Servants of the people

February 4, 2014 at 7:33am

With this piece, I inaugurate a series of columns that will focus mainly on positive stories about government agencies. While I never hesitate speaking truth to power, I also find it imperative to show balance and to praise deserving politicians and government officials and offices. As a teacher and mentor of hundreds of young politicians and public officials, and as Dean of the Ateneo School of Government (a graduate school for leadership and public service seeking to build the nation by transforming communities), giving a message of hope is just as important as guiding my students to think critically and creatively about the problems of governance our country faces.

Whether in times of natural or man-made calamities, the government agency that occupies the frontlines in disaster relief and response is the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD). We saw that in the Zamboanga siege, the Bohol earthquake, and the Yolanda disaster. Disasters have been nonstop for months now and the response too has been unceasing. While I have pointed out failures in the national government response, I have always acknowledged the enormous work that DSWD Secretary Dinky Soliman and her colleagues have been doing to alleviate the suffering of many Filipinos. Indeed, for me, the DSWD officials, high-level to rank and file, are truly servants of the people.

The role of the DSWD is however not confined only in disaster relief since it is also a vital cog in the poverty reduction and alleviation programs of the government. With recent surveys showing that more Filipino families considered themselves poor at the end of 2013, which translates into 11.8 million or 55 percent of Filipino families and around 8.8 million or 41 percent considering themselves food-poor, there is a need to step up the anti-poverty programs especially the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (PPPP), country’s conditional cash transfer (CCT), order to provide substantial assistance to the largest possible number of poor people in the shortest possible time. With the increase of the Department’s budgetary allocation to as much as P63 billion from last year’s P56.33 billion, the PPPP, the country’s most expensive anti-poverty program, can be expanded to reach sectors not previously covered. The aim is to eradicate or at least reduce poverty to manageable levels and invest in the health and education of children and the youth.

Presently, the DSWD is also into preventive, rehabilitative and developmental programs and initiatives that benefit the poor and the disadvantaged of the local communities. Aside from the PPPP, some other notable projects of the DSWD which directly impact on its constituents to alleviate nagging poverty in the country are the Kapit-Bisig Laban sa Kahirapan-Comprehensive and Integrated Delivery of Social Services (Kalahi-CIDSS) which uses the community-driven development (CDD) approach, Sustainable Livelihood Program (SLP) continues to provide entrepreneurial and employment opportunities, Social Pension for Indigent Senior Citizens for indigent senior citizens and feeding programs. 

Given the multifarious concerns of the Department in combating poverty and providing relief efforts to victims of human disasters, Secretary Soliman’s job is unenviable. Where there is human drama triggered by disasters, there we find the good secretary and the Department personnel giving assistance. Having been appointed by President Aquino III on June 30, 2010, she brought with her an impressive record as a social worker and community organizer. During the time of President Arroyo, Sec. Soliman held the same position but resigned in protest as a result of the Hello Garci scandal. Her achievements in her chosen career are the reason why she was recognized by countless award giving bodies, including as Ten Outstanding Women in the Nation’s Service Awardee in 1992 and the Most Distinguished Alumnus Award from her alma mater the University of the Philippines.

Last January 16, in his speech marking the 63rdanniversary of the DSWD, the President lauded the Department’s commitment to serving the public despite criticisms, saying: Often, there are more criticisms than expressions of gratitude. The list of complaints is longer than that of praises. But I’m glad I’ve not heard of anyone waving the white flag to say, “I’m giving up”. Further, the President noted that “while you are shedding sweat, tears and even blood to help those in need, there are people—just a handful —who talk as if we cannot do.” Other than these criticisms, Secretary Soliman and her Department personnel are faced with more daunting challenges as the nature and magnitude of calamities are foreseen to keep on intensifying, what with the deteriorating climatic conditions brought about by climate change of which, projections suggest, the country is at the receiving end.

From the farthest regions of the Island of Luzon to Mindanao, DSWD personnel are there to make government presence felt and remind the people—especially the victims of poverty and calamities or the disadvantaged members of the community who suffer abuse, maltreatment and oppression—that they are not forgotten and the State is there to take care of them.  We can only hope that the magnitude of these challenges does not cause these servants of the people to be disheartened, but instead to continue on with more vigor in public service. I hope all of them emulate Secretary Soliman, who celebrated her 61stbirthday last week and yet remains ever-tireless and young in spirit.