Any talk about how to put an end to the pandemic must include the aid or “ayuda” that is given to disadvantaged sectors to help them cope with lockdowns and other restrictions.

Aside from the aid, there are the control measures of vaccination of a percentage of the population, wearing of masks and physical distancing, isolation for those under investigation or found positive of the virus that causes the coronavirus disease (Covid-19), and tracing and testing of people who got exposed to the infected.

If just one of the measures is not functioning, you cannot end the pandemic that has disrupted lives for over a year and a half now. With one leg missing in the multiple approaches to Covid-19, hopes for the reopening of schools and businesses, getting jobs back, and visiting loved ones would crumble.

The social amelioration program (SAP) of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) was a crucial component of the government’s multi-pronged Covid-19 response. It is a pandemic aid, a fund given to qualified beneficiaries when the government places a specific area or the entire country under enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) with the strictest restrictions on movement and business activities. The sum of P5,000 to P8,000 per family helps cover the loss of income and opportunity.

There were criticisms over the SAP distribution since last year, including non-payment to those qualified, recipients getting different amounts, names not found in the list of beneficiaries, and the transaction fee deducted from aid released through payment facilities. Then comes the question of whether there was fraud in the use of an e-wallet service called Starpay to distribute P50 billion in SAP in 2020.

Senator Manny Pacquiao said last July there was corruption in the decision to tap Starpay as P10.4 billion worth of SAP was not distributed to beneficiaries. He said the DSWD routed some P50 billion to Starpay which was “not popular in the market,” unlike GCash and Paymaya, and it had only P62,000 in start-up capital. He wondered why, with the channels available, the contract to distribute SAP went to Starpay.

But the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) clarified Friday, Oct. 15, 2021, that Starpay is an electronic money issuer licensed by the BSP and, as such, the company has complied with the required capitalization of P100 million.

It is up to Pacquiao to accept the BSP declaration and change his mind about a Senate inquiry or to proceed with having it. The BSP statement does not remove the need to look into why thousands of qualified beneficiaries have not received their aid. It is important to settle the matter of the “ayuda” because financial aid is a crucial component of efforts to end the pandemic.

Find out what happened to the millions of pesos in still undistributed SAP funds because behind every family that did not receive the aid is a story of hunger, despair, pain, and loss.