Manila (Philippine Daily Inquirer/ANN) - Two years from now, several community beneficiaries in Cebu will graduate from the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps).
As the first batch of graduates from the program, beneficiaries from Barangays Sudlon I and II, Tejero, Duljo Fatima, Lapu-Lapu City, Mambaling and T. Padilla are already preparing to embark on life without help from the government.
At present, help comes from the conditional cash transfer (CCT) program, also known as 4Ps, a five-year poverty-reduction strategy of the Aquino administration administered by the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD).
The program provides conditional cash grants to the poorest poor. In Cebu, for example, 100,017 households in 48 municipalities benefit from the program.
Under the program, the beneficiaries receive cash in exchange for submitting to prenatal and postnatal care for pregnant women; immunization, weighing and de-worming for children; attending family development sessions (FDS, for parents) to learn good parenting, responsible parenthood and rights awareness; and at least 85 percent school attendance a month for children.
Each community beneficiary has a parent leader who oversees the attendance, monthly discussions and overall participation and compliance of the beneficiaries.
Teresita J. Gonesto, 43, with seven children, is a leader for the CCT program in Barangay Duljo Fatima. She sees to it that all the 14 couple members attend the family development session. If the wife is unable to come, Gonesto makes sure the husband does.
"I was shy before," Gonesto said. "In fact, I never had interest in my surroundings. I was contented to just stay home and wash the clothes of my children and husband."
Gonesto now takes pride in bringing her case up in every group discussion as an example of a reformed mother. Gonesto now chooses to talk to her children instead of screaming at them when telling them what she wants them to do.
"I admit to being an abusive mother," she said. "I would shout at my children, physically hurt them and berate them. I was very impatient with them. And I regret that. In order that my experience would be an inspiration and good working example to my members, I would always volunteer to discuss my experience, especially when it's about child rights and protection. All this I owe to the opportunities that 4Ps had opened up for me."
Meraluna Pardillo, 35, lives with her husband, Carlos, a habal-habal (motorcycle for more than two people) driver, in Sudlon II. She pushes her daughter, Babe Shell, 17, to become what she herself had wanted-a teacher. She gets P1,400 from the CCT program, which adds to her income from raising lettuce, Chinese cabbage and cucumber, increasing her daughter's chances of becoming a teacher.
Pardillo has three other children enrolled in the 4Ps. They go to school, which, she acknowledges, they cannot do without the program.
Men as husbands can only disagree in the absence of their wives: that women rule the home.
Sudlon I's Pablita Nable, 53, who has nine children, and Tejeros' Estrella Samson, 50, also with nine children, are enjoying their roles as wives three years after signing up for the CCT. Unlike other wives who just do as their husbands say, Nable reasons with her husband, and she believes the 4Ps has done much to change her wife to Pascual Nable, a farmer.
"I am now able to voice out my thoughts and opinions about many things in the house," Nable said. "I consult my husband when there are things that need to be decided. If it concerns the children, I still consult him but my decision prevails. I thank the Pantawid Pamilya program of the government because it has made me understand better my rights as a mother and as a wife. I would not be aware, conscious and knowledgeable about my rights as a wife if not for the 4Ps."
'I make final decision'
On the day of the interview for this article, Nable was supposed to attend the barangay assembly but she asked her husband to go instead. Saying she had to be with this this writer, Nable insisted to her husband that he should go to the assembly as the family's representative.
It is now easier for both Nable and Samson to convince their husbands to do things for them, knowing that it's fair exchange for better opportunities for their family.
Samson, for example can now ask her husband, Elmer Samson, to facilitate the FDS in their barangay, where there are 187 household beneficiaries. Elmer willingly leads the FDS. Estrella Samson is a member of many other organizations and her activities sometimes conflict with her responsibilities to the 4Ps program. Like Nable, Samson consults her husband, but in the end her decisions prevail. "I consult my husband. But I still make the final decision. It's still my call," she said.
