SENATOR Christopher “Bong” Go expressed his support for the proposed 2024 budget of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) during a public hearing on Wednesday, September 20.
While endorsing DSWD’s proposed 2024 budget during a public hearing, Go sought clarification on the department’s role in Malasakit Centers and emphasized the need for effective budget utilization to directly benefit Filipinos in need.
“For the record, I am supportive of programs that will help and assist our countrymen in need,” said Go.
The senator emphasized the importance of ensuring that the budget allocated to the DSWD directly benefits indigent Filipinos.
“It is incumbent upon us to ensure that these programs will directly benefit poor and indigent Filipinos,” he stated.
In the upcoming 2024 fiscal year, DSWD is slated to receive a budget of P207 billion, a notable increase from its P196.5 billion allocation in 2023.
Given this significant budgetary expansion, Go took the opportunity to remind DSWD to meet its legal mandates including what is stated in Republic Act No. 11463 or the Malasakit Centers Act of 2019 which he principally authored and sponsored.
“According to the Malasakit Centers Act, the DOH (Department of Health), the DSWD, PCSO (Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office), and PhilHealth shall have representatives in Malasakit Centers. Batas naman po ito. Inaprubahan po natin sa tulong ng mga kasamahan natin sa Kongreso at napirmahan po ni dating pangulo (Rodrigo Duterte). Sa ngayon, nakapag-provide na po ba tayo ng mga representatives sa 159 na Malasakit Centers?” asked Go.
The senator stressed that patients should not have to wander from one agency to another, which is both time-consuming and expensive, just to ask for medical assistance from the government.
Sec. Rex Gatchalian, for his part, committed to fully carry out the DSWD’s role in these centers nationwide. He stated, “We have taken an inventory in all Malasakit Centers and as far as we know from our record right now, they are manned by our people, at least our share of it.”
Gatchalian added that as of the end of August, they have served 131,533 direct beneficiaries, amounting to around P329 million in grants for those seeking medical assistance from DSWD.
When Go inquired if these services are directly accessible within the Malasakit Centers, Gatchalian confirmed, “Yes, in the Malasakit Center.”
However, Go sought further clarity, asking if beneficiaries still need to visit regional offices to avail themselves of these services. Gatchalian elaborated that the direct medical aid dispensed in the Malasakit Centers amounted to around P47 million and served approximately 7,924 beneficiaries.
Go pressed for clarification, asking whether beneficiaries need to go to regional offices or if the assistance is directly available at Malasakit Centers. Gatchalian assured that the numbers he provided were for direct disbursements at Malasakit Centers but agreed to double-check their data.
“Can you ensure for the record na matutulungan ang mahihirap dito po through DSWD sa programa n’yo po,” Go asked.
“Yes, I am making that commitment,” Gatchalian assured, promising that the DSWD would provide the necessary support for the effective implementation of the Malasakit Centers Act.
As of now, 159 Malasakit Centers are operational across the country, poised to assist with patients’ medical expenses. The most recent center was inaugurated at Bislig District Hospital in Bislig City, Surigao del Sur, an event Go attended on September 15. The Department of Health reports that the Malasakit Center program has already provided aid to more than seven million Filipinos so far.
During the same hearing, Go shifted the focus to the staffing within the DSWD, particularly the roles of assistant secretaries and undersecretaries.
“Sa mga unfilled positions po and social workers, ilan po ang assistant secretaries and undersecretaries ng DSWD sa ngayon at wala naman pong problema sa dami, masisipag naman po ang ating mga empleyado, alam ko naman po ‘yan,” said Go.
Gatchalian revealed that DSWD currently has 10 undersecretaries and 20 assistant secretaries, all of whom have tendered their courtesy resignations as part of an ongoing rightsizing and streamlining process.
The senator also inquired about the benefits received by social workers under DSWD and what initiatives are in place to take care of them.
Gatchalian responded that they are pushing for the Magna Carta for Social Workers, which provides various benefits such as daily subsistence allowance, hazard pay, housing, and cost of living allowances.
Go mentioned that he filed Senate Bill No. 1707, which aims to provide competitive remuneration and compensation packages for social workers if enacted into law. “Malaki po ang kanilang role dito sa inyong departamento po, Secretary,” he emphasized.