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Archive for April, 2021

Letter of a Social Worker


Dear Former Colleague,

You asked how we have been faring here in our part of the world. Not too well, if I can be honest with you.

With the continuing health and economic crisis brought about by the COVID19 pandemic, there has been regular and consistent support for our medical frontliners who are at the forefront of this battle. However, there are many other players who are not as recognized or appreciated for their valuable contributions such as our beloved social workers.

Early on, many of our brethren knew they would be one of those who will be called upon to continue rendering service in spite of the dangers of infection. Not only as part of the public service, but as genuine development workers tasked with uplifting the quality of life of others, the general welfare of our countrymen had to take precedence. Both regular and MOA social workers of the DSWD became part of the valuable Social Amelioration Program (SAP) distributions, while some welcomed returning OFWs and processed numerous Locally-Stranded Individuals (LSIs), and others continued to serve at our Crisis Intervention Units (CIUs) providing financial assistance to vulnerable clients

So while medical frontliners were being lauded for their sacrifice, and the police and the military manning our checkpoints garnered much sympathy of risking their lives, we did not hear much about our poor social workers going down into the communities with no or limited protective gear (initially some were compelled to buy their own masks and gloves), risking their health and of their families who they went home to after each dangerous exposure. COVID Testing then was not the norm, and some social workers and Special Disbursement Officers (SDOs) were forced to shell out from their own pockets thousands of hard-earned money to spend for their own swabtests.

Such insensitivity amounted to abuse when poor MOA/COS workers could not avail of the Alternative Work Arrangement (AWA) prescribed by the Civil Service Commission for regular employees in government. As such, it was the MOA/COS social workers who were time and again sent to the battlefront, without proper life insurance or healthcare, nor the benefit of tenure, with the threat of insubordination and not being renewed hanging over their heads.

Meanwhile, DSWD Management just like the leadership of this poor nation, were late with their crucial decision-making. Knowing fully well of the health risks our DSWD social workers were being exposed to, they failed to institute the much-needed interventions early on. While testing was allegedly not allowed due to Department budgetary concerns, a well-coordinated referral system to institutions like Philippine Red Cross, Quezon City Health Department, the UP Health Service or even the Marikina LGU testing facility could have been undertaken. It took the DSWD employees union SWEAP to intervene and initiate initial rapid-testing of Central Office employees since there was no efficient contact tracing and health status reporting being conducted then at the workplace as fellow personnel began infecting each other. Without the support and sense of urgency of the DSWD officials, any proposed guidelines and concrete interventions took months before being implemented. By then, there were already five (5) COVID-related deaths amongst our colleagues – an asthmatic MOA who continued to do field work because AWA was not allowed, an exhausted SAP frontliner who succumbed to cardiac arrest, a driver who had comorbidities but was unknowingly exposed to an infected co-worker. At least two of these DSWD employees died of COVID possibly due to exposure in the field or in the office itself, while 2 others were due to the exhaustion and stress of SAP distribution.

I continue to lament the fate of my poor colleagues in the DSWD. Not only are the MOA/COS being subjected to these unnecessary COVID risks, they suffer in silence for non-renewal of contracts, late signing of their contracts resulting in unpaid rendered service, delayed salaries, and no hazard pay, not even the legally-mandated Magna Carta of Public Social Workers. And now with the Mandanas ruling and the impending threat of devolution, many of our social workers will be displaced when the budget of some social services and programs are transferred to the LGUs. At a time of great health and economic upheaval because of COVID, the DSWD Management will be contributing more numbers to the poor by adding its own employees to the sector. The Philippine government is technically throwing the very same people it tasked to raise marginalized sectors from the quagmire of poverty to the same quicksand of economic vulnerability.

Of late, a young social worker from NCR was murdered, and speculations point to his being a SDO tasked with handling money. The employees union SWEAP has unfortunately been linked to red-tagged organizations and SWEAP officers are now being harassed and charged administratively. Things are going from bad to worse. Perish the thought it gets even worst.

We ask that media turn its attention to the plight of our dear social workers and highlight their struggles too. We ask that professional associations of social workers, PASWI, ADSWI, and NASWEI, show their support and rally the troops for their common goals. Most of all, we ask the DSWD Management and the Philippine government to be accountable and to do their part, just as our social workers have been faithfully doing since Day 1 of this COVID pandemic.

Be well, stay safe where you are, dear Colleague. Please pray and remain hopeful for the Philippines.

Your Development Worker Friend

10 Pinoy Things You Will Miss Abroad

10 Pinoy Things You Will Miss Abroad

There are many things about the Philippines and fellow Filipinos we take for granted. And only when we are abroad in other countries do we realize the value of these things. Here are 10 very “Pinoy” things I really missed when I was travelling abroad.

