According to Ingram and Smith, “the centrality of relationships to social work continues to be universally, and increasingly, recognized. Relationships are variously described as being as at the heart of social work… a cornerstone… and an absolute precondition.” The World Social Day 2020 has as its theme ‘Promoting the Importance of Human Relationships’.
While we are aware of the importance of human relationships, we also recognize that human relationships are mediated by social variables such as age, gender, class and educational attainment. In countries like the Philippines where inequities are embedded in structures, processes, and social relations, human relationships may be instrumental in normalizing and reproducing the inequities or in questioning and transforming them. The latter is what we deem to be aligned with the professional values and principles of equality, human rights and social justice.
Social inequities greatly determine who stand to benefit, or to lose in any given situation. During this time of crisis brought about by the pandemic that is COVID-19, the Philippine government has put the entire island of Luzon under “enhanced community quarantine.” Its measures, e.g., suspension of classes, work, mass transport, and restaurant operations, and imposing a curfew between 8:00pm -5:00 am, compromise the poor and marginalised who rely on mass transport, informal jobs such as street vending, are on a “no work, no pay” basis, and are in no position to practice social distancing. A top government official has suggested that informal vendors sell their wares outside Metro Manila, depriving them of their established market. People with money are able to stock up on food and other essential commodities. They continue to earn while in quarantine and able to observe social distancing. On the other hand, people with very limited financial means can only panic over how to survive on a daily basis. President Rodrigo Duterte has directed the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) to provide food to the hungry, and other social amelioration measures. Yet, DSWD recently announced the suspension of cash grants to the recipients of the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps) and social pension for indigent senior citizens, both legally mandated, because the usual mode of delivery involves people gathering en masse, which is now prohibited. With the expected slowing down of the economy, the Asian Development Bank has estimated that 252,000 will lose their jobs in the country.
Since the implementation of neoliberalism in the 1970s, families and communities have borne the brunt of its adverse impacts. Human relationships in families and communities have been tested, strained, compromised and sacrificed in many cases. Because of the privatization of the commons, hundreds of peasants were displaced from their lands, indigenous peoples forcibly ejected from their ancestral domain, and fisherfolk denied access to bodies of water. Formerly natural communities were replaced by new communities with relatively new residents. In former prime agricultural lands, the real estate boom replaced the peasant communities with gated subdivisions. The incessant drive for profit has resulted in the increasing commodification of people, especially children and women. Gender inequality continues to assign the blame and stigma on women and girls.
In the observance of World Social Work Day 2020, it is proper and fitting to remind all progressive social workers to passionately work “to promote, restore, maintain, and enhance the well-being of individuals, families, social groups, organizations, and communities.” In the process of building and restoring human relationships, let us also nurture these relationships as “infrastructures of dissent”. Together with people, we can again promote collectivity and solidarity. Our experience teaches us that only through collective efforts can personal and structural changes achieve enduring character.
Social Work Action Network (SWAN) – Philippines
March 17, 2020