October 7, 2022

Evil can spring from the desire to do good. This is none more apparent than the program of the Department of Social Welfare and Development to grant ayuda or cash assistance to poor students.

It was concocted by the same agency to ease the burden of indigent parents in finding ways and means to finance the studies of their children amidst the difficulty wrought by the Covid-19 pandemic. DSWD Sec. Erwin Tulfo said the ayuda is in line with the program of the government to continue supporting the poor. On surface, the intention is good, but going deeper, it is counter-productive.

For one, the timing of the release of the funds is awful. The distribution of the cash assistance commenced a week before the start of classes. The result? Long lines and worn out faces of students and parents alike waiting for their turn to get their money. Some went home happy, while some did not. In fact, some were injured because of the bobbing, pushing, and shoving among the beneficiaries.

It was quite chaotic that the DSWD had to change its strategy in distributing the money. Whereas, originally, it took on the gargantuan task of doling out the ayuda on its own, now, it is seeking the assistance of local government units. This should have been done on the onset. Knowing fully well that it does not have the personnel or the capacity or strategy to give the cash assistance, the DSWD should have thought otherwise than to martyr itself by venturing in uncharted waters.

There, too, is the problem of documenting the qualified beneficiaries of the program. There are no set rules to establish who are considered poor families, much more is there any standard of measure to know who is an indigent and who is not. What is being required is a mere certification that one is a qualified beneficiary. As to who determines who is a qualified beneficiary, it is left to the discretion of officials who hold life and death over those queuing to be listed as one.

This also creates a situation where those who want to avail of the benefits of the “ayuda” become beholden to a padrino. Sounds familiar? This is how leaders manipulate their constituents. It is called politics.

Besides, the amount conferred is minimal compared to the actual needs of an average student.

For elementary, it is P1,000; for high school, P2,000; for Senior High School, P3,000; and for college, P4,000.

Pray tell me, to what extent will these amounts reach? What can it buy in terms of educational supplies and tuition? Perhaps a couple of notebooks, a pad paper, an eraser and two pens? Then after that, what? Another ayuda maybe.

Please don’t get me wrong. I have the least intention of depriving our poor or indigent students every conceivable way of helping them, privately or publicly. However, giving them minimal cash may not be enough.

Instead of letting them line up for hours on end, which is not only inconvenient but also a buwis buhay for them, why not directly coordinate with schools, colleges and universities to set up a program to subsidize the tuition and other fees of qualified beneficiaries.

Likewise, instead of letting politicians evaluate who are qualified beneficiaries, let the schools do it. In short, instead of feeding them fish one at a time, why not teach them to catch fish?