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