The Pitifully Neglected Sectors
Of the Philippine Society
By Apolinario Villalobos
During my stint with the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) way back in the late ‘70s, the agency had a bureau for the family and child welfare. If ever the agency has maintained such targeted sector of the society which I view as a must, I cannot fathom why the streets and nooks of cities, especially, Manila still teem with many mentally-deficient (taong grasa), beggars and rugby-sniffing boys and girls.
I do not expect the streets to be totally free of these compatriots, but the DSWD’s effort should be consistent, realistic, and visibly manifested in many ways. However, it is only when the city is expecting visits of foreign dignitaries that the local government units and the DSWD round up the vagrants and practically “haul” them to “compounds” as an effort to hide them from the sight of the said visitors, to give the city streets a semblance of “cleanliness”. As soon as the dignitaries take their flights out of the country, the vagrants are again let loose.
One classic example of this hypocritical and inconsistent effort of the government was the rounding up of the families and street children living on sidewalks along the routes of Pope Francis, during his visit. Those rounded up were brought to an expensive resort outside of Manila, to purportedly have them undergo a “seminar” on a program only the DSWD guys know. Can’t they conduct the “seminar” in Manila and in less expensive venue to save on cost?
On the other hand, the DSWD until now is being questioned on its unbelievably big budget that it is supposed to spend for the lessening of the difficulties of poor Filipino families living in depressed areas. In time however, as expected, and being the culture of Filipinos that easily forgets, such question died down as it gets overwhelmed by more showbiz-like issues, that could easily earn media mileage for “concerned” congressmen and senators.
The decentralization of this concern making local government units (LGUs) directly responsible for the mentioned members of society should not be cited as an alibi to free the DSWD from its responsibilities, as this is tantamount to passing the buck. As the LGUs have become the direct responsible parties, what will the DSWD do? An exposé on the squalid facilities of Manila City for the street children has brought forth its questionable professional capability. And, as usual, to free itself from total liability, the LGU cried out loud for the lack of budget! Finger-pointing again ensued.
Aside from the street children, others that deserve attention are the mentally-deficient and the beggars. These vagrants pathetically roam city streets to beg for food or rummage among the piles of garbage for morsels, as well as, expose themselves to the elements when they pitifully sleep on sidewalks every night. The non-government organizations and shelters have become alternatives as regards this matter. But they should not be depended on totally as they also rely on grants from private organizations and charitable individuals. Some of them may be lucky to draw attention from the government. Unfortunately, these NGOs are also used by the government agencies as excuses to garner big budgets, but with only insignificant chunk actually reaching the former as “beneficiaries”.
What the country needs are honest-to-goodness social workers, well-trained volunteers, and most especially, realistic assistance programs for the aforementioned neglected sectors of our society. The programs should be the kind that could develop self-respect and self-sufficiency. The DSWD should go deeper into the reasons why these people are living on sidewalks, although, the obvious primary ones are the quest for financial opportunity in the case of families, and neglect of parents in the case of street children, to enable them to come up with appropriate solutions.
What is happening now is that the DSWD and LGUs are practically just waiting for referrals. There is no initiative whatsoever from them to go out of their offices and to reach out to these needy Filipinos. They wait until somebody brings a “case” to them on whom they compose a “case study”. There is no sincerity in their effort and in carrying out their job. In other words, their job is seemed to be limited to just making case studies.
When I visited a nationally-known orphanage, I was told by the staff that they were also getting financial assistance from a government agency, but when asked how often, they kept silent. I noticed three issues of coffee table books about the orphanage and when I browsed through their pages, I found prominently displayed, faces of government officials, especially the agency head with a grand smile as if announcing to the reader that she has done something great for the orphanage! The publications were obviously made as tools to advertise the “accomplishments” of the agency and its chief, at the expense of the orphanage. Expectedly, the expenses for the publications were shouldered by the government agency. While still browsing through the pages, what came into my mind were the plunder cases filed against Napoles for projects with budgets supposedly swollen with commission, and in cahoots with corrupt government officials.
The government is so sick and pestered with sores that nauseatingly smell of corruption and exploitation. While the aforementioned neglected sectors of the Philippine society do not require billions of pesos for their rehabilitation and sustenance, corrupt government officials are steadily and brazenly getting obese for having unlimited appetite as they devour what are not theirs – the honest taxpayers’ money.