Jesson Galvez is a 26-year-old father of two from Trece Martires, Cavite, whose family felt the brunt of the (COVID-19) crisis and pandemic in the Philippines. As street sellers, he and his wife lost their main source of income due to the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) enforced by the government. Yet, in the middle of his difficulties, he revealed that he was “happy to receive cash assistance from the government”.
To provide relief during the pandemic, the Philippine government provided cash emergency subsidies to the low-income and most vulnerable Filipinos affected by the ECQ enforced to stem the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. The assistance is being administered through the Social Amelioration Program (SAP) of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD). Under the SAP, beneficiaries are entitled to receive a minimum of Php 5,000 up to a maximum of Php 8,000 a month, depending on the prevailing regional minimum wage rates, as well as existing subsidy programs for two months to provide for basic food, medicine, and toiletries.
Distribution of the first tranche started in April 2020, which was given out in cash, even as preparations were being made to develop a web app called ReliefAgad so that beneficiaries can register digitally and receive cash grants through electronic payment.
While the assistance provided much need relief, beneficiaries were faced with challenges while claiming the cash subsidies of the first tranche of the grant.
Jesson recalled that “I had to walk at least one hour to reach the place where they gave out the cash (a covered basketball court) because there was no public transportation available. When I got there, the line was already very long. I was only able to get the cash late in the afternoon. I was so hungry and scared that I might get infected with the virus.”
Likewise, 32-year-old Joyce Villanueva, a nail technician and a mother of two young children lost all her income sources due to the pandemic. “It was very difficult for us,” she recalled. Although she was “happy and excited” to get the money from government relief, she admitted having fears while lining up to receive the funds. “It was very crowded. I was thinking of my baby back home. I did not want to catch COVID and bring it back to my children. So, it was stressful,” she said.
Another beneficiary of the program was 45-year-old Myla Bautista from Morong, Rizal. A widow with three children, Bautista made her income from selling eggs and cooking oil in the market twice a week. Her earnings were just enough to put her children to school and to purchase their basic needs. Unable to do any business during the pandemic with fewer customers and no transport facilities, she welcomed the government assistance. Despite her inhibitions, she endured the long wait and the long line to receive aid.
“During the first tranche, 700 people lined up and crowded the small basketball court and it took all day to finally get to the front of the line. I was scared because social distancing was no longer followed and the risk of COVID was so high. I was very uncomfortable.” Myla related.
Jesson, Joyce, and Myla are among the 18 million Filipinos belonging to the most vulnerable sectors who received aid from the government. Despite experiencing fears and inconvenience on receiving their grants in person and in cash during the first tranche, what happened next was quite a different story. Through ReliefAgad, Jesson, Joyce, and Myla received the second tranche of their cash grants electronically in their nominated financial transaction accounts with much ease, speed, and convenience.
ReliefAgad is a quick-relief system that has enabled the DSWD to expedite the data capture of SAP beneficiary data through a self-registration web application to expedite disbursement of cash assistance through electronic payment systems. Using their smartphones, SAP beneficiaries were able to register their social amelioration cards on the ReliefAgad system through its website, www.reliefagad.ph.
The United States government, through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), in partnership with DSWD, launched ReliefAgad in May 2020 to speed up the distribution of financial assistance to Filipinos affected by the pandemic, particularly for the disbursement of the second tranche of the cash grants. The Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) and Developers Connect Philippines (DEVCON), through the DEVCON Community of Technology Experts (DCTx), has worked in partnership with the DSWD and USAID on ReliefAgad.
“The introduction of the ReliefAgad system will improve the gathering of beneficiary data by taking advantage of mobile phone technology,” DSWD Undersecretary Danilo Pamonag noted. “We also thank our partners, USAID, DICT, and DEVCON, for helping us in this critical task of providing emergency assistance to our fellow countrymen during this crisis.”
USAID assisted the DSWD by supporting the development, deployment, and operationalization of the ReliefAgad system, and provided advisory support in the implementation of digital payments for the second tranche cash grants. USAID also assisted in the deduplication of beneficiary data obtained from both the ReliefAgad system and LGUs. It developed instructional materials for the use of ReliefAgad, set-up a contact center to respond to beneficiary queries on how to use the web app, and provided strategic communications support leveraging digital communications technologies during the SAP implementation.
In an Embassy statement during the launch of ReliefAgad, US Ambassador Sung Kim said, “the United States is committed to supporting the Philippine government’s response to the COVID-19 health crisis. The ReliefAgad application will help expedite the delivery of relief assistance to SAP beneficiaries across the Philippines and support the most vulnerable during the pandemic.”
A total of 4,272,680 beneficiaries have registered through ReliefAgad, of which, 1,169,000 have enrolled transactional accounts to receive directly their cash grants via direct credit to their account or through the PESONet inter-bank electronic fund transfer. Financial Service Providers (FSPs) participating in the second tranche payout will facilitate the opening of transaction accounts for the remaining 3,103,680 through their registered information on ReliefAgad.
True Relief with ReliefAgad
For Jesson, Joyce, and Myla, the digital registration and disbursement of emergency cash subsidies through the ReliefAgad system has proved to be safe, quick, and convenient.
“I heard about ReliefAgad through Facebook. I was curious about it as I knew everything was already going online. I followed the instructions on Facebook and was able to register to ReliefAgad easily. I opened a PayMaya account to receive my cash subsidy online through ReliefAgad. I was happy because I received my payout early and easily on PayMaya without having to line up. It was safer and more comfortable,” Myla said.
Like Myla, Joyce also learned about ReliefAgad online. She said, “We found the instructions easy and we did not have a difficult time registering to it. We chose to receive the money through GCash because I already have a GCash account. When I finally got the notice that the second tranche was already in my account, I was happy. It was very convenient, automatic, safer for me and I was able to access the money immediately.”
Jesson said that registration to ReliefAgad and eventually receiving his grant on Gcash was hassle-free. “I received a text message that the money had been sent, and when I checked my GCash app it was already there. I was able to encash it the next day nearby without any hassles or waiting in line. It was very convenient, hassle-free, safe, and fast,” he revealed, detailing the simplicity of the process.
Like numerous other beneficiaries, ReliefAgad helped them to receive their second tranche cash grants without any risk.
Jesson said that ReliefAgad is a “blessing” that has “made everything very convenient and fast.” Myla used some of the funds to restart her egg and cooking oil business.
In the time of the pandemic, and because of ReliefAgad, three individuals, if not millions more, experienced for the first time the ease, convenience, and safety of digital payments, enabling them to welcome the new normal with a sense of hope and a smile. ###