Comelec exempts rice retailer subsidy from poll spending ban

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, September 12) — The Commission on Elections (Comelec) exempted the payout of cash aid to rice retailers from the barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan elections spending ban.

The poll body is set to prohibit the use of public funds for government programs like social welfare projects during the poll period on Sept. 15 to Oct. 30.

In a decision released Tuesday, Comelec Chairman George Garcia, on recommendation of the commission's law department, approved the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) request for an exemption on the cash subsidy for small-scale retailers to compensate for losses from the price ceiling on rice under Executive Order 39.

In its letter to Garcia, the law department recommended that the DSWD as implementing agency be allowed to use public funds for its "ongoing and possible early recovery and rehabilitation efforts that are not considered as 'relief and other goods' under Section 9 of Comelec Resolution No. 10944."

In a Palace briefing on Tuesday, Social Welfare Secretary Rex Gatchalian said the agency is working to complete the payout in highly-urbanized cities and regions by Sept. 14.

The government began paying out the ₱15,000 cash grant on Saturday. The money came from the DSWD unobligated budget of at least ₱5.3 billion, Gatchalian said.

The subsidy has so far benefited 474 rice retailers in San Juan City, Caloocan City, Quezon City, Paranaque, Navotas, and Zamboanga del Sur for a total of ₱7.5 million, he said.

Citing the initial list from the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), Gatchalian said the program covers 5,942 small rice retailers in public and private markets that have business permits and/or DTI or Securities and Exchange Commission registration.

Retailers outside markets will be included in the second phase, he said, adding that the DTI is coordinating with other agencies and the private sector to come up with a list.

DSWD spokesperson Romel Lopez told CNN Philippines' The Source some retailers are unaware of the program, even as authorities are working on an information campaign and reaching out to market masters.

DTI and DSWD are also validating beneficiaries, Lopez added.