My Stint with the Department of Social Welfare (DSW)
By Apolinario Villalobos
The Department of Social Welfare (DSW) is among those in the list of corrupt government agencies. That is what surveys and testimonies say. With this perception, I am deeply saddened, having worked for the said agency when I was yet in third year college, in order to earn the much needed contractual wage. It was in the later part of the ‘70s that the agency’s branch was opened in our town to serve the evacuees who came from as far as Ligwasan Marsh, boundary towns of Maguindanao and villages on the slope of Mt. Dagoma. They practically flocked to our town, being at the crossroads of three provinces, for help. The DSW Regional Office in Davao (then, Region 11), immediately sent a representative, Mr. Claudio Estante, so that a professional help can be given to evacuees. Immediately, Mr. Estante looked around for at least one assistant as a start, and those whom he approached for reference, mentioned me. He had no choice then, but to immediately asked me if I was willing to work even late at night. It was not a formal interview, just a simple inquiry about my willingness to work, to which I immediately answered with a resounding yes. We agreed on a compromise that I would work Saturdays and Sundays until late evening, or wee hours of the morning, if necessary, while I would be free to attend my classes from Monday to Friday.
We made clean lists of evacuees’ names submitted by the mayor’s office, barangay chairmen and the parish priest. The lists supported his request for relief goods to be submitted every Monday to the regional office in Davao City. Upon the reliefs’ delivery, we would mobilize some evacuees to help us with the repacking. Bagful of these reliefs, were then distributed among the evacuees organized into small groups of families in different evacuation centers, not only in our town but the safe neighboring ones.
I was joined by a classmate whom I recommended to my boss, as the required responsibilities proved to be too exhausting. Much later, other staffs were hired, including a lone full time Social Worker. That was the peak of the Christian-Muslim conflict in the different provinces of central Mindanao, and practically, no day is complete without us witnessing several jeepneys filled with wounded civilians, caught in the crossfire, hurriedly transported to clinics and hospitals. Early mornings would be broken by intermittent explosions from the direction of Ligwasan Marsh and other nearby “encounter” areas. We also made use of the time spent in our visits to evacuation centers and distribution of relief goods, in disseminating information on population awareness and family planning. “Food for work” was later implemented during the time as a sustaining program, with the evacuees made to clean streets in exchange for relief goods.
I left the agency soonest as I have graduated from college. The rest of my classmates were left behind. One was offered a scholarship in Australia for a Social Work course, perhaps, to prepare him for a greater responsibility, which happened years later, as he became the Regional Director and later, transferred to Manila to assume an Asst. Secretary position. The other one, got connected with the Department of Budget and Management in Legazpi City, and later occupied an important administrative position in the state university.
During my stint with the agency, I was not aware that its topmost position had already been made as a “repository” for political appointees. I thought innocently that all positions in government agencies, including their heads are occupied by “career officers”. That has been my perception in view of the required “eligibilities” for the employees who are supposed to work their way up to the highest rung of the agency’s hierarchy. When I invited my friend to join me in the airline that he flatly refused in favor of the government scholarship in Australia, I thought that he made the right choice for his career, with assurance that everything will be alright because of his eligibilities including one that made him a Career Service Officer (CSO). I kidded him that our alma mater would be proud to see a DSW Secretary later on.
When I noticed that the agency became just like the rest of the so-called “political agencies”, I asked him for the second time if he was really serious in pursuing his “career” in such agency. He answered me in the affirmative, as he was almost “there”, being an Assistant Secretary already. Also, he told me that he was well aware of what was going on. Unfortunately, despite his good performance in braving the ashes of Mt. Pinatubo by being at the frontline for several weeks during its eruption, and wading through waist-deep floods of Manila and neighboring provinces, he was sort of, deliberately ignored. His case brought to my mind another hardworking “Secretary” who while still alive, was not even give a fair air time for interview, although, Filipinos have seen how he worked diligently, practically, a “jack –of- all- trade” as he was made to assume different “responsibilities”, with the last at the DILG, and for which, even at the time of his death, did not receive a confirmation. Or, if he was confirmed posthumously, I don’t know. Just like him, my friend also died, hoping against hope that just before he would retire, he could at least settle his butt in the DSW Secretary’s chair, even for just a few weeks or months….that was what he would always tell me, every time we had fleeting moments for coffee at their unassuming home on one of the floors of an old condo building in Pasay City. We discussed his plans for which he made me give him assurance that I would help him as his “consultant”, when he will be promoted again as Undersecretary. Unfortunately, he succumbed to one of humanity’s dreaded diseases – hypertension. Had he been alive, I do not know if there would be complaints against the DSW regarding the distribution of relief goods when typhoon Yolanda brought havoc to many Visayan provinces. During the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo, during which he was given coordinative responsibilities in relief distribution, no complaint was ever heard against the agency.
Looking back at my good old days with the DSW, I cannot help but smile and be thankful for what it has afforded me as my “training ground” for a better career. But I cannot also help but feel apprehensive, thinking of what could have happened, had I persisted in working in such agency. With incessant exposures made about the agency, that started years ago, yet, God forbid what I could have done. I envied my friend for his cool personality, shrugging off pressures that came his way. His patience was not stretched by a string, but by a rubber with seemingly endless elasticity. My patience is so brittle that I crack easily, especially in the face of questionable happenings around me.