P117 billion doesn’t go far
By Mahar Mangahas
Philippine Daily Inquirer
August 1, 2020 at 5:05 am

Is P117.4 billion gigantic? It is my estimate of the total amount of money the Filipino people received from the government, as of early July, to cope with the COVID-19 crisis.

The estimate is the number of families that said they got money, multiplied by the average amount they said they received (see SWS July 2020 national mobile phone survey, Report 9: “72% of Filipinos say their families received money-help from government since the start of the COVID-19 crisis,” 7/26/20, and Report 10: “DSWD, DSWD’s SAP, LGUs, and 4Ps are the top sources of government money-help for Filipino families amid the COVID-19 crisis,” 7/28/20, www.sws.org.ph). The average peso amounts are aggregates of help received from all government sources, both national and local, from the time the crisis began.

My number for the recipient families is 17.82 million, by applying the survey proportion to the official number of Filipino families of 24.86 million. The national average amount received per family, from the SWS survey itself, is P6,588. That is very modest assistance, for three and a half months of lockdown, from mid-March to the end of June.

In my opinion, the distribution of recipients was partially equitable. Not all, but only 71 percent of the responding elementary school dropouts received anything at all. On the other hand, 58 percent of the responding college graduates received something. (In a phone survey, where the interviewer cannot see the neighborhood and dwelling, the respondent’s education is our proxy for socioeconomic class.)

The geographical distribution of recipients was definitely inequitable: a high 85 percent of families in the National Capital Region (NCR, 2.8 million families) and a medium 75 percent in the Balance of Luzon (8.3 million), versus a low 64 percent in the Visayas (3.0 million) and a low 65 percent in Mindanao (3.6 million). Thus, the two poorer areas in the South had relatively more families left out from the government assistance.

According to the survey, recipient families in NCR got an average of P8,354. The average help received per family was P6,701 in the Balance of Luzon, P5,988 in the Visayas, and P5,441 in Mindanao.

Multiplying these by the estimated number of recipients implies total government bills of P23.7 billion for NCR, P55.6 billion for the Balance of Luzon, P18.1 billion for the Visayas, and P19.9 billion for Mindanao. That adds up to P117.4 billion for the entire Philippines.

The average amounts received per family are far below the median Self-Rated Poverty Threshold for a single month’s expenses of a family in those areas, i.e., what the Self-Rated Poor families feel they need in order not to be poor.

They are closer to the median monthly Self-Rated Food Poverty Thresholds per area: P7,000 in NCR, P5,500 per month in the Balance of Luzon, P6,000 per month in the Visayas, and P5,000 per month in Mindanao, as of December 2019 (the last SWS face-to-face poverty survey before the crisis).

These are the food budgets that food-poor families say they need. In effect, the families that were helped received enough cash to buy borderline-quality food to last for one month, during the crisis that had already persisted for 3.5 months when the survey was done.

The dole of P117.4 billion did not prevent the rise of hunger among families, from 8.8 percent in December 2019 to 16.7 percent by May, and then to 20.9 percent by July (Report 5, SWS mobile phone survey). Hunger would have been worse without the amelioration funds, of course, and the people are surely grateful.

But what now, in August, with the pandemic expected to last the entire year? Are there more hundred-billion-peso tranches being programmed for general assistance? Why should the people’s livelihoods stay hobbled by restrictions with dubious connection to the pandemic?

YES to face-masking, physical distancing, and work from home. NO to curfews and checkpoints. Return the jeepneys fully. Let the general public be free to choose what transport they think is safe to patronize.

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