Villar: Why provide cash aid to middle class when they have salaries?
MANILA, Philippines – Richest Senator Cynthia Villar questioned the need to provide cash aid to middle-class Filipino families whom she claimed receive salaries during the lockdown anyway.
During the Senate hearing on coronavirus measures on Tuesday, May 19, Villar disagreed with the idea that middle-class families should receive aid too.
Citing the 2015 census wherein only 59% of Filipino families were considered poor, she assumed that the 18 million family-beneficiaries of the government's emergency subsidy program included those from the middle class.
"Bakit bibigyan 'yung middle [class] eh may trabaho sila? Kahit lockdown, sumusuweldo sila sa gobyerno kung employed by the government. Kung employed naman ng mga private, nagsusuweldo din sila. Kaya nga nahihirapan 'yung mga companies because they have to pay the salaries even if there is no business," Villar said.
(Why do we need to give cash aid to the middle class when they have jobs? Even during the lockdown, workers receive salaries from the government if they are employed by the government. If they are employed by the private sector, they also receive their salaries. That's why companies are financially strained because they have to pay the salaries even if there is no business.)
The billionaire senator argued that poor families are being deprived of aid by including the middle class in the program.
"Hindi ko ma-accept ang figures na 'yun. Masyadong mataas. Nade-deprive ang mahihirap dahil binibigyan pati ang middle class," she said, referring to the 2015 census. (I can't accept those figures. It's too high. Poor Filipinos are being deprived because the middle class receive aid too.)
Villar, who is married to the Philippines' richest businessman Manny Villar, cited her experience.
"Kasi kami, libu-libo ang empleyado namin, kahit hindi sila napasok, sinuswelduhan namin. Eh bakit sila pa ang bibigyan ng SAP? Eh may sweldo sila. Mapalad sila may sweldo sila," Villar said.
(Because thousands of our employees, even if they don't go to work, we pay their salaries. Why give them aid from SAP? They have salaries. They're lucky that they have salaries.)
Acting Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Karl Chua explained that the figure Villar cited was not updated, and therefore the 18 million figure had already been adjusted to reflect the current situation.
"To be accurate, we had to do a projection. Otherwise, kulang kasi (it will be lacking since) we have population growth," Chua said.
Under the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act, 18 million Filipino families were identified to receive P5,000 to P8,000 from the government's emergency subsidy program. P200 billion was allocated to this program, to be given in two tranches.
The government expanded the list to cover 5 million more families who would be prioritized for the second tranche of the cash aid program.
While Villar claimed that middle-class Filipinos receive wages during the lockdown, the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) reported that since the lockdown started, at least 2.3 million workers from the private sector have been laid off or placed under a "No Work, No Pay" scheme.
This is the very reason why the DOLE rolled out a P5,000-subsidy to workers – to augment private sector workers' salaries. But DOLE was able to assist only 650,000 people due to limited funds.
In April, Cavite Governor Jonvic Remulla asked President Rodrigo Duterte to include middle-class families in his province in the government's cash aid program. Duterte agreed but said there were not enough funds to cover them. (READ: Should the middle class receive subsidy?)
The government later rolled out the P51-billion subsidy branded as the cash aid program for middle-class workers.
This program was meant to be wage augmentation for those who work for micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs). At least 99% of businesses in the Philippines are MSMEs.
In Pasig City, Mayor Vico Sotto earlier announced that all residents would receive cash aid, regardless of whether they are poor or rich, but he asked those who are well-off to waive their share.
Sotto acknowledged that even middle-class families struggle during the lockdown because of temporary unemployment. – Rappler.com