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NEW LAW TO GIVE SOLO PARENTS ADDED BENEFITS

Camarines Sur Rep LRay Villafuerte is looking forward to the immediate and full application of a new law granting additional benefits to solo parents, including a monthly pension of P1,000 to low-income ones, following a fresh commitment from the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) to release before the yearend its implementing rules and regulations (IRR) for the grant of more privileges to the country’s single moms and dads.

A co-author of the “Expanded Solo Parents Act” that lapsed into law last June, Villafuerte expressed the hope that the sufficient funds needed to provide this P1,000 monthly subsidy to single mothers and fathers earning the minimum wage or below will be included in the 2023 National Expenditure Program (NEP), which the President is set to submit to the Congress next week.

“A more comprehensive package of social welfare services and development initiatives for solo parents will help the Marcos government further ease their burden in rearing their children towards becoming productive citizens.”

Malacañang is scheduled to submit to the Legislature on Aug 22 its P5.268-trillion NEP that will be the basis for the annual General Appropriations Act (GAA) that the House of Representatives and Senate will write to cover the national government (NG)’s expenditures for the next year.

Villafuerte issued this statement after DSWD Secretary Erwin Tulfo announced earlier  this week the creation of a technical working group (TWG) to draw up in three months the IRR of the “Expanded Solo Parents Welfare Act.”

This new law directs the DSWD Secretary, in consultation with the members of the would-be Inter-Agency Coordinating and Monitoring Committee  (IACMC), to issue the necessary IRR for the effective implementation of RA 11861 within 90 days after its enactment.

To be chaired by the DSWD Secretary, the IACMC shall have the Secretary of the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) as vice chairman; and the heads of, and representatives from, 16 other agencies, institutions, and sectors, as members. 

“It is our hope that in keeping with the new law, the P5.268-trillion NEP that the President is set to submit to the Congress on Monday (Aug. 22) will include funds sufficient enough for the NG (national government) and LGUs (local government units) to grant the P1,000 monthly pension to all solo moms and dads eligible to receive such subsidy, especially now when there has been an uptick in inflation and poverty incidence,” Villafuerte said of Republic Act (RA) 11861.

“We are looking forward to the immediate and full release of this monthly pension to low-income solo parents plus the application or provision of other benefits due them and all other  Filipinos who have single-handedly been raising their children, following a commitment from the DSWD to come out with the IRR of  RA 11861 within three months of its effectivity, as mandated under this new law,” he added.

He said this new subsidy program is timely, considering that a number of solo parents were likely on last year’s bigger list of Filipinos who lived below the poverty line.

According to a  recent Philippine Statistical Authority (PSA) report, its 2021 Family Income and Expenditure Survey (FIES) of 165,029 families nationwide showed there were 19.99 million Filipinos living below the poverty level last year, or higher by 2.3 million than the 17.67 million recorded in the comparable period in 2018—translating into a poverty rate of 18.1% in 2021 from 2018’s 16.6%.

Under this law, single parents earning the minimum wage or below are entitled to a P1,000 monthly pension from their LGUs, provided that they receive no other cash assistance program from the government.

Solo parents are also entitled to a 10-percent discount and exemption from the value-added tax (VAT) on baby’s milk and sanitary diapers; food and micronutrient supplements; duly prescribed medicines, vaccines, and other medical supplements from the birth of the child until he or she is 6-years old.

Villafuerte, the vice president for political affairs of the National Unity Party (NUP), said the grant of this monthly pension along with all new benefits in addition to those privileges provided in the original law—RA 8972—that was passed in the year 2000, will put flesh to RA 11861’s declared policy for the State to “promote a just and dynamic social order that ensures the prosperity and independence of the nation and free the people from poverty through policies that provide adequate social services, promote full employment, a rising standard of living and an improved quality of life.”

This subsidy for solo parents is also in step, he said, with the announcement by Budget Secretary Amenah Pangandaman that the 2023 NEP is anchored on the administration’s central goals of reducing poverty incidence and achieving an inclusive economy, among other priorities.

