Since I joined the DSWD Procurement Service in 2016, I had become used to not having a decent holiday season to celebrate with family. For the past four years or so, at least three (3) massive typhoons hit before the year ends. Plus, there was the occasional earthquake and volcanic eruption, not to mention internal conflicts like the Marawi Siege. I usually spend Xmas parties and New Year family reunions intermittently on the cellphone or online on my laptop.
I accepted this as part of the job. We at DSWD are most needed when disaster and calamities strike. I consider it a worthwhile sacrifice to work over extended hours, even during rest-days and weekends, to coordinate the supply and delivery of relief goods and other necessary equipment needed by our frontline workers. While I may not be directly dealing with client-beneficiaries like my social worker friends, my function as an essential administrative and support service allows them to perform theirs seamlessly.
This 2020, Mt. Taal’s surprise eruption was the opening salvo for the year. While the local government units scrambled to cope, our regional office was on stand-by, and it was incumbent upon us to likewise be ready to extend additional assistance. Besides the relief goods for the evacuees, there were new and additional requirements of face masks to address the thick ashfall and the need to expedite the procurement of official vehicles to help with the evacuations and rescues.
And while we heard about the new flu-like sickness going on in China, no one expected the impact of COVID19 as it quickly spread around the world. By the time it reached the Philippines and drastic measures had to be imposed, once again we knew DSWD would be called upon to be at the forefront. The Social Amelioration Program (SAP) as financial assistance and the distribution of food packs to all those economically displaced by the temporary closure of business establishments was to be our assignment. But while the risk exposure of medical frontliners were constantly being discussed on media, there were no concrete and effective precautions put in place for the social workers being asked to go down to the communities.
Sometime before this COVID Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) period, I was somehow elected into the DSWD Central Office employees union as part of the new Executive Board, eventually becoming the CO Chapter President. It was now also my responsibility to look out for the welfare of my colleagues and fellow union members. The “new normal” of working in the government service compelled us to continue performing our official functions under varying environments. While some of us can afford to “Work-from-Home”, most of us still had to do field work and go down to the communities. Personal protective equipment (PPEs) were not yet the norm except for the medical frontliners, and most of us had to bring our own alcohols and sanitizers.
Good public servants that they were, my fellow DSWD personnel never complained and simply waited for what can be provided for them. They continued to go down and distribute the SAP, have Social Pension pay-outs for senior citizens, and validate Pantawid Pamilya beneficiaries. Some social workers welcomed Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) at the airports and provided psycho-social assistance as these OFWs returned despondent with uncertainty. Still other DSWD staff processed Locally-Stranded Individuals (LSIs) who could not travel or go home to their respective provinces.
Meanwhile, as Union Chapter President, I had to mediate for some work arrangements like ensuring those with identified chronic diseases and co-morbidities to be allowed to Work-from-Home and not be required to physically report to work to serve as skeletal force. My officers and I also appealed for the timely release of salaries for many of our non-regular co-workers because they needed resources for their families during the ECQ lockdowns. Finally, when it was becoming evident that many of our fellow employees were getting infected with COVID19 and were unknowingly spreading it to others at the workplace, the Social Welfare Employees Association of the Philippines (SWEAP) Central Office Chapter initiated the first and only rapid testing to be conducted at our office. True enough, it was validated that many of us were only asymptomatic, but are actually COVID carriers. Through it all, we constantly wrote the DSWD Management to come up with a comprehensive COVID intervention protocol for the employees. Soon, with the alarming increase in the number of COVID positive personnel, the impact of our efforts was eventually a wake-up call for the DSWD Management, and they began to take COVID interventions seriously.
Today, we still don’t have the resources to have our own regular COVID testing, but only rely on networking with the Philippine National Red Cross, the UP Diliman Health Service, and local government units like Marikina and Quezon City who have agreed to accommodate our referrals. We are also fortunate that some private entities have made donations of some PPEs and vitamins for our staff. Sadly, one of our friendliest and most helpful drivers contracted COVID and after developing complications from pneumonia, he died a few weeks ago.
We, at DSWD, continue to rally and trudge on. We know that as public servants, we must render service for the benefit of the Filipino people, even at great risk to our health and our lives. The sacrifice we make is shared by our own families who are similarly exposed to the dangers of COVID as we perform our everyday duties. We can only hope that these efforts are being appreciated too.