NAPC’s problem: How to spend P2.5 billion in three months
By Gina Mission

This week, the government is set to release P2.5 billion allotted by the Congress for its poverty eradication program (PEP) in 1999. The 1999 Lingap para sa Mahirap fund – from which some 16,000 families categorized as the poorest of the nation’s poor stand to benefit - will be used for medical assistance, irrigation and potable water supply, housing, food assistance, protection of youth and children, and livelihood assistance.

___Going by government rules, the money must be used on its intended projects before the year ends. With only three months left, however, both implementers and beneficiaries appear unprepared for this enormous project. The beneficiaries themselves do not appear to know why they are on the list of the poorest families in their communities. Nobody had bothered to explain to them exactly what it all meant.

___The PEP sought out the 100 poorest families in each of the 78 provinces and 83 cities in the country, based on the government’s recognition of the family as the basic unit of society. The identification of the 100 poorest families is expected to make monitoring and evaluation of PEP easier. A cluster of 20 to 25 families will be provided a viable enterprise in the barangay where they reside, and a minimum of four different barangays are chosen in each province and city for a total of 644 barangay as the core units for evaluating the progress of the program.


___The moment the news of the release of the Lingap fund hit the headlines, critics dismissed it as just another patronage gimmick, raised to a higher level: Government money as a political investment, to be given to the administration’s "favorites." Earlier, the NAPC, whose main function is to oversee the implementation of the fund, was described by some quarters as the "repository of presidential pork." With P2.5 billion at its disposal, and barely three months left to spend it, the NAPC is in a hurry to "get things done." The people, however, are asking: Will the money go to the right projects?

___Anna Maria "Princess" Nemenzo, a feminist and an activist, and now NAPC vice-chair for the basic sectors, explained to CyberDyaryo that the Lingap fund could not be released earlier due to an enormous delay in the drafting of the guidelines for the projects.

___Six agencies have been identified and provided with funds to implement the Lingap projects. These are the:

___The NAPC shall exercise policy oversight functions over the fund.

___NAPC Resolution 1, Series of 1999, provides that the fund shall be released as grants, subsidies or contributions to implement agency/corporation programs and projects. Since the Lingap programs are supposed to be integrated, the six implementing agencies shall consolidate, complement and coordinate their efforts in pursuit of their common objective.

___Working with the 100 poorest of the poor families in every province/city and underdeveloped barangay as priority beneficiaries, the NAPC expects the Lingap programs to create a multiplier effect and reach a total of two million Filipino families. This means that for every family beneficiary, there will be other families who will benefit from the government services being delivered in the same community.

___For its part, the National Food Authority has conceptualized a poverty alleviation program with four project components: the ERAP Sari-Sari Store Project (ESSSP), an Emergency Relief Assistance Project (ERAP), a Rice Subsidy Project (RSP), and a Farmers’ Alleviation Project (FAP).

___For the likes of Aling Aida and her family, who are Lingap beneficiaries in Kalookan City, the NFA’s sari-sari store project provides a start-up capital of P20,000. The ERAP project, on the other hand, ensures an immediate response to the rice needs of beneficiaries in times of natural or man-made calamities and other emergencies.

___The Rice Subsidy Program is intended to provide NFA rice to the target beneficiaries at a lower, subsidized price. The Farmers’ Alleviation Project will provide support services (such as the provision of portable post-harvest sheets, the custom hiring of NFA post-harvest facilities, local food security, and palay and corn procurement) to target beneficiaries engaged in marginal farming or those in areas which are marginally farmed.

___The National Housing Authority’s Lingap fund will be used to provide financial assistance of P10,000 per family beneficiary for the acquisition of land and housing.

___The Local Water Utilities Administration, on the other hand, will strive to provide public waterworks systems in each province and city for the improvement of public health and promotion of higher standards of hygiene and cleanliness in the rural areas. It will therefore construct shallow wells, deep wells, spring systems, and communal faucets.

___The Cooperatives Development Authority fund shall be utilized for livelihood projects with priority given to income generating projects that will improve quality of life and empower beneficiaries to access more basic social services. The emphasis shall be on micro-credit programs and schemes for poor families with no assets to engage in self-employment and income-generating activities.

___The Department of Social Welfare and Development will use its fund for protective services for children and youth which are developmental, preventive and rehabilitative in nature. These include day care services, child/youth crisis services, as well as other protective services/interventions for children and youth.

___The Department of Health will use its fund for food, nutrition and medical assistance programs (FNMAP). In order to improve the health status of these families, the Department will upgrade the delivery of health services and strengthen collaboration between and among the stakeholders in the health sector. Specifically, the DOH will provide the beneficiaries access to medical assistance, health insurance, complementary feeding for malnourished children, and dietary diversification through backyard gardening.

___Whether or not the Lingap Project will succeed in its ambitious objective of poverty eradication is still anybody’s guess. Nemenzo concedes that there are problems she faces that she can do nothing about. Although the fund has been around for sometime, even before the NAPC was formally convened, the guidelines came out only recently. And these are not as clear as they ought to be.

___"There is nothing we can do to change the guidelines for choosing the families. There’s not even a guarantee that the family-beneficiaries are indeed the poorest of the poor. There is no way for us to validate that. But we are at least confident that those who were chosen are poor. As long as they fall within the measurement of the guidelines, pwede na seguro (I suppose, it will be okay). There’s always room for correction of mistaken families. Nandiyan na yan (It’s there already), what we can do is ensure that the services reach them and that they will benefit from them," Nemenzo said.

___"If the public will help us monitor the movement of the funds, I think the money will go to the right pockets," she added.

___In a country whose poor comprise the majority of its population, poverty eradication is indeed a gargantuan job, "a constant struggle," according to Nemenzo. And what the Commission has to do battle with it is far from perfect. Inadequate as the government’s poverty eradication program is, Nemenzo is confident that the basic sectors, whom the program aims to benefit, will "hold on to it," as a way to start addressing the problem.

___While she does not exactly relish her new role as a Government official selling a program to the public, she said that the long struggle of civil society for people empowerment "must go on."

CyberDyaryo | 1999.09.16