Universal Amelioration, is anybody there?

Inclusion is such a lonely word. It used to be a buzzword in government and in the development sector, but it abruptly became archaic. Covid-19 summoned back social segregation as a method of defining subsidy distribution.

Today, by receiving or waving acceptance of relief goods, amelioration, or grants from the government, the people are subconsciously reminded of their place in the social hierarchy – simplified as: lower class, middle class, and upper class. 

The application of social segregation appears to be inevitable in the face of a pandemic because it aids government in prioritizing support. For instance, the Duterte administration need to prioritize who among the sectors of society will receive a big slice of the subsidy from the budget pie of P27.1 billion package of priority action against Covid-19. 

There are more funds coming our way but it remains on process – “magnakaw pa or manghiram pa” is the marching order.

The procedure of prioritization determines who will be included or excluded from the list of target beneficiaries. Automatically, the rich (upper class) are excluded and the poorest of the poor (lower class) are included. The middle class occupies the gray area following an assumption that this is a least affected sector. 

Members of the different sectors of society might engage on a technical debate regarding models of inclusion or forms of segregation, but all of its complexities were streamlined by government’s subsidy program that we have come to know as the Social Amelioration Program (SAP). The program is governed by a Joint Memorandum involving seven national government agencies, including the agency responsible for the distribution of subsidy, the Dept. of Social Welfare and Development.

The SAP for Covid-19 affected people of the Duterte administration will help you find your place in the social hierarchy. How? Just answer this question: have you received an amelioration subsidy? 

If your answer is Yes – then you are considered a poor or a member of the vulnerable and a disadvantaged sector of society. There are 17 target beneficiaries in the SAP category. If No – you must be a middle class because the rich is excluded from the category. This is a classic segregation.

The middle class are stereotypically imagined as a family who enjoys the bounty of life and with a lot of savings. It implies that they are the least affected by the five week quarantine, and that they can further stay at home beyond the lockdown without having to worry about work, income, bills, tuition fees, health insurance, or food. This is an exclusion procedure grounded from a figment of the Duterte administration’s imagination.

The people from the middle class are taxpaying workers who cover livelihood activities from formal to an informal economy. As a working class, their employment ranges from regularly-employed positions of companies or non-profit organizations, to Micro Small Medium Enterprises (MSMEs), and up to what is now termed as “Gig Economy” – an informal set of skilled and competent workers who are doing freelance and individual contracting job. They are nevertheless a legitimate taxpaying sector. 

The middle class is one of the most visible sector of the working class who plays a significant role in fueling the engine of growth of our society’s economy. Yet many of them are segregated for exclusion from government support.

The novel Coronavirus, however, is an “all-inclusive killer.” It doesn’t segregate people by segments of society. If you do not catch the virus, it doesn’t mean that you’re not affected. The distress that you will receive comes in the form of life-preserving intervention, like a 1.5 month community quarantine, wherein you cannot go out from your community and engage on a livelihood activity that you depend upon. 

Considering its nature as an all-encompassing slayer, everybody on its way deserves government’s support. One such support is the social amelioration subsidy. There are other government support in the menu of interventions, but an amelioration subsidy directly provides an auxiliary financial assistance to citizens who are affected by the pandemic.

Admittedly, the P5,000 to 8,000 cash subsidy is a miserable amount to support a family’s need for two months. If President Duterte’s haughtiness will be applied as a benchmark, then the amount must be higher or P10,000 and up. Whatever the amount (P5,000 – lower or P10,000 – higher), we will all wind up to a conclusion that an amelioration subsidy is necessary and useful. 

The current implementation of SAP is hounded by funding shortage issues. Hence, obligating an amount and defining the beneficiaries have followed exclusion instead of inclusion. Therefore, it failed to reach a much broader sector of society who are affected by the pandemic.

Ideally, a social amelioration is not a one-time subsidy. It rather follows a time-paced releases, depending on the government’s crisis plan. This is the reason why it is called a Social Amelioration Program, because a health crisis can stretch over numerous months. It needs a programmatic subsidy for the people to survive.

The beneficiaries for sure did not expect that such a government subsidy is even possible. However, its implementation only indicates that it can be scaled up to an all-inclusive subsidy system like a Universal Social Amelioration System. If at macro-level “magnakaw or manghiram” is possible, then a Universal Amelioration System is doable. 

Like a Universal Health Care System, a Universal Social Amelioration System is the only way by which all Filipinos who are affected can get a subsidy coverage from the Duterte administration whose cornerstone of leadership is nailed by a slogan: “Change Has Come.” 

For all the disruption that it has caused, Covid-19 offers a brilliant opportunity for a Rodrigo Roa Duterte to walk the talk by establishing a Universal Social Amelioration System. Without it, he is merely disgorging saliva making his mantra “Change Has Come” as an unassertive, non-celebratory, and an onomatopoeic cat’s meow of a proud Davaeño who declared to have dislodged the elite system.

Covid-19 did not suspend change. The circumstances rather demands an enhanced, expanded, and an all-encompassing inclusion. A Universal Social Amelioration System is what the people needs from government in these times of crisis.

*The opinion piece has appeared at the Opinion Section of www.imtnews.net

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