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As the Philippines continues to battle the COVID-19 pandemic, the true value and role of local government units (LGUs) have become more evident. In matters of life and death, the public cannot merely wait for the national government to act. It is the governors, mayors, and barangay officials who need to step up their game to address the urgent needs of the people since they are the ones who know the situation on the ground and can provide immediate assistance.
Sadly, distributing food packs is no longer enough as this global health crisis caused economic and social disruption unlike any disaster experienced by the country. That said, LGUs should revitalize their systems and introduce new services to deal with the current challenges.
Perhaps you are part of the planning team in your city or municipality looking for strategies to include in your COVID-19 pandemic response plan or a concerned citizen who wishes to recommend helpful ideas to your local government. If so, here are several services that LGUs may want to implement to improve their response to this problem:
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), preventing, or at least limiting, close face-to-face contact with other people is the most effective way to minimize the spread of the coronavirus. That is why LGUs should introduce a more efficient way of distributing financial aid that does not require people to queue physically at city, municipal, or barangay halls.. This only serves to increase their risk of getting infected.
Instead of physically distributing cash aids, LGUs should utilize digital payment methods. That way, their constituents can receive their benefits in the comfort and safety of their homes. This can be done with the help of technologies like PayMaya's Disbursement Solutions, which is currently used by the Quezon City local government in its Kalingang QC program. By channeling funds through this contactless solution, senior citizens, persons with disabilities, solo parents, and student scholars are able register their mobile number linked to their PayMaya accounts to receive their monthly stipend.
The beneficiaries can then encash their funds in any of the SMART Padala outlets nationwide or use them to purchase groceries and other needs online. Besides offering a faster and safer solution, distributing financial assistance through e-wallets and other cashless means also enhances transparency as all money transfers are readily recorded and accounted for.
Another strategy that will enable the continuation of city and municipal transactions while preventing the spread of the virus is through the adoption of contactless or electronic payment systems. LGUs should provide alternative means for citizens to pay for their real property and business taxes, to apply for business permits, and to avail themselves of other services.
For instance, physical LGU offices can make use of a mobile payment device, like PayMaya ONE or PayMaya ONE Lite, so that clients can simply dip or tap their credit, debit, or prepaid card to pay for government services instead of handling cash and coming into contact with other people. These devices also allow mobile wallet transactions using smartphones, particularly through the scanning of QR codes to lessen the infection and contamination risks brought about by cash handling.
LGUs with functional websites can also adopt an e-payment system similar to Valenzuela City’s integrated online permit application platform. The said LGU installed the PayMaya Checkout solution on their website so entrepreneurs and residents can apply and settle their fees for business permits, request for certificates, and perform other tasks online. This system is undoubtedly the most convenient and safest alternative for citizens, given the situation.
Without a doubt, the LGUs are vital in rebuilding the economy since they are in the best position to assist micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs) that suffered immensely because of the COVID 19 pandemic. They can allocate a considerable portion of their funds to provide small business owner with interest-free loans to revive their businesses, such as the Tulong at Pampuhunang Ayuda sa Taga-Pasig (Tapat) program by the City of Pasig.
If funds are a problem, LGUs should tap the credit lines provided under the Bayanihan 2 law. According to this law, local governments can access funds from the Land Bank of the Philippines and the Development Bank of the Philippines, which they can then use for their respective economic recovery programs. They can also get loans from the Municipal Development Fund Office (MDFO) or enter into an agreement with the Philippine Government Guarantee Corporation (PhilGuarantee) to secure needed funds for their MSMEs.
Although distributing food packs containing a few kilos of rice, canned goods, and instant noodles can satisfy hungry bellies, LGUs should do more to ensure food security and promote good nutrition during the pandemic. For instance, governors and mayors can include fresh vegetables, fish, poultry, and other nutritious foods in the food bags instead of the usual relief goods items. They can also distribute vegetable seedlings and assorted veggie seeds that residents can grow at home, even without a spacious garden or backyard.
Moreover, LGUs can partner with the Department of Agriculture (DA) to launch Kadiwa stores in their areas where residents can purchase fresh produce, dried fish, and other food items at discounted prices. Local governments can even replicate the “cashless” Kadiwa roving stores in Manila using PayMaya ONE point-of-sale device that accepts citizen ID cards and QR payments. The City of Manila specifically partnered with PayMaya to create citizen cards that will facilitate aid distribution and cashless transactions, among others.
Because this global health crisis affects practically all aspects of the lives of Filipinos, now is not the time to be complacent. LGUs should act fast, utilize helpful technologies, and adopt fitting solutions to address the issues at hand, such as the strategies discussed above. Otherwise, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic could become far worse than what is already happening.