COVID-19 and Social Assistance in the Philippines
The COVID-19 pandemic in the last two years has gone through multiple phases in the Philippines and its impact is still unfolding. The magnitude of disruptions in jobs and livelihoods due to lockdown measures as well as government social protection
responses have varied across time. In the same period, the country experienced natural disasters including Typhoon Odette, which triggered the declaration of a state of calamity and underscored the importance of an adaptive social protection (SP)
This note describes the phases of the COVID-19 SP response in the Philippines and assesses the performance with a focus on social assistance (SA).
We provide estimates of the coverage, adequacy, targeting accuracy, timeliness, and payment delivery of COVID-19 social assistance in the Philippines
based on several household surveys and studies. We pay special attention to the Philippines’ flagship social protection program, the Pantawid Pamilyang
Pilipino Program (4Ps), and the COVID-19 emergency cash assistance program, the Social Amelioration Program (SAP). Salient findings are summarized as
• Overall SA coverage was very high during the pandemic. In the first half of 2020, 96 percent of Filipino households reported receiving some form of social assistance. The most common forms of assistance were local relief (mainly food aid distributed by local government units or LGUs).
SAP also reached a high share of households— close to 60 percent of households based on a nationwide survey—and about 23 million beneficiaries based on administrative data.
• Despite the large coverage of SA programs, their ability to mitigate the negative impact of the pandemic was modest. Timely support provided to 4Ps beneficiaries helped them cope with the shock better. Delivery of cash assistance to beneficiaries beyond 4Ps was challenging due to weak delivery systems. The overall impact of SA was modest given the magnitude of the shock and the prolonged pandemic as well as the required amount and timeliness of assistance.
Food insecurity rose sharply, and many households were forced to employ negative coping strategies. Household employment rebounded as economic activities gradually resumed when quarantine restrictions were relaxed, but recovery of household incomes was much slower. A significant increase in the poverty rates is expected.
• The targeting accuracy of social assistance programs varied greatly. 4Ps continued to be relatively well targeted, though targeting accuracy continued to decline. SAP also demonstrated progressivity in targeting. Other programs were not as well-targeted and, in some cases, regressive. While food aid reached households faster than cash due to the country’s well established relief mechanism developed to cope with frequent natural disasters, it was not well targeted, the monetary value was small, and it was also costly to deliver.
• SAP payments were delivered through three different channels: cash cards for current 4Ps beneficiaries, physical delivery by LGU officials, and banks and e-money issuers. This indicates that the government-to-person (G2P) payment mechanisms in the country have mixed levels of development. The initial attempt at large scale digital payments using banks and e-money issuers for the second tranche of SAP presented both current challenges and future opportunities for leapfrogging the country’s G2P mechanisms.
The experience provides some important lessons.
First, it is critical to have well-established SP policies, programs, and systems upon which emergency operations can be built.
Second, SP delivery systems require regular updates and modernization investment and efforts.
Third, digital tools and technological advances should be actively used for SP delivery. Fourth, timely and agile policy adaptations building on the lessons learned from each shock can help strengthen overall SP systems and delivery for future resilience.
The note proposes the following priorities for adaptive and resilient SP program delivery: adoption of the national ID system for SP delivery; enhancement of
the targeting system; development of digital platforms and tools; continued innovation in digital G2P payments; strengthening of contingency financing mechanisms and readiness for disaster response; and shift of resources from in-kind to cash assistance