My Stint With the Department of Social Welfare (DSW)

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.

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Mindoro’s Occidental Half

Mindoro’s Occidental Half
By Apolinario Villalobos

First it was a “mountain of gold”, now it is an “island of jade”. But unlike its first reference, the latest is more realistic with the discovery of its own variety of green stone, lately. For the early islanders, however, the island was known as “Mina de Oro”, and later shortened to “Mindoro”.

Although, a mention of Mindoro today would bring to mind the ferocious tamaraw charging through cogon-covered mountain ranges, in the past, Chinese merchants had a different thing to say of the island. Chao-Ju-Kua, a Chinese historian, particularly called the island, “May-I” or “mountain of gold”. The reference, though, could just be metaphoric for the Chinese who derived so much from their trading with the islanders. This commercial intercourse with Mindoro by the Chinese merchants was recorded in 1525 by the mentioned Chinese historian.

The Spaniards, however, who visited it in 1570, had another perception. They saw a settlement of pirates who plundered neighboring Christian settlements, especially, those along the mainland’s coastal villages. Mamburao and Balete were the focal bases of these villages. Plans of the Spaniards to further their exploration of the island beyond Ilin Island, Baroc River and Lubang was abandoned because of strong resistance which waned only during the later years of the Spanish regime.

When it was finally established as a “corregimiento”, Mindoro was administered from Batangas, known then, as Bonbon. In 1927, when Marinduque was constituted into a special province, Mindoro was put under its administration. Later on, it became a regular province until 1950 , when it was divided into western and eastern portions.

Distributed over Mindoro Occidental’s area of 5,880 square kilometers are eleven municipalities with Mamburao, as the capital town. The province is bounded by Verde Island Passage on the north, Mindoro Strait on the west and on the east by the other half of the island.

One thing which the province could be proud of is its being synonymous with the rare tamaraw, the ferocity of which has painted dread around it. The islanders cherish the fact that it is only on their cogonal ranges where these fleet-footed and almost extinct animals roam. But to see one of these in the wild needs patience and perseverance, as they easily sense the presence of humans in their vicinity.

There is an allegation that the tamaraws come out only when darkness fell. For the natives, however, who dread the animals, the only way that they could drive them away from their path is by setting grasslands into fire, where they are suspected to lurk. The system is undoubtedly a major reason for the balding of the ranges. On the other hand, ashes of burnt grass augment the dietary need of these animals and other wildlife, because of their salt content.

One identified area where the tamaraws can be found is Calavite, a reserved area for them. Very rare incidents, however, happen during which these animals would brave the open and stare of the people. One such incident was in 1970, when a male tamaraw went down to Poypoy, a small village. As it was a mating season, the villagers tolerated its presence. But to get rid of it, they had to let loose a female carabao in an open field – a safe distance from the community. Other sanctuaries of this animal are Mts. Iglit (1,310 meters above sea level), Mitchell (1,050 meters above sea level), and Baco (2,300 meters above sea level). Almost all of the areas are denuded, except for a thick growth of cogon.

Paluan serves as the “shipyard” of the island, where fishing boats are built. It is about an hour and twenty minutes from Mamburao. The road that winds up and down hills is partly rugged but the varying sceneries are consolations enough for one to survive the trip. From the town center, for a twenty-minute drive, one can reach a hot spring. Not far is a Mangyan community that has caught up with time, but has preserved its own traditional system of writing.

Not only is the province enticing to trekkers and birdwatchers, but to sea lovers, as well. Off the southwestern cost are white islands and coral reefs which have been declared as marine sanctuaries. Most popular of these are Apo, Ilin and Ambulong. To reach them one has to go to Sablayan or San Jose, where boats can be hired.

Clean sandy and peebly beaches lace the coastal areas of the island. Practically, every town has a stretch of unspoiled beach fringed by coconut palms. Some of these are Lagundian, Tii, Talabahan, Puntablanca and Tayamaan. For hook and line addicts, the province could be a discovery with its tuna and other game fishes during mid-October to April months.

November to December is the egg-laying season for sea turtles. But the local government has restricted the gathering of eggs in an effort to preserve their species. Despite the strict prohibition, however, poachers still find ways and means to somehow dig for some that they sell to Chinese restaurants in Manila.

