing monster of deception in the face of 2013 electoral spending.”
The lawmaker pointed out that from P19 billion ($441.8 million) in 2010, the budget for the CCT program was increased to P39 billion ($906.9 million) in 2011.
“How can they even think to further increase it to P45 billion in the face of widespread criticism that the program had not translated to reducing poverty in the country?” she said.
De Jesus said that by putting importance on the CCT and its supposed benefits for the poor, the Aquino administration continues to deliberately cultivate the culture of mendicancy.
“It continues to deceive the population that CCT is the way out of poverty. The government has not proven any long-term positive impact of CCT on the lives of its beneficiaries, so why increase the budget now? Isn’t it a suspicious coincidence that the proposed marked increase comes at a time when electoral spending will once again shoot up?”
The lawmaker argued that the only way out of poverty is “to create and implement strategic economic programs,” including the establishment of iortant manufacturing and basic industries, and the implementation of a genuine agrarian reform program.
“We remain firm in the stand that a sure formula to fight poverty is for the government to provide employment; through this, can Filipinos be able can feed their families, send the children to school, and provide for the rest of the families’ basic needs.” she said. “Even as the he Aquino administration insists on throwing scraps of food to the poor and refuses to build national industries and forward a genuine agrarian reform program, Filipino workers and farmers as well as other marginalized sectors of society should stand firm in demanding that the government account for its failure to deliver on the promise of a life of dignity for every Filipino.”
Added assistance for 700,000 beneficiaries
The proposal to further bloat the CCT budget was made by Department of Social Welfare and Development secretary Corazon Soliman. Soliman said the increase is needed “to accommodate additional beneficiaries.”
According to Soliman, the additional P6 billion ($139.5 million) will benefit 700,000 households, adding to the current three million beneficiaries.The programs under the CCT will supposedly be expanded to include college scholarships and the provision of Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (Philhealth) benefits to families covered by the program. CCT beneficiaries, including their qualified dependents are reportedly entitled to primary care benefits as such as free consultation, diagnostic services and medicines from health care providers by PhilHealth. They are supposedly also entitled to in-patient and out-patient care services.
A grassroots fisherfolk organization, the Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya), however, also slammed the proposal to jack up the CCT budget.
“P45 billion ($1.07 billion) is P45 billion. This can be used to fund agricultural development and rural industrialization. The CCT program is not only useless, it’s corruption driven, said the group’s vice-chairman Salvador France.
Pamalakaya Chairman Fernando Hicap, who is also a nominee of the party-list group Anakpawis, said the Aquino government is making Filipinos “eternal beggars and subjects of charity” for its “senseless pro-poor program such as the CCT.”
Pamalakaya said instead of approving the proposed budget increase, Congress should pursue an in-depth investigation and audit performance of the CCT program, which was first implemented by the previous Macapagal-Arroyo administration. It said Senate President Juan Ponce-Enrile and House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr should prioritize the oversight review of CCT and lead a full-blown investigation into the impact of the program .
According to Pamalakaya, the CCT program is seriously flawed and even its supposed beneficiaries are full of complaints against it as the scheme is dogged by issues of corruption and political patronage. It said Pamalakaya chapters have long been receiving reports and complaints from fishing areas in Sorsogon, Cavite and Laguna where CCT beneficiaries are outraged by the with reduction or non-receipt of their monthly cash aid amounting to only P1,400 ($33.33) per poor household.