MANILA, Philippines — Like millions of Filipinos nationwide, Rosemarie Reontare’s life was disrupted when the country was placed under Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) in mid-March as the government tried to curb the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Rosemarie has been unemployed for two years since she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and tagged with partial disability. Her husband worked as a construction helper in 2019 but did not have any employment since January 2020.
Things were looking up for Rosemarie in March. She had been reselling beauty products online, and started a new job as an artisan perfumer in a distribution company. But then, the country was placed into ECQ.
“I was really looking forward to working again, to paying my contributions, and to updating my status from PWD to Abled Citizen. For someone like me who’s only starting to get back on my feet, it was quite depressing. Especially since I was informed that the company I started working in would permanently close. I have nothing to go back to after the quarantines are lifted,” Rosemarie said in Filipino.
During the ECQ, Rosemarie and her husband had to borrow money to make ends meet. They didn’t have any online sales, and were both unemployed. “There were times when we didn’t have any food or when we had to put seasoning on rice so it would taste better. I can really relate to those who have no food,” Rosemarie noted.
Thankfully, help came.
Rosemarie’s husband was included in the list of beneficiaries who were allotted cash aid in the Department of Social Welfare and Development’s (DSWD) social amelioration program (SAP).
Rosemarie’s husband filled up the SAC form, and went to the nearby purok to submit it. He was assisted by a barangay kagawad to complete his requirements. Like many others, he had to endure long lines to receive his cash aid when it was released on May 7.
While thankful for the aid, Rosemarie said it added to the fear her husband gets whenever he goes out of the house. The long lines and various interactions her husband experienced in claiming SAP exposed him to possible infections. Afraid of bringing home the virus, the couple practiced social distancing even at home whenever one of them showed any symptoms of COVID-19.
This is why Rosemarie and her husband are thankful that, for the second tranche of the government’s SAP, they can use ReliefAgad.
ReliefAgad was launched in May 14, 2020 as a joint effort by the DSWD, the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT), the Developers Connect Philippines (DEVCON), and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID)/ E-PESO. ReliefAgad aims to expedite the release of subsidy for the 2nd tranche of SAP in the qualified areas, as well as for additional beneficiaries. Since its launch, more than 2.1 million beneficiaries have already signed up in the app.
The website caters to the needs of both government agencies and beneficiaries. For local government units (LGUs), it improves data collection and lessens the need to gather residents physically for aid distribution. The data collected also goes straight to the DSWD’s database, and makes it easier for the department to verify the beneficiaries list.
For beneficiaries like Rosemarie, it lessens the need for them to go out and manually fill up forms and claim their aid. “I learned about ReliefAgad via word of mouth. We used it immediately and found that it is user friendly. We found the home page easy to navigate, and to put our information,” Rosemarie noted.
For DEVCON CEO Winston Damarillo, ReliefAgad shows that technology can improve social programs, especially given the tech savvy population of the Philippines.
“All you need is a smartphone and Internet connection to register for SAP. For those without those, they can borrow from friends or loved ones so they can register. Just make sure that the mobile number you put in is yours so only you can view your one time pin (OTP). All information submitted via ReliefAgad will be verified by the DSWD and the respective LGUs, so only those eligible will receive aid,” Damarillo noted.
Digital payments are the way to go
Meanwhile, USAID/EPESO encouraged beneficiaries to open transaction accounts (bank accounts or e-wallets) or activate their dormant accounts before signing up with ReliefAgad. Signing up in the app would require beneficiaries to have active accounts to nominate where they’d like to receive their aid. Beneficiaries will be unable to change their account details after signing up.
Using their transaction accounts, beneficiaries can receive payments, pay bills, send money, buy load, or buy essentials conveniently even from their mobile phones. It is also a good way to save money. Aside from being the fastest, most affordable and safest way to receive aid from the government, opening a transaction account will facilitate saving money and set beneficiaries on their way to cultivating financial management skills.
Rosemarie opened a digital wallet so she can register it at ReliefAgad. She never used a digital wallet before the ECQ but she said she found the light.
“I had been a victim of online scams and bank fraud before so I had a distrust of online banking. Cyber security was my main concern in signing up with ReliefAgad. But so far, it has been a convenient process. I am looking forward to receiving our SAP aid in our nominated digital wallet. I know this is a positive step towards showing transparency and lessening corruption since the money would go straight to my account,” she added.
Rosemarie used the first tranche of SAP they received to pay for the debts they incurred during the lockdown. She is looking forward to the second tranche so that they can use it as capital to start their business.
“We’re very thankful for the government’s initiative to send help to the most vulnerable sectors. We don’t desire to be a continuous burden to the government. We want to be productive members of society. We hope we can get a cash grant that we can use to increase our capital,” Rosemarie noted.
DSWD announced earlier that the second tranche of SAP would be released starting June 15, pending the liquidation and verification processes of LGUs. Beneficiaries in the National Capital Region, Region 3 (except Aurora Province), Region IV-A, Benguet Province, Pangasinan, Iloilo Province, Cebu Province, Bacolod City, Davao City, Albay Province, and Zamboanga City are eligible for the 2nd tranche.
With this, Damarillo encouraged DSWD field offices and local government units to continue promoting ReliefAgad to beneficiaries in their constituency.
“ReliefAgad is the fastest and safest way we can collect and process data, and send cash aid for the second tranche of SAP. We should take advantage of such digital technologies to increase paperless transactions, ensuring that all our frontliners and beneficiaries won’t face the risk of getting COVID-19,” Damarillo noted.
Developers Connect Philippines (DEVCON) is a non-profit organization which aims to promote the Filipino IT talent by providing a unique venue for IT students, educators, professionals, and enthusiasts to sync, support, and succeed. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, DEVCON convened DEVCON Community of Technology Partners (DCTX), a community of over 1,000 Filipino software developer-volunteers around the world, to come up with technology solutions. They developed the RapidPass system which provided authorized individuals to pass through checkpoints using a QR code. The same organizations developed ReliefAgad.
United States Agency for International Development (USAID) / E-PESO Project. USAID/E-PESO is a project funded by the USAID that aims to assist the Philippine government transition the economy from cash/checks to electronic payments for broader-based economic growth and financial inclusion. USAID/E-PESO is currently providing technical assistance to DSWD to integrate financial inclusion in the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps) by transitioning its cash cards to transaction accounts and developing a comprehensive financial literacy program. USAID/ E-PESO develops digital instructional and training materials for the rollout and provides electronic payments expertise, quality assurance, technical and system support to operate ReliefAgad