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Pre-SONA forum tackles poverty reduction, participatory governance

MALAYBALAY CITY, Bukidnon (PIA)—The country’s chief human development and governance executives tackled the issues on Poverty Reduction and Participatory Governance in a pre-State of the Nation Address (Pre-SONA) on July 15 that showcased the government’s achievements and insights on the Philippines’ performance in terms of fulfilling the key priorities of the administration.

Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) Secretary Martin Andanar who hosted and facilitated the discussion forum said the Pre-SONA event aims to provide Filipinos with the data and details that will contribute to a better understanding of the messages that President Rodrigo Roa Duterte will deliver on his fifth State-of-the-Nation Address (SONA).

Titled ‘Tatak ng Pagbabago 2020: The Pre-SONA Forum’, the President’s Cabinet Clusters reported on the “government’s package of policies and programs that ensure and promote the Filipino’s welfare,” Andanar said.

This three-part Pre-SONA forum started Wednesday, July 8, with the Economic Development Cluster (EDC) and Infrastructure Cluster (IC). The third and last segment will be on July 22 with Security, Justice and Peace Cluster. Streamed live on Radio Television Malacañang, PTV, Radyo Pilipinas, and other government agencies’ Facebook pages, these events prepare for the President’s SONA on July 27. 

The two clusters namely Human Development and Poverty Reduction Cluster (HDPRC) and the Participatory Governance Cluster (PGC), respectively chaired by DSWD Secretary Rolando Joselito Bautista and DILG Secretary Eduardo Año, took the limelight on July 15th, the second part of the Pre-SONA forum.

As cluster chair, Secretary Rolando Bautista of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) reported what the HDPRC players achieved in terms of human capital development, poverty reduction, and enhancing the quality of life of every Filipino.

“The DSWD’s commitment to improving poor Filipino’s quality of life was clearly reflected by the increase of Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps) budget from P89 billion in 2018 and 2019 to P109 billion in 2020 to cover the higher monthly educational and health cash grants pursuant to the 4Ps Act. The 19 million beneficiaries of the Social Amelioration Program (SAP), both from informal and formal sectors, also benefited from the SAP with a total of over P106 billion cash distributed to qualified beneficiaries,” Sec. Bautista said.

Aside from the regular projects, activities, and programs that make up the HDPRC roadmap, Bautista also reported the cluster’s accomplishments under the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) adjustment measure programs, the Social Amelioration Program (SAP), and similar programs aimed at mitigating the impact of COVID-19.

Included among those developments, he said, is the Assistance to Individuals in Crisis Situation (AICS), Relief operations during calamities/disasters, Social pension for indigent senior citizens, and Enhanced Partnership Against Hunger and Poverty (EPAHP) convergence program, which is now helping number of farmers and farmer-organizations amid the pandemic as well as the Inter-agency Task Force On Zero Hunger that is now on the process of harmonizing government programs meant to ensure food security.

The Secretary indicated how the Department of Health (DOH) has significantly increased its COVID-19 testing capacity from 1,200 tested persons per day to 21,000 a day at 85 DOH-testing laboratories spread across the country—emphasizing that there were only a few of it in the past.

Under the Philippine program against child labor, Bautista reported that the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) has removed 2,000 children from ‘child labor’ while providing livelihood assistance to 2,452 parents of child laborers. This came after President Duterte signed Executive Order No. 92 institutionalizing the National Council Against Child Labor that led to the stronger implementation of the program.

As part of its effort to provide decent and productive employment for Filipinos, DOLE’s Integrated Livelihood Program or ‘Kabuhayan Program’ provided livelihood grants to over 40,000 beneficiaries, while providing assistance to more than 300,000 beneficiaries under the ‘Tulong Panghanapbuhay para sa Disadvantaged and Displaced Workers’ or TUPAD Program. It has also helped more than 800,000 beneficiaries through its COVID-19 Adjustment Measures Program – Abot-Kamay ang Pagtulong Program (CAMP-AKAP).

Similarly, since 2019, the Department of Agriculture’s (DA) Special Area for Agricultural Development (SAAD) Program has provided 683 livelihood projects covering nearly 28,000 individuals and over 800 farmer-group beneficiaries while providing assistance to nearly 600,000 farmers through its Financial Subsidy to Rice Farmers (FSRF) program.

The ‘Tatak ng Pagbabago 2020 Pre-SONA Forum’ HDPRC cabinet cluster chair presented the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority’s (TESDA) online expanded program benefitting over 700,000 technical-vocational students from 32 priority poor barangays. It has also expanded its scholarship program from 2.3 million enrolees in 2018 to 2.4 million in 2019 in order to reinforce Filipinos in securing gainful jobs or engaging sustainable livelihoods. In fact, Bautista said that under TESDA’s care and guide for stability, it also provided skills training and employment opportunities to more than 46,000 marginalized individuals which include former rebels, drug dependents or surrenderees, and indigenous peoples to help them become productive members of mainstream society.

