By Ruth Abbey Gita-Carlos

APPEAL FOR EXEMPTION. Social Welfare Secretary Rex Gatchalian on Tuesday (Sept. 12, 2023) gives an update on the distribution of cash aid to small rice retailers. In a Palace briefing, Gatchalian said the government has asked the Commission on Elections to allow the release of payouts for rice retailers affected by the rice price ceilings. (PNA photo by Rey Baniquet)

MANILA — The Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) has asked the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to exempt the nationwide distribution of financial aid to micro rice retailers from the election-related ban on the release of public funds.

In a Palace briefing, DSWD Secretary Rex Gatchalian expressed optimism that the Comelec would heed the government’s request to allow the release of PHP15,000 cash assistance each to small-scale rice retailers.

“We have applied for an exemption in the eventuality na may mga (of) unforeseen circumstances that will cause some delays,” Gatchalian said.

“Nananalig kami na mabibigyan kami ng (We believe that we will be granted an) exemption but we cannot preempt the good Comelec from saying na mabibigyan kami (that we will be granted),” he added.

The Comelec on Aug. 9 issued Resolution 10944 prohibiting the release, disbursement or expenditure of public funds for social services and development.

Under the Comelec resolution, the ban period will from Sept. 15 to Oct. 30 for national, regional, provincial, local government units (LGUs) and government-owned or controlled corporations and their subsidiaries.

Gatchalian cited the need for possible extension of distribution of cash assistance, noting that some rice retailers were unable to get the payout.

‘Self-imposed’ deadline

Gatchalian said the government has set a “self-imposed” deadline to finish the cash aid distribution by Sept. 14.

“The President instructed us to finish this at the soonest possible time. He likes the idea of finishing it by the 14th [of September]),” he said. “Talagang (Our) self-imposed deadline namin sa utos ng Pangulo (on the President’s directive) is September 14. That should cover all the regions.”

He noted that the government has allotted a total of PHP6 billion for the Sustainable Livelihood Program (SLP) for small rice retailers affected by the mandated rice price ceilings.

He said the DSWD has released around PHP7.5 million worth of cash assistance to some 474 beneficiaries.

Based on the initial list provided by the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), there are about 5,942 affected rice retailers who have business permits in public and private markets, Gatchalian said.

He said the number of beneficiaries is expected to decline amid the DSWD’s vetting process.

Second phase

He said the DSWD would also conduct the second phase of SLP for micro rice retailers that are selling outside the markets.

“Patuloy na nakikipag-ugnayan ng DTI sa ating mga local government units, sa ating mga iba’t ibang ahensya at private sector groups katulad ng RECON to get the list para ma-make sure natin na ‘yung mga wala sa loob ng palengke na micro, small rice retailers ay makasama doon sa mga succeeding list na ibibigay nila (DTI continues to coordinate with our local government units, various agencies and private sector groups such as RECON to get the list so that we can make sure that those micro, small rice retailers who are not in the market will be included in the succeeding lists they will provide),” Gatchalian said.

He urged small rice retailers who would not be included in the list to visit the social media accounts of the DSWD and the DTI to know the proper appeals process.

Complaints may be lodged online or through the grievance desk in the payment centers where the cash assistance will be distributed, he said. (PNA)