DOF urged to extend cash aid, zero-interest loans to Taal eruption victims

Robie de Guzman   •   January 20, 2020   •   436

vacuees onboard a vehicle at a checkpoint following the eruption of Taal Volcano in Talisay, Batangas, Philippines, 15 January 2020. EPA-EFE/MARK R. CRISTINO

MANILA, Philippines – A lawmaker called on the Department of Finance (DOF) to extend an emergency assistance program to families living around Taal Volcano as it remains restive.

In a statement issued on Sunday, Senator Francis Pangilinan urged the DOF to formulate a comprehensive inter-agency fund assistance program for families affected by the eruption of Taal Volcano.

“This program may include several forms of assistance like outright cash assistance, moratorium on amortization, etc.,” Pangilinan said.

To assist affected families, he said government financial institutions such as Pag-IBIG, GSIS, and SSS can extend financial assistance to members and/or interest-free emergency calamity loans, on a deferred loan payment for at least six months.

“Malaking tulong kung magkakaroon ulit ang Pag-IBIG, GSIS, at SSS ng moratorium sa lahat ng outstanding loans para sa pinaka-nasalantang mga miyembro nila. Magagamit ang ipambabayad sa mga utang para itayo ulit ang mga bahay nila at iba pang kagyat na pangangailangan,” he said.

“Malaking ginhawa ito, lalong-lalo na sa mga retired na at tumatanggap ng pension,” he added.

Pangilinan further said the government can help victims through its programs like those implemented in the aftermath of the 1991 Pinatubo eruption and the 2013 super-typhoon Yolanda.

Particularly, he said the Department of Social Work and Development (DSWD) and the Department of Labor and Employment (DoLE) can relaunch its cash-for-work program; The Commission on Higher Education (CHED) can give affected college students a one-time educational assistance of P5,000; while the Department of Education (DepEd) can offer teachers and non-teaching staff in eruption-devastated areas loan assistance.

He also said that the Civil Service Commission can allow government workers to avail of emergency leave; the Department of Health (DoH) and DSWD can provide food assistance as well as psycho-social trauma management workshops; while government housing agencies, together with the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), can work on temporary housing for the displaced communities.

“Pag sama-sama tayong magtutulungan, mas madali tayong makakaahon sa kalamidad,” Pangilinan said.

Thousands of individuals are currently taking temporary shelters after the Taal Volcano belched smoke and ash last January 12.

Taal Volcano remains under alert level 4, which signifies an imminent hazardous eruption.

On Monday, January 20, 2020, the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) said it has observed a change in the Taal Volcano Island amid the volcano’s continued activity, citing developing subsidence in the northern part of the island.

Phivolcs said that despite observations of a calm Taal volcano in the recent days, with only a steady steam emission and weak explosions that generated ash plumes, volcanic activities underground still continue.

The agency said the ground around the volcano is swollen except for that northeastern part. Frequent volcanic earthquakes and increasing levels of sulfur dioxide were also noted which could indicate a rising magma movement.

Phivolcs still advises residents to keep out of Taal’s declared permanent danger zone due to the possibility of a hazardous eruption.

DOF: P200B aid for 18 million poor families affected by COVID-19 to be distributed in next 2 months

Robie de Guzman   •   March 31, 2020

MANILA, Philippines – The Department of Finance (DOF) on Tuesday detailed the government’s plan to provide emergency subsidies worth P200 billion to some 18 million low-income households who lost their sources of income due to the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) crisis.

In a statement, Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III said the P200 billion program for distribution in cash, and basic needs over the next two months is the largest direct financial aid package ever granted by the government to Filipino families in the country’s history.

Dominguez said this is in line with the directive of President Rodrigo Duterte to give priority to providing a lifeline to Filipino households heavily affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We need to take care of our people first because that is the primordial duty of the government and society, especially during crises such as this pandemic that has claimed the lives of over 30,000 worldwide and battered the global economy,” he said.

The fund for the subsidy program is sourced from the accounts of various government-owned and -controlled corporations (GOCC), and national government realigned to combat the coronavirus crisis.

The Republic Act 11469 or the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act, enacted on March 24, authorizes President Rodrigo Duterte to realign or reallocate savings generated from GOCCs, the 2020 national budget and extended 2019 budget to bankroll the emergency subsidy program.

Under the subsidy program, how much will each vulnerable household get from the government?

The DOF said that under the ‘Bayanihan’ law, the government will give P5,000 to P8,000 each month for two months. This is computed based on the minimum daily wage rates in their respective regions.

Who are the program’s beneficiaries?

The Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) on Tuesday released a list of target beneficiaries who could avail of the program:

The target beneficiaries are families who may have at least one member belonging to any of the following vulnerable or disadvantaged sectors:

  • Senior Citizens
  • Persons with Disability
  • Pregnant and Lactating Women
  • Solo Parents
  • Distressed overseas Filipinos (referring to those who were repatriated or banned from traveling outside the Philippines on account of COVID-19 breakout, from January 2020 until the lifting of the community quarantine)
  • Members of poor indigenous communities
  • Homeless
  • Informal economy workers (such as directly hired workers, subcontracted workers, homeworkers, house helpers, public utility drivers, micro-entrepreneurs with an asset of less than P100,000, street vendors)
  • Sub-minimum wage earners (such as dishwashers or helpers in carinderia or eateries)
  • Farmers, fisherfolks and farm workers
  • Employees affected by ‘no work, no pay’ policy
  • Workers not covered by DOLE adjustment measures program
  • Stranded workers who cannot return to their permanent homes at the moment

The DOF said that of these beneficiaries, 4.3 million families are recipients of the P2,150 average monthly subsidy from the Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) component of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD)’s Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps) program.

