Manila, Philippines — The government is set to release next month P20 billion in subsidies to the poor who are adversely affected by the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) law, Quirino Rep. Dakila Carlo Cua said yesterday.
Cua revealed that the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) has committed to provide P2,400 – the full amount that each can receive for 2018 – to eight million families who were targeted for the unconditional cash transfer (UCT) program under TRAIN.
The beneficiaries, he added, include three million senior citizens.
Under the law, eight million poor families would receive P200 per month, which totals P19.2 billion for this year alone.
Yesterday, DSWD acting Secretary Virginia Orogo led the pilot payout of the UCT program to at least 733 indigent senior citizens in San Fernando, Pampanga. She explained that the release of benefits for the elders was delayed because the agency has to first validate its list of beneficiaries.
The other DSWD regional offices, she added, are also preparing their payroll documents so the amounts could be released through the Land Bank of the Philippines.
Cua, who chairs the House committee on ways and means, said the Department of Transportation (DOTr) would also give out fuel subsidies to public utility vehicle (PUV) drivers next month under the Pantawid Pasada program. At least P977 million has been allocated for this purpose in this year’s budget.
The money, he pointed out, would be loaded into debit cards, which the regional offices of the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board would distribute to PUV driver-beneficiaries.
Cua said the law also provides for the issuance of “social benefits card to provide the unemployed, minimum wage earners and the poorest 50 percent of the population with discounts on transportation and rice, and free skills training.”
Although agencies wanted to attach these planned benefits to the envisioned national identification card, Cua has asked for the release of discount cards as the implementation of the national ID scheme could be delayed.
Although the P200-per-month subsidies already run to billions of pesos, Rep. Michael Romero of party-list group 1-Pacman wanted to increase it to P500 monthly. He also suggested an expansion of the Pantawid Pasada program to include drivers of transport network service vehicles and cargo trucks.
He reasoned that the government could afford to expand these social benefits given the huge increase in tax collections for this year’s first five months.
Romero noted that the top three revenue agencies – Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR), Bureau of Customs and Bureau of Treasury – all reported significant collection improvements due to higher taxes under TRAIN and the expansion of the economy.
The BIR alone, he added, posted an increase of more than P100 billion.
Cua met with officials of the DSWD, DOTr and other concerned agencies last Thursday in an executive session. He did not say why the meeting was held behind closed doors.
“We wanted to find out the status of social protection measures under TRAIN and the available options to move these forward. It was a productive discussion. The agencies committed definite timelines of what the public can expect in the coming months,” he said.
He said a follow-up meeting would be scheduled next month.
Earlier this year, the DSWD released the grants for over four million families under the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program.
By August, the DSWD is expected to release the payout for another 2.6 million beneficiaries listed under the government’s national household targeting system for poverty reduction or Listahanan.
“We are currently validating the 2.7 million poor households from the Listahanan database to get the 2.6 million target beneficiaries for UCT. As of June 12, a total of 2,564,561 households or 93.5 percent of the total have been validated, while 2,466,777 or 89 percent have been encoded,” Orogo said.
“We are targeting to finish the registration by July and to conduct the UCT payout for the Listahanan households in August and September,” she added.
Meanwhile, Sen. Paolo Benigno Aquino IV challenged the arguments of the administration’s economic managers against the suspension of TRAIN law implementation.
Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III said suspending the TRAIN law, especially on the hike of excise tax on fuel, would impact the delivery of critical services such as free tuition for college students, increase in salaries of uniformed personnel and infrastructure projects under the Build, Build, Build program.
But Aquino claimed that the government has more than enough funds available to finance the free tuition for college students even if his proposal to suspend implementation of the higher excise tax on fuel and roll back pump prices pushes through.
“There are other sources the government could tap into. There is so much unused funds available,” Aquino said. “Why use the free tuition as hostage? The people have already suffered enough from the rise in the price of goods.”
He reminded Malacañang that in 2017 alone, there was an underspending of P390 billion. The budget for free tuition this year is only P41 billion, he added.