With over 42,000 barangays nationwide under his helm, DILG Undersecretary Martin Diño has a daunting responsibility. According to the definition of the Local Government Code, barangays are the most basic political unit in the Philippines. Hence, interventions should have been done early on at this level to mitigate the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“There should have been barangay-level consultations first. As early as February 3, we released a memorandum circular regarding the Barangay Health Emergency Response Team (BHERT). Then we released another memorandum circular last February 6. We directed the use of PPEs (personal protective equipment) and barangay isolation units. If these were done [properly], then we wouldn’t [have reached] this point,” Diño pointed out.
As of June 2, the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the Philippines was at a staggering 18,638 and the death toll was nearing a thousand. The undersecretary, however, admitted there is no sense in pointing fingers. Since President Rodrigo Duterte has placed the entirety of Luzon under lockdown, barangays have been making sure that most people stay inside their homes. Only those with quarantine passes are allowed to leave their homes for work or to buy essential goods (groceries, medicine, etc.)
“The first problems we [had] encountered [following the lockdown order] were social distancing violations. There were reports of cockfighting, drinking in the streets, bingo, and gambling. Next, when we issued quarantine passes, some barangays asked for payment— anywhere between P10 to P500,” the undersecretary revealed.
On March 22, DILG Secretary Eduardo Año released another memorandum circular stating that barangays should maintain social distancing and that charging people for quarantine passes is illegal. The guidelines included curfew, mobilization of BHERTs, checkpoints, among others.
“You should be ashamed of yourselves. I will make sure that those who abuse their authority will be put behind bars. In this time of crisis, you manage to fool your own fellowmen. You are expected to help your people, not cause them more suffering,” Año said.
President Duterte signed the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act on March 24. This authorized the president to “reallocate, realign, and reprogram” the national budget for the pandemic response. The act also created the Social Amelioration Program (SAP), which aims to give 18 million low-income households emergency subsidy, apart from the 4.4 million households who are currently receiving assistance through the Expanded Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps). Those qualified are entitled to receive a subsidy ranging from P5,000 to P8,000 depending on regional wage rates.
“Then we received complaints that kapitanprioritized his own relatives or that the kagawad only gave [subsidy] to their political allies. Allegedly, some barangay officials would ask for ‘donations’ or charge a ‘processing fee’ of P1,000 to P3,000,” Diño shared. “Secretary Año ordered us to redirect complaints about graft and corruption regarding the SAP to the CIDG (PNP Criminal Investigation and Detection Group).”
Since then, their office has been focused on the rest of the complaints: those regarding social distancing, distribution of relief goods, and more. Since March 1, they have set up a DILG Emergency Operations Center that operates 24/7. “We have three teams that roam around Metro Manila daily, even on weekends or holidays. They verify and validate complaints that we receive within Metro Manila. If we receive complaints that are outside of Metro Manila, we forward them to provincial or regional offices,” the undersecretary shared.
If they have received at least 30 complaints about a single barangay, they send out the team for verification. Diño said that they have filed over 200 show-cause orders to errant barangay officials. They are required to respond within 48 hours.
“When we receive around 30 to 100 complaints in one barangay, we check if the complaint is untrue and if they are just politicking. Or is the barangay official really incompetent or corrupt?” Diño said. “When we see that there is a probable cause of complaint, we file a case against the barangay official.”
Now that Metro Manila has shifted from Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) to General Community Quarantine (GCQ), lockdowns are only ordered in certain hotspots. Street-level, sitio-level, or barangay-level lockdowns are implemented based on the discretion of the city. Should the metro-wide lockdown be implemented once again, however, Diño ensures that barangays are ready.
“Our barangays are ready. If they give us the opportunity and trust, we can take on the responsibility. Because first of all, who knows the people within a barangay? They don’t know, not the Mayor, DSWD, or police. No one knows the people like barangay officials do,” he said.
But he offers a message of caution to the millions of barangay officials. “This is your time to prove that when the Senate and Congress decided to extend your term, they did not make a mistake. We were supposed to hold the [barangay] elections this May, but the President postponed it. To those barangay officials who are lazy and corrupt, especially regarding the government subsidy, we will definitely come after you.” However, despite the numerous complaints his office has received about errant barangay officials, Diño also offered his gratitude to those who have been doing their job well.
“To our fellow Filipinos, we understand your sacrifice. As much as possible, follow government orders. If you go outside, please wear a face mask. Practice personal hygiene. There is no cure or vaccine for COVID-19 yet. Anybody can be infected. So if you have nothing to do or if you can, please stay home,” the undersecretary ends.
DILG Emergency Operations Center 24/7 hotline numbers : (02) 8876-3454 local 8806 – 8810, 0961-384-9272, 0961-772-1668, 0927-422-6300, 0915-005-4535