Deputy Speaker LRay Villafuerte wants the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) to check whether its financial service providers (FSPs) are overcharging beneficiaries of the Social Amelioration Program (SAP) amid complaints reaching the Camarines Sur solon that certain “abusive” FSPs have been exacting exorbitant convenience fees from the cash payouts of SAP grantee-households.

During last week’s hearing by the House committee on good government and public accountability, the DSWD informed lawmakers that the agreement with remittance partners was that they should not charge more than P50 as convenience fee for every SAP cash out regardless of the amount. 

 “While your desire is to partner with or accredit reputable financial service providers, may nag-o-overcharge.”

Villafuerte, however, said he has received reports that some providers charge as high as P120 for every over-the-counter (OTC) cash payout in the authorized partner-remittance outlets designated by the DSWD. 

“May tanong lang ko, meron kasi na nagcha-charge ng P50, ng P120, puwede bang pakilinaw sa ating mga kababayan. Kunwari ang SAP nila sa Metro Manila, P8,000, alam nyo ba nagcha-charge ang provider ng service fee na P120 or more at tanong ko lang may agreed rate ba kayo, may iba P50, may iba P120, so nabibigla ang ating kababayan. May nag-Facebook sa akin na tanungin ko sa inyo kung alam ba ninyo yun, ano ba ang standard rate, bakit iba-iba sa bawat probinsya?” Villafuerte said during the committee’s continuing inquiry into alleged irregularities in the implementation of the SAP. 

DSWD Undersecretary for Operations Aimee Torrefranca-Neri said during the hearing that the P50 fee should only be imposed when the beneficiaries decide to get their cash grants through the partner-remittance centers. 

No fee is supposed to be charged by FSPs when the beneficiaries opt to receive their emergency subsidies online, she added. 

Upon learning that the convenience fee should not be more than P50 per cash out, Villafuerte said the DSWD should immediately take action against “abusive” FSPs that overcharged the SAP beneficiaries. 

“While your desire is to partner with or accredit reputable financial service providers, may nag-o-overcharge. Dapat either huwag nyo na silang i-accredit, dahil nangaabuso,” he said. 

The DSWD had signed a memorandum of agreement (MOA) with the Land Bank of the Philippines (LANDBANK) and six FSPs as electronic payment and OTC channels for the release of the SAP grants. These FSPs are GCash, Rizal Commercial Banking Corp. (RCBC), Robinsons Bank, PayMaya, Starpay, and Union Bank of the Philippines (UBP).

Given that SAP beneficiaries are mostly poor or low-income households, Villafuerte noted that many of them are either unbanked or do not have access to GCash or Paymaya, and would opt to get their cash aid OTC through remittance outlets. 

“I-assume natin na pag nagbigay tayo ng ayuda, ica-cash out nila yan kasi yung iba hindi talaga sanay sa (online transactions), karamihan dyan bibili ng bigas at karamihan ng retailer ng bigas ay hindi naman online,” Villafuerte told DSWD officials. 

“Gusto kong i-point out na maraming nag-o-overcharge na service providers. We will provide the DSWD with these complaints of overcharging. Huwag na po kayo maghintay sa amin na provide-dan namin kayo, i-check nyo na po on the ground,” Villafuerte added. 

Villafuerte is lead author in the House of Republic Act (RA) 11469 or the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act and its sequel, the Congress-approved Bayanihan to Recover as One or Bayanihan 2, and co-chairman of the social amelioration cluster of the House Defeat Covid-19 Ad Hoc Committee (DCC) chaired by Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano.

“Many of them are either unbanked or do not have access to GCash or Paymaya, and would opt to get their cash aid OTC through remittance outlets.”

During the hearing, the committee also approved Villafuerte’s motion to subpoena Iriga City Mayor Madelaine Alfelor and other local officials to compel them to attend the inquiry into the alleged SAP irregularities. 

In the earlier hearings of the committee, Villafuerte, who represents Camarines Sur’s second district, presented evidence showing Alfelor had committed several violations and “gross abuse” in the distribution of the SAP grants in Iriga City.

The city falls under Villafuerte’s legislative district. 

Villafuerte said among the violations committed by Alfelor were the distribution of cash subsidies to ineligible beneficiaries, including her relatives; her failure wearing a face mask while out in public; and her highly politicized and selective manner of distributing the SAP grants to favored constituents.

The committee decided to subpoena Alfelor after the mayor sent a letter to the panel informing the legislators that she was not able to attend the hearing “due to previous commitment.” 

Alfelor also submitted a medical certificate “attesting (to) her underlying ailment” as well as a “certification of activities” that she was supposed to attend from Aug. 24 to Aug. 28.

Villafuerte said Alfelor’s excuse was unacceptable as even other officials who were invited were able to make time to attend the hearing despite their similarly tight schedules. 

The Camarines Sur lawmaker said it was clear in the letter sent by Alfelor’s lawyer to the committee that her health was no longer the problem, and that she was not “immunocompromised” as she had earlier claimed.

Her only excuse was her so-called by schedule, which Villafuerte said is “not acceptable.” 

“Mr. Chairman, since we have given her invitation together with some officials of the city of Iriga and they didn’t honor our invitation, may I request and move that this Committee already issue a subpoena to her for our next meeting,” Villafuerte said.

His proposal to subpoena the absentee-mayor was then approved.


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