Apart from being a parent leader in Tejero, Samson is also a barangay environmental officer and a facilitator and messenger of the city government. Recently, she was asked to serve as a barangay health worker (BHW). She exudes confidence she said she did not have before the Pantawid Pamilya program. She now has a cell phone, which Cebu City Mayor Michael Rama gave her so she could quickly reach him.
Evelina M. Gok-ong, Ma. Cenon Sasam, Lovena Sumangda, Marife Bardilas and Virginia Pinote believe that the most rewarding of the intangible benefits the CCT program has brought to their lives is the attainment of their sense of individuality-that they are first women before they are loving mothers and caring wives.
Before the CCT was implemented in their barangay at Sudlon II, Gok-ong didn't care a hoot about her family and her community. After all, she believed her inferiority would not at all be useful to any of the community activities.
Same with Sasam of Barangay Duljo Fatima, who preferred to stay home all day and do the house chores than mingle with others. In Lapu-Lapu City, Pinote's self-esteem was down. She did not socialize for fear of being looked down.
Today, Pinote is busy hopping from one seminar to another under the Alternative Learning System of the Department of Education. She has attended culinary lessons, soap demo, salabat-making, empanada-making and expects more livelihood programs to juggle in her very busy schedule.
Three years after, Gok-ong is now a proud Avon dealer. She models for the products she sells by putting on different Avon make-up products to entice fellow beneficiaries to buy. Sasam is now a self-appointed "spokesperson" in her neighborhood.
Once when their informal settlement was petitioned by the lot owner through court proceedings, Sasam stood as the lone defender of their rights as informal settlers. With help from some city hall officials she worked with, she got a good deal and she is leaving the place soon.
Pinote, Bardillas and Sumangda became aggressive business-minded women. Sumangda, a Badjao at Mambaling, is happy selling her pearls. Bardillas, also from Mambaling and has seven children, earns P300 to P350 a day for manicure, pedicure and nail art services. She also gets calls from government employees for home service.
Two thousand fourteen will just be the beginning of everything these Cebuana women have made for themselves. An elective post as a barangay kagawad in Tejero awaits Estrella after all the leadership skills she gained, political network cultivated, friendship nurtured and most of all her passion and determination to bust out of poverty.
Marife is looking at the prospect of expanding her beauty services into a parlor someday. Lovena is persistent to make her small pearl business grow from home-based to commercial space.
With Sasam's gumption and aggressiveness, her halo-halo and ukay-ukay may just grow bigger than expected. She nannies her nephew by the way, for 150 pesos a day.
All these women of CCT promised to continue what the DSWD had started for them: to gain social consciousness about their community responsibilities, be aware of their rights as women and work hard for the family's good future, eventually helping to break the intergenerational cycle of poverty that the CCT program aims to demolish.
Poverty incidence down
Aileen Lariba, DSWD Field Office VII information officer, said that in late 2011 poverty incidence in Cebu went down to 37 percent from 57 percent.
Consequently, according to DSWD Region VII Monitoring and Evaluation Officer Raquel Daria, household beneficiaries in the entire region have achieved a 95 percent compliance rate in education and 94 percent in health.
Also last year, Cebu's compliance with health, education and family development ranged from 95 percent to 100 percent, specifically in Sudlon I and II, Sawang Calero, T. Padilla, Inayawan, Mambaling, Kalunasan, Duljo Fatima, Tejero and Tagbao.
And recently, the DSWD, with concurrence from the Cebu City government, expanded the program to 13 more barangays, covering 4,414 more households in the city.
These figures leave City Nutrition Links Alicia Bellita and Evelyn L. Bolo, Sudlon I and Sudlon II 4Ps focal persons, respectively, with nothing to wonder about, as the numbers match those in the official assessment reports.
"There were 20 malnourished children here at Sudlon I in 2009," Bellita said. "With enrollments in the 4Ps program, the number went down to 10. We hope this becomes zero."
Bellita and Bolo agreed that the health of children in Sudlon I and II has improved dramatically with the mothers' becoming aware of the importance of good nutrition.
For two consecutive years, DSWD Field Office VII reported 100 percent compliance rate for Sudlon I and II.