The Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) has ordered local governments to help the Social Welfare department distribute cash aid to poor students after chaos marred the latter’s program at the weekend.

“We call on our local government units to respond proactively to the appeal of Social Welfare Secretary Erwin T. Tulfo,” DILG Secretary Benjamin C. Abalos said in a statement on Monday. “Let us step up and extend all the help that we can provide for the success of the distribution of financial aid to our students.”

Tens of thousands of students and parents trooped to offices of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) nationwide at the weekend to claim their cash aid. Many of them went home with nothing, while at least one stampede was reported in Zamboanga in the country’s south.

The agency on Thursday said it would give P500 million in student cash aid — P1,000 each to elementary students from poor families, P2,000 to high school students, P3,000 to senior high school students and P4,000 to college students.

The aid is limited to three students per family, which can get the financial assistance on Saturdays from Aug. 20 to Sept. 24.

The Social Welfare department admitted failing to coordinate with local governments for the cash aid distribution. Social Welfare Secretary Erwin T. Tulfo apologized for the mess at the weekend, saying he wanted his agency to directly give the money and avoid selective aid.

Mr. Abalos said cities should set up several distribution centers to avoid overcrowding. He also ordered police to keep peace and enforce minimum public health protocols during the distribution of financial aid.

“In this massive undertaking, we look to our LGUs to assist us to be able to send out the financial assistance to the students who need them the most,” he added.

In Manila and nearby areas, authorities had to use riot police to prevent people from storming the offices of the DSWD.

Political analysts have said the chaos showed the government has not learned from its experiences during the coronavirus pandemic.

Mayors in several cities have suggested alternative procedures in the release of the cash aid.

Iloilo City Mayor Jerry P. Treñas said DSWD should consider a school-based distribution system. “If the reason of DSWD is to avoid going through the LGUs, the financial assistance can be coursed through the schools. It will be easier and more convenient,” he posted on Facebook on Saturday.

Earlier in the day, the mayor scolded the DSWD regional head over what he called a “terribly planned event” at the Iloilo Sports Complex.

In Dagupan City, Mayor Belen T. Fernandez offered to provide the local government’s list of poor households. She also offered the city’s plaza for the distribution.

In Zamboanga City, about 5,000 people showed up in front of a school where the aid was distributed, causing a stampede that hurt 29 people.

The victims, aged 16 to 58 years, had been waiting in line for a chance to receive the aid since Friday evening, the Zamboanga City Medical Center’s Public Affairs Unit posted on Facebook.

Zamboanga City Mayor John M. Dalipe in a statement said they were “ready and willing to support and provide necessary resources to ensure the well-being of the beneficiaries.” — John Victor D. Ordoñez