Several senators scrutinized on Tuesday the administration’s conditional cash transfer (CCT) program, with Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr. seeking to slash by P8 billion the program’s P21-billion budget for 2011. Marcos, in an interview with reporters, said the CCT budget should be reduced because the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) might not be able to properly handle the entire P21-billion allocation. Giving the DSWD P21 billion for the CCT is not a good idea because it will be “subject to abuse, wastage and inefficiency," the solon said. An “acceptable" CCT budget would be around P13 billion or 14 billion — or only a 30 percent increase from its 2010 allocation. “That can be absorbed, our system can handle that," he said.
Under the CCT, 2.3 million families will get a monthly stipend of P1,400. The program is part of the DSWD’s P29.2-billion Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program. During Tuesday's budget deliberations, however, Marcos questioned the ability of the DSWD to accurately identify the country’s poorest families who will benefit from the program. He said the DSWD might “miss" the poor families who are residing in more "affluent" municipalities or provinces. “How do we determine those possible beneficiaries that are residing in barangays with 50 percent or less poverty incidence?" he said. He also expressed apprehension over whether the DSWD will be able to distribute the P21 billion in full by the end of 2011 and where any savings will end up. "Kung hindi magagamit sa CCT, sa’n dadalhin ‘yung pera na ‘yun (If it won't be [fully] used for the CCT, where will they bring that money)," he said.
More questions During the budget deliberations, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, Senate Majority Floor Leader Vicente “Tito" Sotto III and Senators Loren Legarda and Ralph Recto also questioned how the CCT would be implemented. Enrile wanted to determine whether the DSWD has really identified the areas where the poorest families live. “Any coastal area in the country is populated by poor people," he said in an interview after the deliberations. Since banks will form the main delivery system for the CCT, only urban areas might benefit from the program, he surmised. “I just want to know how they will monitor and countercheck the actual delivery of the amounts," he said. Recto, for his part, doubted the cost-efficiency of distributing cash assistance to far-flung areas. “The cost of delivering the benefit will be more expensive that the benefit itself," he said. Despite their questions, however, Marcos was the only solon who sought to reduce the CCT’s 2011 budget. Give it a chance Senators Edgardo Angara, Gregorio Honasan and Francis Escudero had earlier sought to slash the CCT budget by at least P6 billion.
However, Angara said that other senators had asked them to give the project a chance, and they thus obliged. Social Welfare Secretary Corazon “Dinky" Soliman said that if the government wants to help 2.3 million families, they cannot “entertain" any cut in the P21-billion budget. “Kapag ki-nut ng mga legislators, mababawasan po ang mapapaglingkuran naming pinakamahihirap sa ating bansa (If the legislators cut [the budget], that will lessen the number of poor families that we will be able to help)," she said in a separate interview. Experience, network Soliman likewise assured the solons and the public that the DSWD has the capacity to handle the program, which has existed since 2008 under the previous administration. "Meron na kaming mga project implementors... May kaban ng karanasan na kami na tinutungtungan (We have a lot of project implementors and a lot of experience from which to build on)," she said. The department has identified the potential CCT beneficiaries, whose status would still have to be verified, according to the DSWD.
Soliman also assured Marcos that they won’t have any savings by the end of 2011. "Wala kaming savings baka nga magkaroon pa ng konting deficit (We won't have savings, we might even have a deficit)," she said. Senate finance committee chairman Senator Franklin Drilon said they will require the DSWD to file a quarterly report on the CCT. The House minority bloc had earlier criticized the Aquino government for its alleged “band aid" or short-term solutions to poverty, which supposedly included the CCT. The House eventually approved the 2011 General Appropriations Bill without any cuts in the CCT.