CABINET Secretary Karlo Nograles on Wednesday said households belonging to the middle-income sector will also benefit from government assistance packages but said they will have to wait for a while since national government efforts at the moment are focused at helping low-income families and vulnerable sectors of society.
Nograles, in a virtual briefing from Malacañang, said the newly-signed Bayanihan to Heal as One Act sets the P5,000 to P8,000 financial assistance for low-income earners and the marginalized.
Nograles said the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) will discuss assistance packages for the middle-income sector, but these aids will likely be not in the form of financial or food subsidy.
Nograles said that for the moment, some members of the middle income sector could benefit from the moving of statutory deadlines for the filing and submission of documents and the payment of taxes, fees, and other charges to ease the burden of people under community quarantine; the directive to all public and private banks and similar financial institutions to implement a minimum of 30-day grace period for the payment of loans and credit card payments without interests and penalties; and the provision of a 30-day grace period on residential rents falling within the quarantine period without interests and penalties.
The labor department said more than 200,000 workers in the country have been displaced due to COVID-19.
Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III said they have already received preliminary reports from their regional offices on how many workers have been displaced so far.
“For our workers here, our regional offices reported about 212,718 workers have been displaced due to the rapidly spreading COVID-19 pandemic,” said Bello.
Earlier in the week, the DOLE also reported that 2,317 establishments covering 108,620 local workers have been adversely affected by the COVID-19 outbreak.
And with more workers affected by the outbreak, the labor chief said they are already hastening their assistance program.
In particular, Bello said they are fast-tracking their emergency employment and cash assistance program to informal and formal sector workers, respectively. He said P35 million out of the P1.5 billion DOLE assistance package have already been released.
“We hope to cover at least 50 percent of those affected by next week,” he added.
Nograles said the IATF has endorsed the proposal of the Department of Labor (DOLE) “for the immediate release of the amount of 1.5 billion pesos for financial assistance for overseas workers and repatriated overseas workers to be submitted to the Department of Budget.”
He said Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) is also finalizing the government’s Social Amelioration Program, which seeks to provide financial assistance to households that have been affected by the suspension of work during the lockdown.
FISHING AND FARMING
Nograles said the task force has also approved the recommendation of the Department of Agriculture (DA) to exempt workers in the agricultural and fisheries sector from the Luzon-wide enhanced community quarantine to ensure the continuous supply of agricultural goods and fish in the market.
He said government is allowing “all farming and fishing activities to continue” subject to the implementation of skeletal work forces and social distancing measures.
Under IATF Resolution No. 15, “all healthy farmers and farm workers, fishers, and agri-business personnel” shall be exempted from the work stoppage.
Agricultural supply stores and outlets and veterinary clinics shall also be allowed to operate, along with the unhampered movement of all supplies used for agriculture, including food packaging and manufacturing materials.
The Local Price Coordinating Councils have also been reactivated for price monitoring and enforcement.
The IATF also approved the recommendation of the DA to step up the implementation of two of its programs: the KADIWA ni Ani at Kita to support food availability, accessibility, and price stability; and the Ahon Lahat, Pagkain, Sapat kontra COVID-19.
Nograles said overseas Filipino workers, permanent residents of foreign jurisdictions, and stranded foreign nationals leaving for abroad through any ports in Luzon shall now be allowed to leave the Philippines without any impediment.
He said that unless there are travel restrictions in their destinations, the departing passengers may now leave anytime they want. He said they may also be accompanied by one person when traveling to any international port.
He said the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration had been tapped to provide transportation services to OFWs intending to leave for abroad.
Nograles said stranded passengers, whether Filipino or foreign nationals, are also allowed to book hotels and seek temporary accommodations, provided that single occupancy rooms shall be provided for health workers and repatriated OFWs, while double occupancy rooms shall be allowed for other individuals.
BATAAN PRIESTS WAIVE STIPENDS
With public masses and other church activities currently suspended, the priests of the diocese of Balanga have decided to forego their monthly allowances.
Balanga Bishop Ruperto Santos said they have decided to waive their respective monthly allowances from March until May for the welfare of their employees and personnel. There are 56 priests in the diocese of Balanga.
“With this present difficult and uncertain economic situations, we, priests in the diocese, have decided to forego our monthly stipends of months of March and April, some April to May, for the sake of people, especially all our Diocesan employees and personnel,” said Santos.
He said the decision is aimed at helping diocesan personnel in coping up with the absence of income during the Luzon-wide lockdown.
The prelate said that since 2012, the bishop of Balanga and all priests have the same amount for their Standard Living Allowance (SLA). This was the consensus adopted by the diocese after Santos was appointed as the new bishop of Balanga in 2010. – With Gerard Naval