A seasonal delicacy is “bunggan”, a kind of tiny fish that abounds only during the summer months. These are caught at the mouth of the Mamburao River, with the use of fine-meshed nets. Two popular ways to cook them is by frying into “torta” and by wrapping them with banana leaves and cooked in ginger and vinegar.

The tranquil province is among the few which have not yet been overrun by development. Lodging houses are available at Mamburao, where an airport is also located.

Pasig River: Manila’s Main Commercial Artery…long time ago

Pasig River: Manila’s main commercial artery
… long time ago
By Apolinario Villalobos

“The Pasig, ah, the Pasig… the great old river”. The statement rings with deeply felt reverence, uttered by an old woman whose old age is made obvious by a pattern of wrinkles on her face. She now sells candles and bronze amulets just outside the Quiapo church. She’s from Taguig, but she could vividly recall days when she and her family would sail down the river on a dugout to Manila to sell vegetables and clay pots. According to her, on weekends, dugouts would compete with water lilies in clogging the river. While her father would curse at moving clusters of this hardy aquatic plant, they, the children would reach out to the brightly colored plumes. But now, those were just part of a once unharried life. The Pasig which has nurtured a city into becoming one that the world respects, is now gasping for breath.

The Pasig once began songs and poems, graced canvases and became an unseen participant in stage plays. Notable poets, like Jose Rizal, had always a special mention of the river to spice up a coterie of characters such as Ibarra, Maria Clara, and Doῆa Geronima, the “mutya” or queen of the river. In more ways than one, it has provided an exit for heroic characters in fiction stories just like Venice.

How it happen to be named after Pasig instead of Manila, is something the old folks could not remember. What they could recall is that, there was once a small delta, skimmed by what is now Ayala bridge which was believed to be the first site of Manila. It was called Isla de Convalescia, as it was here where a Spanish governor general would relax his nerves after a conflict with the clergy.

Records show that fleets of Chinese junks would cram the mouth of the river during the heyday of its glorious trading past, before the arrival of the Spaniards. On its banks, Chinese merchants would unload their wares that consisted of silk and brocade, jewelries, perfumes, wines, caged birds and exotic fruits. The Tagalogs (taga-ilog), the early Filipinos who settled along the river banks, also traded with merchants from Java, India, Sumatra and Siam (Thailand). It was for this reason that “alcaicerias” mushroomed near the riverbank to lodge these traders.

The river divides the city of Manila into northern and southern portions. Minor divisions are made by its tributaries and outflows, some of which are unfortunately filled today by unscrupulous urban developers to give way to commercial buildings, hence, their mysterious disappearance from the map. Linking then the divided city were eight bridges that span the river, with the four major ones, being the Del Pan (used to be the Puente de Espaῆa) that leads to the north harbor and northern of end of Divisoria, Jones that leads to the Chinatown and and the heart of Divisoria, MacArthur that leads to Sta. Cruz district with its famous Avenida, Quezon (formerly Puente Colgante) that leads to Quiapo district with its famous Quiapo Church and Islamic Center, and Ayala that leads to the University belt, Malacaῆan Palace and Sta. Mesa.

During the administration of Ferdinand Marcos, the river was regularly “patrolled” by River Aides to ensure the maintenance of its cleanliness. After Marcos, the project for its rehabilitation has been re-named every time a new President occupied Malacaῆan Palace, until lately, it died naturally. What remains today is the ferry service of the Metro Manila Development Authority (MMA) as its share in easing the traffic of Manila.

The river is calm most of the time, and whatever temperament it shows shortly after a heavy downpour soon disappears. During high tide, the current’s unimpeded flow pours out into Laguna de Bay through Jala-jala, the terminus in the river’s system, though, there are yet other towns and districts that benefit from the river’s flow.

Starting from Punta pier, there’s the Sta. Ana district, with its bridge called “Lambingan” (bridge of tryst). Going down south, the river flows by the once grand estate called Carmelence, where the moneyed of yesteryears once lived. Among the elegant residences, the most prominent is the Presidential Residence, seat of the national government, the Malacaῆan Palace. The residence was once a fenced Spanish home with a small zoo and aviary.

Right across the river to the left of the Palace is another landmark, the humble abode of Apolinario Mabini, also known in history as the sublime paralytic. Then there’s the old, Manila Boat Club which was founded in the nineteenth century.

