MAKATI CITY, Philippines - The United Opposition (UNO) dismissed the Arroyo government's much-ballyhooed P5-billion aid program for poor families as "another publicity gimmick," echoing the position of the Catholic Church and civic groups that the fight against poverty would require "an honest to goodness campaign against graft and corruption in government and not mere politically-motivated dole out."
Instead of giving dole out to the poor, UNO President and Makati Mayor Jejomar Binay said, the Arroyo government should provide jobs and efficient social services to poor Filipinos and take strong steps to prevent further increases in the prices of basic commodities such as rice and other food items.
"It is unfortunate that no amount of publicity gimmicks will improve the approval ratings of President Arroyo," Binay said in a statement. "What she must do is provide good governance that will give better social services to the poor and job opportunities to the unemployed. This can only be achieved by eradicating graft and corruption in this government."
"The P5B government aid program is good primary as a public relations tool," said UNO spokesperson Adel Tamano, adding that "Malacañang failed to acknowledge is that the poverty and food crisis were caused by official corruption and misgovernance."
"The first step that must be done in an authentic poverty alleviation program is to rid the Arroyo administration of corrupt and inept officials who got us into this mess on the first place," Tamano added.
Tamano explained that the so-called Ahon Pamilyang Pilipino was designed by palace publicists to improve the plunging approval ratings of President Arroyo among the poor, noting that a provision in the program requiring that Malacañang should identify the beneficiaries of the aid.
"The entire scheme was obviously politically motivated," Tamano said. "What are alarming are reports that Malacañang's qualification and identification of poorest of the poor would target only 300,000 families. This is much too low and implies that only a minuscule number of poor families deserve attention."
For his part, San Juan Mayor JV Ejercito, UNO National Capital Region chairman, deplored the apparent lack of transparency and accountability in the implementation of the P5B aid program.
Ejercito warned that "the poor track record of the Arroyo administration in resisting graft and corruption tells us that this would only be another huge waste of government resources." "We in the united Opposition wish that this P5B aid program would actually benefit the poor.
But that would be wishful thinking under the Arroyo administration," the San Juan mayor said. Earlier, Caritas Manila Executive Director Fr. Anton Pascual criticized the aid program, saying it would only make the poor dependent on government doleout and would encourage them to be lazy.
"It is anti-poor, gives the poor no dignity, and only breeds dependency," Pascual. He explained that teaching the poor to be dependent was not part of the long-term solution to the soaring cost of basic necessities, especially food.
Social Welfare Secretary Esperanza Cabral said Malacañang had allocated P5 billion this year to fund a P500 monthly stipend for each of the country's poorest families to help them cope with the escalating prices of basic necessities.
Under the Ahon Pamilyang Pilipino (APP) program, a family will get an additional P300 for every child who logs at least 85 percent class attendance in a month. At most, three children per family could avail themselves of the stipend.
But due to budget constraints, the five-year APP program could cover only 300,000 families in the 20 poorest provinces, or 7 percent of the 4.7 million poor households in the country. (Marlene Salgado)