By Ruth Abbey Gita-Carlos

Department of Social Welfare and Development Secretary Rex Gatchalian. (File photo)

MANILA – President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. has ordered the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA), and the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) to protect the value of cash aid from the effects of inflation.

In a sectoral meeting at Malacañan Palace in Manila on Tuesday morning, Marcos said he wanted the DSWD, the NEDA, and the PSA to establish a “self adjusting” index-based system to make sure that the value of financial assistance given to the poor and vulnerable sectors will not diminish, when there is a spike in the prices of basic commodities. 

DSWD Secretary Rex Gatchalian said Marcos wants the three agencies to come up with the “best” mechanism as soon as possible to ensure that the possible rise in inflation will not have an adverse impact on the cash grants such as the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps).

“Inflation always hits the ‘Bottom 30’ the hardest. That’s why the President instructed the DSWD to work with PSA and NEDA to come up with the right mechanisms to protect the value of our grants,” Gatchalian said in a Palace press briefing.

“Alam naman natin na ginagawa ng economic team lahat para mapababa ang inflation. Pero habang ginagawa iyon, kailangan kaakibat iyong pagprotekta sa peso value ng mga grants na ibinibigay natin katulad sa 4Ps at sa iba pang mga programa na nakatuon sa pagbibigay ng social protection sa pinakamahirap nating mga kababayan (We know that the economic team is doing everything to lower inflation but while doing that, it is necessary to protect the peso value of the grants that we give such as the 4Ps and other programs dedicated to providing social protection to our poorest countrymen),” he added.

Gatchalian said Marcos also wanted to introduce in the next Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council (LEDAC) meeting possible amendments to Republic Act (RA) 11310 or the 4Ps Act by incorporating a self-adjusting mechanism.

This, as the amount of assistance given to 4Ps beneficiaries is “fixed,” Gatchalian said.

“Gusto lang niya na forward-looking, hindi na dapat ‘yung magpapaalam pa kung kanino para magpalit kundi sana ma-incorporate sa batas (He just wants to be forward-looking, that there is no need to to let anyone know what to change but rather incorporate it in the law), the self-adjusting mechanism,” he said.

“It will require a lot of thinking kaya nga hindi lang ito (that’s why it’s not just a) ‘do it your own’ assignment ng DSWD kundi nandoon ‘yung NEDA at ‘yung PSA (of the DSWD but also of the NEDA and the PSA) which they both concurred,” he added.

Gatchalian said the DSWD, along with the NEDA and the PSA, would work hard to come up with “responsive” cash assistance “in the fastest time possible.”

“But give us time to compute first. Ayaw namin na magkamali ‘yung index na gagamitin kasi there are plenty of indexes from what we heard from our economic team. There’s based on Consumer Price Index, meron ding (there is also the) essential basket cost. Maraming (There are many) ways to do it but the more important thrust there is to make it responsive and protect its value against being diminished by shocks like inflation,” he said.

Rice distribution

Meanwhile, Gatchalian admitted that it is “logistically hard” to convert the PHP600 rice subsidy given to 4Ps beneficiaries monthly into actual rice.

He issued the statement following the Department of Agriculture’s (DA) proposal to distribute rice to 4Ps beneficiaries instead of giving them cash grants to ease market pressure on the national staple.

Gatchalian said Marcos also agreed that it would be challenging to distribute actual rice instead of a cash subsidy.

He, however, said the DSWD is currently studying the DA’s proposal.

“We always say it’s logistically hard pero patuloy kaming nag-usap ng Department of Agriculture kung paano ma-implement ‘to (but we continue talking with the Department of Agriculture on how to implement it),” Gatchalian said.

“Kaya logistically hard kasi kung iisipin ninyo, kalat-kalat ‘yung ating mga benepisyaryo (So it’s logistically hard because if you think about it, our beneficiaries are scattered), 4.4 million spread across different areas in the country, sometimes in the most geographically isolated and disadvantaged areas, mga bundok, mga isla (mountains, island),” he added. (PNA)