Several hundred meters down is a cornucopia of abandoned industrial plants whose pipes used to constantly spew black and white smoke. Here, are warehouses whose stainless structures gleam under the glare of the sun. A little further still, the main vein of the river branches into northern and southern flows. While the northern flow slices the old Sta. Mesa, the southern flow provides a natural boundary between Mandaluyong and Makati.

Passing Sta. Ana on the right, a thumb-like extension of land causes the river to slightly swerve. It is the Sta. Ana Archaeological site where artifacts that attest to the bank’s rich cultural past were unearthed. Cuddling a pocket of scalene area, just a few minutes from the archaeological site is Manila’s only race track.

On the left are more industrial warehouses, among which are squeezed residences which persisted on staying despite the polluted air. This row of industrial and residential structures continues even beyond the Guadalupe Bridge which serves as a link of Manila’s longest thoroughfare, the Epifanio de los Santos Avenue or EDSA that starts from Roxas Boulevard in Pasay City, and culminates at the Bonifacio Monument in Caloocan City.

A little further from Guadalupe is Pateros, once the seat of “balut” industry, but has lately gave way to the onslaught of housing developments that overran the once thriving duck pens along the river bank. “Balut” is the unhatched duck egg, treated with salt and slightly aged, then boiled. The unhatched chick is purported to be nutritious.

On the northeast, stretching towards the mountains is a delta on which peacefully settles Napindan, the last district along the Pasig River as it flows into Laguna de Bay. Napindan’s atmosphere is still rural, despite the presence of subdivisions. Marking Napindan is a lighthouse which from a distance could be mistaken for a mound. From its tower, one can view Talim Island, the biggest island in the lake.

The sloping mound of the grassy range points towards Jala-Jala, the town made famous by its fish corrals. From air, the offshore waters look like a huge green canvas painted with brown geometric figures. This area is devoted to milkfish farming.

On the northern bank of the river, from the Del Pan Bridge towards its mouth that opens towards Manila de Bay, can still be found the old buildings, once mute witnesses to the glorious Hispanic past of Manila. The area encompasses the districts of Quiapo, Sta. Cruz and Binondo where Escolta St, the once bustling commercial avenue of Manila is located. There is now, a proposal to rehabilitate Escolta, to make it a veritable touristic nook of the city, in addition to Intramuros and Luneta.

Not only Manilans, but the rest of Filipinos, are still hoping that something can be done for the rehabilitation of Pasig River despite the politics that beset both the local and national governments, if only, for the sake of its historic significance. As mentioned earlier, Pasig River has graced stanzas of poems and refrains of songs, aside from lines of stage actors in plays. No amount of pollution and thick clogs of water hyacinth and water lilies will eradicate the river from the face of Manila. For as long as the sea pushes its high tide through it towards Laguna de Bay, Pasig River shall persist to be Manila’s main artery.

Huwag…

Huwag…
Ni Apolinario Villalobos

Huwag kainggitan ang taong yumaman sa tamang paraan,
dahil kabawasan din siya
sa bilang ng mga taong dapat tulungan.

Huwag ipagdamot ang payak na pagbati sa mga taong
may ginawang kabutihan sa iba
upang lalo pa nilang pag-ibayuhin
ang pagtulong sa kanilang kapwa.

Huwag umasa sa hindi pa dumarating na biyaya
hangga’t walang pagsisikap na ginawa.

Huwag sisihin ang Diyos sa nangyayaring hirap na nararanasan
dahil lahat ng nangyayari sa atin
tayo o kapwa natin ang may kagagawan.

Huwag manibugho sa yaman ng iba
dahil hindi lahat ng kaligayahan
ay may katumbas na pera.

Huwag yapakan ang karapatan ng iba
maabot lang ang pinapangarap na ginhawa.

Huwag lumampas sa hangganan ng kakayahan
dahil ang kabila nito’y sa iba naman nakalaan.

Huwag tayong mahiyang umamin ng kahinaan sa ibang bagay
dahil sa ibang larangan naman tayo magtatagumpay.

Huwag kalimutang lahat ng nakamit natin ay galing sa Kanya
dahil ang kabuuhan ng buhay ay Kanyang biyaya!