June 15, 2008 (STAR) By Marvin Sy - Malacañang said the government’s grant of cash subsidies is a genuine effort of President Arroyo to relieve the poor from rising prices of basic commodities.

Presidential Management Staff director general Cerge Remonde, in an interview over dzRB, said the President wanted to provide concrete assistance to the poor and one of the methods chosen was to provide a one-time P500 cash subsidy to households that use less than 100 kilowatt-hours of electricity a month.

A total of P2 billion was set aside by the government for the cash subsidy on power.

The President also ordered the distribution of P1,500 cash subsidies to farmers for the purchase of fertilizers.

The government has already extended subsidies for education and health care for children under its Ahon Pamilyang Pilipino program.

“The grant of subsidies is a genuine effort on the part of the President to bring immediate, quick relief to the poorest of the poor,” Remonde said.

Opposition legislators have criticized the program, saying it is illegal since it was not contained in the 2008 General Appropriations Act.

Some senators have also expressed doubt that it would help the poor cope with the continuous rise in the prices of basic goods and commodities.

Remonde said the criticism from the opposition was expected, but reiterated that the objective of the President cannot be questioned.

“We cannot satisfy everybody. The fact that the President is doing this is a very concrete manifestation of the efforts to bring some relief to the people,” he said.

World oil prices have gone up to record levels since the start of the year but there are indications that this could be easing.

Remonde said countries that are dependent on imported oil are affected by the rising oil prices so any drop in the world prices would be a welcome relief.

He emphasized the need to develop alternative sources of energy in order to reduce the country’s dependence on imported oil.

Appeal for patience

Social Welfare and Development Secretary Esperanza Cabral, on the other hand, appealed to the beneficiaries of the P500 cash subsidy on power to be patient in claiming their share.

Long lines have emerged at all local government units as residents, even those who do not fall under the lifeline category, rushed to get their P500.

She also said that the subsidized National Food Authority rice being sold at P18.25 per kilogram through the use of the family access cards has yet to be implemented.

Although the Department of Social Welfare and Development has distributed the family access cards in some LGUs, the P18.25 rice has not yet been pulled out from the public markets by the NFA.

The distribution of the family access cards was intended to ensure that only the poorest families would have access to the P18.25 rice.

Meanwhile, Senate President Manuel Villar Jr. will not call for the immediate scrapping of the value added tax (VAT) on oil to give the government a chance to work on overall and long-term programs to address these problems.

But he warned that the government must be transparent in using public funds especially in the grant of subsidies, saying the people could not tolerate and “afford” corruption at this time.

“All prices are increasing because of the chain effect of the rise in oil prices. The government is like balancing on a tight rope. These developments are new and nobody foresaw them coming. So we really cannot rush the solutions for these because we would have to look at the issues as a whole,” Villar said over radio station dwIZ. – With Aurea Calica

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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