“For those who are already receiving grants from various national and local programs, the government will provide them with a top-up or additional support to meet the P5,000 to P8,000 subsidy amount,” Dominguez said.

The DOF estimates that around P97.4 billion is needed per month to finance the subsidy, or almost P200 billion for two months, plus administrative costs totaling P5.1 billion.

“We will urgently deliver this emergency subsidy to millions of our fellow Filipinos who live day-to-day on subsistence earnings or ‘no-work, no-pay’ arrangements,” Dominguez said.

How will these subsidies be delivered to beneficiaries?

The DOF said the subsidies will be delivered through various national and local programs in the form of food, cash, and other essentials for the next two months, as provided in the ‘Bayanihan’ Law.

Is there an economic relief for affected businesses?

The DOF said they will eventually put in place programs for affected businesses “so the economy could bounce back as soon as we beat this lethal virus.”

“For the moment, the government must attend to dislocated families and keep Filipino workers healthy so they are ready for the subsequent resurgence in economic activity,” Dominguez said.

The Finance chief also appealed to private-sector employers to do their part in protecting the welfare of some 6.6 million Filipino families dependent on their businesses and who belong to the formal economy.

“We urge business leaders and enterprise owners to support their workers who may have savings, but might need additional assistance during this difficult time,” he said.

He also appealed to taxpayers who are still able to file and pay their taxes early to do so despite the one-month extension implemented under the ‘Bayanihan’ law in order to “fund these programs with the latest amount of borrowing.”

Phivolcs lowers Taal Volcano alert to level 1

UNTV News   •   March 19, 2020

MANILA, Philippines – The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) on Thursday said it has downgraded the alert on Taal Volcano to level 1 following the decrease in volcanic quakes and surface activity at the main crater.

In its bulletin, Phivolcs said the Taal Volcano’s condition in the succeeding four weeks after its alert was lowered to level 2, has been characterized by low-level volcanic earthquake activity, stabilizing ground deformation of the Taal Caldera and the Taal Volcano Island edifices, and weak surface activity at the Main Crater and the Daang Kastila fissure.

“DOST-PHIVOLCS is lowering the alert status of Taal Volcano from Alert Level 2 to Alert Level 1 to reflect the overall decreasing trend in the level of monitoring parameters,” its bulletin reads.

State volcanologists said that alert level 1 means that the volcano is still in “abnormal condition,” and that this “should not be interpreted that unrest has ceased or that the threat of an eruption has disappeared.”

Under alert level 1, sudden steam-driven or phreatic explosions, volcanic earthquakes, minor ashfall and lethal accumulations or expulsions of volcanic gas can occur and threaten areas within the Taal Volcano Island.

The alert level may be raised back to alert level 2 “should pronounced change in monitored parameters forewarn of renewed unrest,” Phivolcs said.

The agency reminded residents that entry to Taal’s permanent danger zone, especially the vicinities of the Main Crater and the Daang Kastila fissure, remains strictly prohibited. 

The Taal Volcano was placed under alert level 4 when it spewed ash on January 12 which sent thousands of residents to temporary shelters and disrupted businesses in surrounding areas.

It was later lowered to alert level 2 several weeks later due to decreased unrest. — ROBIE DE GUZMAN

DOF ensures continuity of service as Manila office undergoes disinfection

Robie de Guzman   •   March 12, 2020

MANILA, Philippines – The Department of Finance (DOF) on Thursday assured continued service while its Manila office is closed for disinfection against the spread of novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III said he has ordered the activation of an emergency working arrangement, which includes identified alternate locations where critical agency groups with skeletal forces will temporarily hold office.

“Under these arrangements, the DOF Building is abandoned and DOF holds office in alternate offices,” said Dominguez, who has gone under self-quarantine after learning he was exposed last week to a person who later tested positive for COVID-19.

DOF employees who will not be assigned to alternate offices will work from their homes for the duration of the office closure, the finance chief added.

Dominguez said the Policy Development and Management Services Group headed by Undersecretary Gil Beltran will determine the number of critical employees that can be accommodated in each of the alternate offices.

All undersecretaries have been directed to identify the critical offices and employees under their respective groups, collate the contact information of those working under them, and decide on how to issue instructions and receive outputs based on the facilities available to them.

“In view of limited working spaces, only critical employees and critical offices under each Undersecretary shall report for work in alternate offices. The rest will get instructions online and work in their respective homes,” Dominguez said.

DOF-attached agencies, including Bureau of Customs and Bureau of Internal Revenue, have also been ordered to thoroughly disinfect their respective premises this weekend.

Dominguez has also ordered the DOF-attached agencies—which include, among others, the BTr and the Bureaus of Customs (BOC) and of Internal Revenue (BIR)—to thoroughly disinfect all their respective premises this weekend.

Aside from the DOF, the Office of the President at Malacañan Palace; the offices of the Senate, Department of Budget and Management and Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) complex in Manila; Government Service Insurance System (GSIS) in Pasay City; and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) headquarters in Mandaluyong City will also be closed for disinfection.

Aside from Dominguez, BSP Governor Benjamin Diokno, Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea, and Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade also voluntarily underwent self-quarantine.

The World Health Organization has declared COVID-19 as a pandemic as the number of people infected grew to over 124,518 with 4,607 deaths in 118 countries.

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