Rogelio, a 59-year-old seasonal carpenter, skipped work for two days — Thursday and Friday — last week to await  cash aid from the social welfare department at an open basketball court near his barangay in Mandaluyong City.

But, on Monday, he did not report for work after an all-night card game, spending all the 4,000 pesos he got from the government’s social safety net program.

Christine, a wife of an overseas worker who earns hundreds of thousands of pesos, also queued for hours on a Sunday to get 4,000 pesos from the local government helping the social welfare and development department disburse the funds to people who are hard up during a two-week strict lockdown in Metro Manila and four adjacent provinces — Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna and Rizal.

In contrast, Nancy sits all day at a street corner in Cubao begging alms from passers by. She is among poor Filipinos who fell in the cracks of the government’s social safety net program to help 23 million households affected by the pandemic.

The government’s lockdown policy — one of the longest and strictest in the world — has ruined the economy, one of fastest-growing in Asia before the coronavirus outbreak.

The economy shrank 9.5 percent last year and it would be hard for the Philippines to return to pre-pandemic level. Vietnam is poised to become the fastest growing economy in the region this year after it controlled the spread of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19).

The government had borrowed extensively from multilateral financial institutions, like the World Bank and Asian Development Bank, to fund its pandemic response, which includes building up hospital capacity and providing safety nets to millions of people who had lost jobs, livelihoods and businesses.

Under two “Bayanihan” laws rushed by Congress to address the health crisis, billions of pesos had been disbursed to help poor families cope with the impact of the pandemic.

When the “enhanced community quarantine” was imposed for two weeks last month until early April, the government was only able to distribute eight percent of the 22.9 billion pesos allocated for the emergency assistance in the “greater Metro Manila bubble.”

The government’s response was not only slow and delayed. It has a lot of loopholes, which allowed a wife of an overseas worker and a gainfully employed man get assistance from the government, while a woman who begs on the street did not get any.

There must be something wrong in the government’s emergency assistance program when only a government-issued ID card was required as a proof to receive up to 4,000 pesos in aid.

Nancy claimed she did not receive any cash aid as she could not show any ID or a voter’s certificate, because she and her children have no permanent home.

They wander on the streets of Quezon City begging for food and loose change. They sleep in different places with other homeless people.

These are the people the social welfare and development should help and not the privileged who had fooled the government by getting the meager resources supposed to be distributed to the needy.

There are people who can make both ends meet but take advantage of the government’s cash aid distribution. This is a despicable act. 

They do not only drain government resources but deprive the people who are really in need of assistance. It is perfectly alright for those who are already part of the government’s 4Ps program to get financial aid or those people who have lost their jobs and livelihood due to the pandemic.

But there are dishonest people who spent the cash aid from the government on gambling or alcoholic drinks and non-essential goods.

It was unimaginable how the wife of an overseas worker would spend the 4,000 cash she got from the local government and the social welfare and development department.

This is a form of corruption, worse than what people in government do.

When the cash assistance program was rolled out last year, people were shocked to hear how local officials pocketed some cash or favored those who were close to them. There were instances when the 8,000 pesos distributed a year ago were not given in full, as some local officials got a share of the funds.

Corruption in the government permeates in practically all levels. The people still remember the missing 15 billion pesos from the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (Philhealth) or in deals with testing machines, personal protection equipment (PPEs) and other medical equipment and supplies.

The pandemic has given corrupt officials more opportunities to exploit the situation and profit from the miseries of millions of citizens. The rich get richer and the poor suffer most.

The perception of high-level corruption under Rodrigo Duterte’s administration has risen in recent years as shown by surveys made by Transparency International.

Duterte promised to end corruption before he was elected nearly five years ago but has not kept his campaign promise. He has not prosecuted and jailed corrupt officials. Instead, he removes and assigns them to another position where they can continue to rob state coffers.

It’s about time the president got down to business. Otherwise, the corruption from the top will seep down to the lowest level, not only in the government but among the public.

The dishonesty of some people in getting government cash assistance they don’t really deserve is also a form of corruption.

Corruption is slowly eating up the Filipino soul. It is truly sad if the Philippines ends up as a nation of dishonest people.