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In aid of COVID – who’s to blame?

Thousands went to the government center last Saturday, hoping to get lucky and avail financial assistance from the Department of Social Services and Development (DSSD).

But Lady Luck had a different plan. Not only did she suspend the giving of assistance, she made it into a dangerous gathering in aid of COVID.

When news broke out, many people turned to social media venting their anger and ranted against the people who went there, the DSSD, particularly its head, PacitaTero, and Mayor Bing Leonardia and the city government.
Who’s to blame?

The people? When interviewed those who were there said, they heard from someone that they had to line-up as numbers will be given out so they can avail some assistance. Footages showed they came donning masks, some with face shields, but with thousands gathered, there was no social distancing and the crowd was already uncontrollable.

In her statement, Tero said there were people who “intentionally or unintentionally spread misinformation that gave false hope to those who came hoping to be selected.” Furthermore, she said that in this age of “fake news,” people should get information only from “official sources.”

First of all, the news that DSSD was giving assistance wasn’t fake as Tero herself admitted that they have been selecting beneficiaries and have in fact released P2.5 million already. The only reason why they did it this way was because they were instructed not to course it through the barangays because of the controversial SAP distribution.

Secondly, Tero said in a radio interview that prior to the Saturday gathering, DSSD already met with heads of various sectors like the transport group, the entertainment industry and massage workers to identify those who need financial assistance especially if they have been displaced for months due to the pandemic.

Well, those are not clearly “official sources” and if word spread around, they have no one to blame butthemselves. At a time when people are clearly hungry because of the lockdown, they cling to hope, false or not, and risked their lives in the process out of desperation.

For Tero to even state that they are now contemplating to draw names off from a tambiolo, so that they can equally distribute assistance, was just the height of idiocy. If it was meant as a joke, that Saturday event was not laughable but a disaster that they created and should not be taken lightly with such senseless remarks.

Ironically, none of our city officials came out right after the incident, to address the issue or even berate the DSSD that such should not happen again. The fact that the incident occurred at the City Hall grounds meant that the local government knew that distribution of numbers are taking place because such gatherings, though not of that magnitude, also happened last Thursday and Friday.

Rather, Councilor Lady Gles Gonzales-Pallen even washed her hands off the incident saying the barangays had no knowledge and their task was simply to provide certifications to would-be beneficiaries. Ah, but some said the barangays informed them to go there.

Tero said the order not to course it through the local government units came from the DSWD office. That shows a disconnect between the national government agencies and the LGUs which has been the main problem from the start.

It also indicates mistrust for local officials which is probably why Mayor Bing was the butt of ranting in social media even with the fact that the city government was not at all involved in the distribution program.

The fact that the mayor failed to address that incident immediately also led many people to believe that he is out of touch with what’s happening on the ground. A post from the city information office that same day showed pictures of food packs for distribution to those who have been affected under the MECQ.

In that post, it said Mayor Bing ordered the DSSD to distribute these to the various sectors identified. The very agency that already said they have limited personnel to send around to identify beneficiaries for their financial assistance program, thus that mass gathering.Seven months into the pandemic, don’t we have a better system than order a clearly unreliable agency?

In a post that had been shared by many, Millie Kilayko of Negrense Volunteers for Change compared their own orderly distribution of meal bags for transport groups to that of the DSSD gathering. Order was established by giving time slots per barangay and per association to pick-up the donation.

NVC is a small organization and Millie was right in pointing out how a highly urbanized city with its vast resources failed to implement order and discipline when all it takes is “common sense.”

Millie added, “The day after this debacle, it was said that this was a prank and not initiated officially by the city government. My take is this: if there was any effort to make sure that all those who ran to NGC were not hungry at the START of MECQ, and if communication lines were open all throughout, would there have been need for a prank?”

Couldn’t say it any better than that.*

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May 2023

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