The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), for its part carried out loan moratoriums for more than 141,000 beneficiaries and processed loan applications of 22,000 beneficiaries for affected Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) to help them recover. About 122 shared service facilities of DTI have also been established nationwide helping communities in livelihood training, and product processing.

To illustrate how the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) remained committed in the continued support to small farmers, Bautista reported that DAR has awarded 30,000 hectares of public and private agricultural lands to more than 19,000 Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries (ARBs) to help them escape the vicious cycle of poverty and social injustice. It has also provided access to credit and microfinance services to over 131,000 small farmers.

In response to COVID-19’s impacts on students, Education Secretary Leonor Briones announced during the ‘virtual presser’ in the same forum that learning must continue. She said schools will open and classes will start on 24 August 2020 as the Department of Education (DepEd) announced last April.

Briones said DepEd’s latest records showed that three-fourth of last year’s enrollees have returned.

“We already developed our learning continuity program as early as April of this year, which means that education must continue—COVID or no COVID; economic difficulties or no economic difficulties; may bagyo, may lindol o may baha, patuloy ang edukasyon,” the DepEd Secretary said.

Briones announced that July 15 was the last day set for enrolment but reiterated that they can still accept those who want to enroll in order to catch up with the August 24 schools opening schedule.

“As of July 15, we have recorded a total of 20,200,507 enrolled learners—and counting for late enrollees,” she added.

Participative governance is participatory governance

As he spoke in the Pre-SONA forum, DILG Secretary Eduardo Año affirmed the government’s commitment to integrating citizen engagement in the delivery of goods and services. He thanked the Filipino people for participating in good governance.

“I thanked my fellow Filipino’s for serving as our eyes and ears on the ground and for reporting questionable and criminal behaviors to our Emergency Hotline 911.  Using Hotline 8888 and People’s Law Enforcement Board, we have gradually rectified the twists in the system and held the corrupt government employees accountable,” Sec. Año said.

He recounted that in 2019, concerned stakeholders filed 866 complaints against 675 barangay officials, city/municipal officials, and provincial government officials. With these concerns, he asserted that the ‘Bantay Korapsyon’ is there to uproot the abusive and corrupt in the government, especially in agencies directly attached to DILG.

DILG Secretary Año also urged the Filipino people to support the Balik-Probinsya Program, the Local Peace and Order Councils, Task Force-ELCAC, C4PEACE, RCSP, CUCPD, E-CLIP, and help the government in protecting communities against peace spoilers that threaten to undo all of the people’s hard work.

“We are now in these most trying times, and we cannot remain stagnant. We need perfect balance, perfect execution, and perfect timing. The Philippine laws, protocols, and guidelines are there to keep us safe. This is our home and we must awaken the spirit of Bayanihan among us and by keeping it alive, we have a legacy of resiliency and strength,” the DILG Secretary said.

A government that is fiscally transparent

Budget Secretary Wendel Avisado cited the administration’s gains in creating inspired change by building stronger partnerships with citizens through a government that is fiscally transparent.

Under the Participatory Governance Cluster (PCG), Sec. Avisado said the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) have relentlessly pursued policies, programs, and projects that uphold transparency.

“To date, DBM has released P374.89 billion to various government agencies to support their COVID-19 programs, activities, and projects. Of all recipient agencies, DSWD received the largest share in the amount of P200.98 billion to fund DSWD’s SAP benefitting around 23 million low-income households who receive an emergency cash subsidy ranging from P5,000 to P8,000 for two months. Other agencies such as DOLE’s CAMP-TUPAD received P12.59 billion to support their programs for displaced formal and informal workers and Overseas Filipino Workers,” the Budget Secretary said.

Pursuant to the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act that authorized the government to adopt temporary measures for health emergency, he said the DBM has released P11.10 billion for DA’s “Ahon Lahat, Pagkaing Sapat (ALPAS) Kontra sa COVID-19” program for affected farmers and fisherfolks.

Avisado said DepEd received P10.91 billion for Basic Education Learning Continuity Plan (BE-LCP) program; P48.23 billion for DOH’s COVID-19 response programs; P51 billion for Small Business Wage Subsidy (SBWS) program; and P37.50 billion for Bayanihan Grants to LGUs.

“We submit weekly ‘Bayanihan’ reports to Congress containing updates on government initiatives being implemented in line with the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act. This upholds that we have proactive disclosure of the amount augmented, reallocated, reprogrammed, and realigned to fund priority projects and programs in response to the COVID-19 pandemic,” Sec. Avisado said.

Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles, meanwhile, clarified that the Pre-SONA forums allow the cabinet clusters to further articulate, comprehensively elaborate, and extensively explain what the government has done, what it is doing, and what it is going to do to uplift people’s welfare and address the challenges faced by the country. (RLRB/PIA Bukidnon)