Private group to help disburse gov’t subsidies

An army of rural banks, coo­peratives, microfinance institutions, nongovernmental organizations and payment collection company has taken position to offer an alternative way of disbursing the government’s more than P200 billion in emergency cash subsidy to 18 million of the country’s poorest households.

A memorandum of understanding for the collaboration—called “Damayang Sambayanihan: Hatid-Ayuda sa Kababayan”—was signed by the Rural Bankers Association of the Philippines (RBAP), MASS-SPECC Cooperative Development Center, National Confederation of Cooperatives (Natcco), CIS Bayad Center Inc. and Yuchengco-led Rizal Commercial Banking Corp. (RCBC).

This collective has a combined branch network of 5,000 and customer touchpoints of 8,000 throughout the country. The goal is to quickly disburse the government’s emergency subsidy using RCBC’s pocket and mobile automated teller machine (ATM) called ATM Go.

President Duterte has signed into law Republic Act No. 11469 or the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act, that granted special powers to the President in addressing the COVID-19 public health crisis. The law mandates a social amelioration program that provides for an emergency subsidy of P5,000 to P8,000 to 18 million low income households all over the country.

“We heed the call of Pre­sident Duterte for the private sector to complement government’s effort in containing the pandemic and providing relief to those severely affected. This is one of RCBC’s contributions as a member of the larger Philippine society,” RCBC president and chief executive Eugene Acevedo said.

RCBC’s ATM Go is capable of accepting BancNet debit and prepaid cards issued by any financial institution supervised by the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas. This service may be used for cash withdrawal, balance inquiry, funds transfer, bills payment and e-loading transactions.

“RBAP is ready to utilize its massive rural bank network of over 2,700 branches nationwide to handle the countryside pump priming needed to address this global pandemic and local qua­rantine,” RBAP president Roberto Abello said.

With the limited mobility of Filipinos due to the enforcement of the enhanced community quarantine and partial operation of banks and other financial intermediaries, the use of digital channels and other electronic means, such as ATM Go, is seen to bridge the gap in cash distribution to the grassroots.

“Cooperatives, with its presence in the rural areas, join the bigger community in the use of digital channels to reach out to more people in these trying times,” Natcco chief executive Sylvia Paraguya said.

On top of existing 1,250 RCBC ATM Go terminals currently in use nationwide, an additional 2,000 units will be deployed, bringing the service to the barangay level.

“This is our collective action in solidarity with the nation in crisis. These rural banks, cooperatives and microfinance institutions, and even sari-sari stores are the ones closest to the poor and marginalized in the country,” said RCBC exe­cutive vice president and chief innovation and inclusion officer Lito Villanueva.

RCBC has been running the ATM Go service for the past two years, enabling rural banks, sari-sari stores, cooperatives, microfinance institutions, pawnshops and lending agencies the ability to provide the remote ATM services as a last mile approach.

“We hope to be of service to our people in this extraordinary time as a payout conduit in Southern Philippines, especially in hard-to-reach areas within the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao,” MASS SPEC chief executive Bernadette Toledo said.

Transactions using this service have grown in 2019 by more than 560 percent year-on-year in terms of count and volume, reaching more than P3.1 billion in throughput. Half of its transac­tions involved payouts for millions of conditional cash transfer beneficiaries of the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program.

“We are extending our assistance through our network in making payout facility avai­lable to our people especially during this critical time. And this collaboration will make it more effective and expansive,” Bayad Center president and CEO Manny Tuazon said.

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