“I hope you would understand and give DSWD [the Department of Social Welfare and Development] a chance,” Sec. Erwin Tulfo pleaded with his critics on Saturday (August 20). But multisectoral alliance Bagong Alyansang Makabayan Timog Katagalugan (BAYAN-TK) wondered if Tulfo understood how much students and their families badly needed cash aid.
“Malinaw, ang DSWD walang planong panghawakan ang mandato ng institusyon na magbigay serbisyo sa mamamayang Pilipino (it’s clear that DSWD has no plan to uphold their mandate as an institution to serve the Filipino people),” the alliance said in a Facebook statement on that day.
What was meant to be the first day of DSWD’s distribution of financial assistance of up to P4,000 for students spiraled into turmoil. While about 5,000 parents and students trooped to the agency’s main office in Brgy. Batasan Hills, Quezon City, 29 individuals were injured in a stampede in Brgy. Tetuan, Zamboanga City, where DSWD’s local team was meant to distribute the money.
Although Tulfo pinned the blame on “miscommunication” for the chaos that ensued, the former broadcaster eventually apologized in a televised press conference later that day. There, he promised that the department will be coordinating with local government units (LGUs) in the next Saturdays to distribute the financial assistance.
Bigger fish to fry
BAYAN-TK slammed the DSWD chief for not explicitly stating that all students would reap the benefits.
“Kung sa dapat, ang trabaho ng pambansang pamahalaan at magkaroon ng malinaw na koordinasyon sa mga LGUs at tiyakin na walang estudyante ang hindi mabibigyan ng ayuda. Ngunit hanggang sa pinakahuling press statement, sinabi ni Sec. Tulfo na hindi niya sinabi sa anumang pahayag niya na lahat ay mabibigyan ng educational assistance,” the alliance lamented.
(“What the national government should do is to have a clear coordination with LGUs and ensure that no student is left out of the financial aid. But even in his recent press statement, Sec. Tulfo didn’t say at any point that everyone will get the educational assistance.”)
BAYAN-TK, referring to the cabinet members newly appointed by Pres. Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos, Jr., added that the problem is bigger than Tulfo, saying that “ang mga itinatalaga sa pusisyon bilang kalihim at pinuno ng mga ahensya-publiko ay walang alam at sapat na kapasidad para magserbisyo sa tao. Kaya ang repleksyon mismo nito sa mga programa ng ahensya ay anti-mamamayan at anti-mahirap.”
(“Those hand picked to be secretaries and heads of certain political agencies have insufficient knowledge and capacity to serve the people. This is why the department’s programs are reflected as being anti-people and anti-poor.”)
Vice President Sara Duterte and “for now” Marcos himself respectively took over as education and agriculture secretary, despite neither having experiences. The current cabinet, among others, also has red-tagger Jesus Crispin “Boying” Remulla, Jose Calida (flagged by COA for providing high allowances to lawyers), and pro-Rodrigo Duterte vlogger Rose Beatrix “Trixie” Cruz-Angeles as justice chief, COA chairperson, and press secretary, respectively.
Meanwhile, the very department Tulfo heads was recently flagged by the Commission on Audit (COA), in their 2021 audit report, for failing to distribute 21,824 out of 126,172 relief goods for those affected by Typhoon Ulysses. Similar mishaps also took place when roughly P2.8 million worth of Typhoon Yolanda relief goods last 2014 and an unspecified amount for Boracay residents in 2018 were spoiled under DSWD’s watch.
Speaking of “miscommunication,” this wouldn’t be the first time DSWD had trouble in this area as well. In April 2020, at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, reports from parts of Cavite, Laguna, and Makati revealed that the agency’s financial aid that time only accommodated the poorest households. This is despite the national government promising to hand all Luzon households subsidies of around P5,000 to P8,000.
Days passed, and controversy still hounds Tulfo’s fresh turn as DSWD chief. Recently, Tulfo urged Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino program (4Ps) beneficiaries to return the student cash aid that they got from the agency. If they cannot be returned, DSWD will instead reduce their future conditional cash transfers (CCT). This was after Tulfo belatedly clarified that 4Ps beneficiaries were not qualified to receive them in the first place: an announcement that frustrated netizens.
In the end, BAYAN-ST said that “sa ilalim ng administrasyong Marcos, mas nangingibabaw ang interes nitong pagmukhaing ang mamamayang Pilipino sa pamahalaan ay nanlilimos! (Under the Marcos administration, it would seem that they are more interested in making Filipinos look like they are begging from the government!)”
Reuben Pio Martinez is a news writer who covers stories on various communities and scientific matters. He regularly tunes in to local happenings. The views expressed are his own.
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