The other IACMC members are the heads of the  Departments of Health (DOH), of Education (DepEd), of Labor and Employment (DOLE), of Finance (DOF), of Migrant Workers (DMW), of Trade and Industry (DTI) and of Justice (DOJ); Commission on Higher Education (CHED) and Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA); Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR); Civil Service Commission (CSC); National Housing Authority (NHA); Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth); National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA); Union of Local Authorities of the Philippines (ULAP); and Philippine Commission on Women (PCW).

The IACMC is required by the law to craft the expanded benefits package for solo parents in coordination with LGUs, civil society groups, and non-government organizations (NGOs).

For Villafuerte, the pitch by President Ferdinand Marcos .Jr  for solo parents in his first State of the Nation Address (SONA) should serve as a strong impetus for all LGUs to put up Solo Parents  Offices (SPOs) or Solo Parents Divisions (SPDs) in their respective localities, if they haven’t done so, in compliance with RA 11861.

“Filipino families, particularly those led by solo parents as breadwinners and primary caregivers, face new challenges and burdens.”

The former Camarines Sur governor likewise appealed to  LGU executives to back the President’s support for solo parents by submitting to the DSWD, on a quarterly basis, their respective lists of solo parents availing of the benefits of the new law.

“The expanded protection and promotion of the welfare of solo parents and their children under RA 11861 further concretizes the government’s commitment to the constitutional provision for the State to recognize the sanctity of family life and protect and strengthen the family as a basic autonomous social institution.”

He said: “A more comprehensive package of social welfare services and development initiatives for solo parents will help the Marcos government further ease their burden in rearing their children towards becoming productive citizens.”

Villafuerte also urged the DSWD, in coordination with the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), to immediately establish and maintain, as provided in this new Act, a centralized database of all solo parents who are to be issued Solo Parent Identification Cards (SPICs) and booklets by the LGUs.

He said this new law broadened the definition of “solo parents” to cover more Filipinos as beneficiaries of the original RA 8972 benefits, as well as additional aid such as exemption from the payment of income taxes in the amount of P50,000; discounts on purchases of baby’s milk, food supplements and medicines; discounts on tuition fee payments in both public and private schools, and on purchases of school supplies.

More than two decades since the enactment of the original Solo Parent’s Welfare Act in 2000, Villafuerte said:  “Filipino families, particularly those led by solo parents as breadwinners and primary caregivers, face new challenges and burdens. The estimated number of Filipino solo parents in 2018 rose to 15 million, 95 percent of whom are female.”

Most of the additional benefits in RA 11861 that beneficiaries can now avail of plus the bigger list of Filipinos now considered legally solo parents were contained in House Bill (HB) 6051, the bill authored by Villafuerte that was incorporated with HB 8097, the final and consolidated version passed by the House of Representatives.

Aside from parents whose spouses have passed away, unmarried fathers or mothers, and rape victims who opted to keep their offspring, those legally considered “solo parents” under RA 11861 include the spouses or family members of semi-skilled overseas Filipino workers (OFWs)  who have been away from the Philippines for a period of 12 months; grandparents and other family members or qualified guardians who bear sole responsibility over children; and those whose spouses have been detained for at least three months for a criminal conviction.

Also classified now as “solo parents’ are those whose spouses have been medically certified as physically or mentally incapacitated; those who have been separated from their spouses for at least six months and have taken on sole parental care and support of their children; those whose marriages have been nullified or annulled and have been entrusted with solo parental care; and those who have been abandoned by their spouses for at least six months; and those whose spouses have been in detention for a criminal conviction.

RA 11861 directs the DSWD and IACMC to develop the  “comprehensive package” of social protection services for solo parents and their families that include livelihood opportunities, temporary shelter, forfeitable and non-cumulative parental leaves of not more than seven days per year for those that have been employed for at least six months, legal advice and assistance, counseling services, parent effectiveness services, and stress debriefing.

Alongside leave privileges under existing laws, solo parents are likewise entitled to a seven-day parental leave with pay regardless of employment status, and they get priority in any telecommuting program in their workplaces, said Villafuerte, who also co-authored RA 11165 or the Telecommuting Act of 2018.

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