  1. There are no “salubongs” or welcoming committee when you arrive in another country. – Unless you are in a Tour Group or organized conference there is no “welcoming committee” once you land at the airport. You are expected to get yourself to your own hotel or conference venue by your own efforts. If you are lucky, there might be a hotel shuttle to pick you up, but that’s it as far as friendly “salubongs” get. In Jakarta and New Delhi, taxis were available but we were warned about the notoriety of these drivers taking advantage of foreigners. Yet we had no choice but take taxis to the hotel anyway.
  2. The same goes for “hatids” or send-offs – Foreigners don’t usually take the time off work just so they can take you to the airport or train station to say goodbye. They are not big on send-offs as Filipinos, so be ready to take yourself to the airport. In the Philippines, it’s not just your immediate family but the whole barangay who is willing to take you to the airport or bus terminal.
  3. Don’t expect the same level of hospitality – Pinoys are naturally friendly and accommodating. When a foreigner gets lost and asks for help, we willingly assist and are genuinely polite. Abroad, if you get lost, it’s not very easy to ask for directions since not everyone speaks English or are just not as polite or helpful. Remember this when you see those “tambays at the kanto” back home who can give you clear directions while speaking English. I arrived on a Sunday in Geneva and the streets were actually deserted; the few people walking about on their way to their weekend jobs did not speak English.
  4. Kindness/Helpfulness Isn’t Automatically Extended to Strangers – On MRT and LRT trains here, if it gets too cramped and you get tossed about, fellow passengers would even hold you up and keep you steady by allowing you to hang on unto their arms. In other countries, especially in the West, don’t expect to even get help with your luggage because everyone just minds their own business. Landing in Schipol in Amsterdam and Changi airport in Singapore, I had to lug around my own baggage unto the trains for the necessary transfers. No one offered to help at all.
  5. Catholic Churches are not that Easy to Find – Since majority of the Filipino population are Catholics and very religious, in the Philippines every other block or barangay has a church or chapel. But religion is not really the norm in other countries especially in those modern, highly industrialized nations. They may be Christian, but there are so many other Protestant denominations, so don’t expect to easily find a Catholic church nearby. In Hong Kong, we had to leave the island to find one, while in Geneva, I had to cross the river to hear mass. Never thought an ordinary Sunday routine would become such a chore when a church is not so accessible.
  6. Various toiletries and beauty products are not available everywhere. – I was in Indonesia several times and one of the most troublesome aspects of my extended stays is my supplies running out. But when I go to groceries, pharmacies or even malls, there just aren’t enough choices or brands for some personal hygiene products. In Manila, whole racks are filled with various sanitary products. In Surabaya, there is just one small corner for alcohol, sanitizers, cotton balls, etc. but no or limited cologne, hand or body lotions, even scented talcum powders. My friend explained that there isn’t much market for beauty products because in the predominantly Muslim country with conservative practices, women are not encouraged to spend so much on personal toiletries.
  7. How Baths and Showers Are Important – Either because of the cold weather or difficult water supply, other countries don’t put a premium on regular baths or showers unlike Filipinos. Some foreigner friends often ask why PInoys take showers all the time. In Melbourne, my hotel’s staff complained that the Filipinos use up their stored water because we needed to take showers twice a day. Once in a Bali red light district I was doing research in, the working women there shared they loved Pinoy seamen because they are always so clean and smell good unlike their other foreign customers.
  8. Free drinking water isn’t available in all restaurants – Filipinorestaurants and food establishments usually offer free drinking water the minute you sit down and haven’t even ordered anything. If you order other beverages, this glass of water doesn’t usually get touched and simply go to waste. Abroad, tap water isn’t really offered and if you ask for water, they will give you something bottled and get charged for it. Since Hong Kong island has limited freshwater and must get it from the mainland, you don’t automatically get water at your table. If you ask for it, they give you bottled water which you have to pay for. Otherwise, what you get is the free and unlimited hot tea.
  9. Filipino food is What I Missed Most – Our standard condiments on the table like patis or bagoong are not readily available abroad. Restaurants just have the usual salt and pepper, or the occasional paprika. If you’re lucky enough to find an Asian establishment, you may get the rare soy sauce. But no amount of gravy can make up for the lack of the usual condiments and sawsawan in foreign cuisine. It’s just not the same if your grilled pork belly doesn’t have that calamansi and toyo dip. No matter how thick that steak is, somehow it’s just too bland without the Asian soy sauce that makes it more special.
  10. Pinoy takes on commercial fastfood are better – Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) in the Philippines has free-glowing gravy, but in Singapore there was none of that! At the Night time Safari, we were going to take an early dinner when we were served hot sauce to go with the chicken. Meanwhile, when we were in Jakarta, we went to eat at a local Wendy’s and ordered the usual burgers. However, these burgers tasted so different…as if the meat wasn’t properly sauted in onions and garlic. It just tasted too “beefy”. No wonder our Jollibee is such a hit abroad. Foreigners actually marvel at our Pinoy-styled sweet spaghetti. I guess they also don’t realize some Pinoys actually use tamis-anghang ketchup when cooking spaghetti instead of the sour tasting all-tomato based sauces.

Over-all these are the very Filipino stuff that really make you feel homesick for the Philippines. But if it’s any comfort, somehow, somewhere, you always seem to find a kababayan anywhere in the world. And that is good material for another day…