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Review of P62-B dole-out program needed

THE Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) started as a P9-billion aid program to help the poorest families in the country, adapted from programs in Brazil and Mexico by the Arroyo administration. When the Aquino administration took over in 2010, it not only continued the CCT program; it enlarged and spread it year after year until it had ballooned to P62 billion in 2015.

In the last year of the Aquino administration, calls mounted for a review of the CCT in the wake of findings that billions had gone to ineligible beneficiaries, including government employees, barangay officials, and middle-income families. The Asian Development Bank (ADB) estimated that 30 percent of CCT funds – about P19 billion – did not reach the intended beneficiaries. The Philippine government funds the CCT partly with loans from ADB and the World Bank.

Despite all the exposes and all the criticisms, the Aquino government carried on with the program, insisting that it helped the poor and ignoring charges during the last election campaign, that families receiving CCT aid were asked to vote for the administration candidates or risk losing the aid if the opposition won.

Well, the opposition won. President Duterte was elected on a promise of change. Many changes are indeed now taking place, notably increased spending for infrastructures, agriculture, and other programs that were largely neglected by the previous administration.

But it seems the CCT will not be touched by the new administration. Last Tuesday, the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI) criticized the government for again setting aside R62 billion for CCT at the expense, it said, of the weak government trade sector. PCCI President Sergio R. Ortiz-Luis, speaking at a public hearing, said he could not understand why the government has a budget of P62 billion for CCT, of which P5 billion is spent to monitor how the R62 billion is spent, when the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) has a budget of only P4 billion.

He proposed that R20 billion be deducted from the CCT fund and given to DTI to help finance small and medium enterprises (SMEs). These enterprises, he pointed out, create jobs and they repay the loans, unlike the CCT which just gives away the money to beneficiaries who do not pay it back.

At the very least, a review of the CCT program is in order. New Secretary of Social Work and Development Judy Taguiwalo herself has taken this position. There is no call to scrap CCT totally, for it continues to serve a purpose of helping truly needy people. But the substantial amounts going to undeserving beneficiaries should be stopped. And more of the P62 billion should go to programs such as financing for small and medium industries and to create more employment opportunities for people ready and willing to work.