Social Work Action Network Philippines (SWAN Phils) on Mr. Erwin Tulfo’s Appointment to the DSWD

The Marcoses were forced to go into exile as an aftermath of the EDSA revolution in 1986.  Five years after her exile, Imelda Marcos was allowed by then Pres. Corazon Aquino to return to the country to face more than 60 criminal and civil charges against her, including charges of graft and tax evasion (Rappler, 2017).  During the post EDSA years, the “ruling reactionary system has allowed the political and financial rehabilitation of the Marcoses.”

In 2018, a Philippine court found her guilty of seven counts of graft, with each count punishable by a minimum of six years in prison (Gutierrez, 2018).  The ruling also automatically disqualified Mrs. Marcos, who was then a congresswoman, from holding any public office (Gutierrez, 2018). The same court said the ruling could be appealed, and legal experts said that Ms. Marcos could fight a prison sentence because of her advanced age (Gutierrez, 2018).

The political redemption of the Marcoses was consummated when Ferdinand Jr., won in the recent 2022 national election. A statement from the left   succinctly puts it: “For several decades now, and especially during the past several years, historical facts were distorted and people fed with false information which not only pervaded social media, but promoted as well in textbooks which poison the minds of schoolchildren about the “golden days” of the Marcos dictatorship. Imelda and the Marcos family have evaded punishment despite conviction over a number of cases of corruption and human rights violations. The tyrant Duterte, himself, has been a key peddler of the Marcos lie.”

As expected, the new president is more obsessed  to “correct” the much maligned name of the Marcoses in the history of our country.  After a tandem of authoritarian rule and inefficiency of the previous government in handling the pandemic and the subsequent economic crisis, the colossal task of fixing the economy was given to a breed of technocrats who possess undying adherence to neoliberalism.  This is unmindful that it is the neoliberal paradigm that actually brought  us to this economic mess under a highly contested political terrain.

It is in this context that we will attempt to understand why Mr. Erwin Tulfo is placed at the helm of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD).

The traditional social work practice in the country creates its own vulnerability.  Its focus on individual inadequacies both at the level of framing the problem of the service users  as well its intervention finds resonance on patronage politics, which have worked and perpetuated itself in the system. Traditional social work practice promotes and nurtures the patron system even in the delivery the state’s social services. This practice is akin to a pendulum that swings according to the push of those in power. In a reactionary state, it always swings to the right. Under Duterte’s  authoritarian regime, we witnessed how the state’s  social   service resources and arsenal have been carved into  the counter-insurgency program, making a mockery of the Social Work profession’s held values and principles.

Placing Mr. Erwin T. Tulfo as the new secretary of DSWD is not simply a political payback. Yes, the Tulfo brother are known as Duterte allies. With his questionable journalism practice, highly populist stance, and  rabid followers, he is deliberately placed at the DSWD to perform key ideological tasks.  The ordinary people have always been victims of the ruling class, especially at the ideological sphere; that is why many people remain to be  gullible.

The helping process in our Social Work profession has always been premised on the inherent dignity of the service user.  That is why social justice, human rights and people’s liberation are considered as anchors on our practice.  We are conscious of liberating the service users from the shackles of ignorance, unscientific mindset, and allow them to fully develop into critical thinking individuals.  By fanning the gullibility of the masses, this is what Mr. Erwin Tulfo wants to negate in our profession and practice. For Forgas & Baumeiter, “ gullibility, as a failure of social intelligence in which a person is easily tricked or manipulated into an ill-advised course of action. Gullibility is closely related to credulity, which is the tendency to believe unlikely propositions that are unsupported by evidence.  Gullibility is thus a factor in social influence processes, as a person’s willingness to believe false or misleading information facilitates the influence.”

The DSWD already has its own share of bureaucratic mess in its delivery of social services. A well intentioned and skilled band of social work professionals can correct this.  On the other hand, Mr. Tulfo is expected to invoke the bureaucratic mess to justify shortcuts wherein his interventions can be interpreted by the service users as “efficient”.  His swift intervention riding on being a bully  can be harnessed in influencing the public mindset that indeed the new regime is hellbent to help the people in whatever means. We will be witnessing a shift from the Tulfo’s brand of journalism to Tulfo’s brand of social services delivery.

Definitely, he will be building his base among the service users and make the latter harp on the compassionate Marcos regime. From passivity, the masses will usher a “people’s movement” rendering support and further legitimizing the class rule of the Marcos-Arroyo-Duterte (MAD) clique.  It is to paint the new regime as having the best interest of the people at the heart of their governance.

In a highly stratified society devoid of morals, the ruling class always has a deep bench  of jesters, apologists, and mercenaries.

More than being a personal insult to each Social Work practitioner and student, this unfolding scenario negates what gains we have had in our pursuit of transformative social work in the context of real service to the people. It posits to bastardize  the profession  in the pursuit of their partisan objectives.

As we journey in these perilous  times, we should not waver in our resolve to truly serve the genuine interests of the people and uphold our Social Work profession, values and principles.

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References:

Rappler, 2017). TIMELINE: How the Marcoses made their political comeback. https://www.rappler.com/newsbreak/iq/162459-timeline-marcos-political-comeback/

Forgas, Joseph P & Baumeiter Roy R. (2019). The Social Psychology of Gullibility. Fake News, Conspiracy Theories and Irrational Beliefs. Taylor & Francis Group.

SOCIAL WORK ACTION NETWORK-PHILIPPINES

June 1, 2022

Statement: A DSWD Secretary should be beyond reproach

Colleagues from various social work organizations have appealed to the incoming president “to appoint a professional social worker for the secretary of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) or within the qualifications of an experienced development worker, exposed and familiar to the wide range of welfare issues and social protection programs.”  The collective appeal was simply dismissed.

With the lingering impact of the nexus of pandemic and the economic crisis, the DSWD confronts an enormous challenge of providing much-needed social services and social protection to the marginalized. Social welfare administration requires expertise that is nurtured by academic training and professional experience, as clearly stated in Republic Act No. 4373: An Act to Regulate the Practice of Social Work and the Operation of Social Work Agencies in the Philippines and for Other Purposes.

Let us go back to an incident  where the newly designated  secretary of DSWD was involved.

Last May 31, 2019, Mr. Erwin Tulfo lambasted DSWD Sec. Bautista for declining to grant him a live interview, arguing it was his obligation as secretary of the dept. “Sino ba itong buang na ito? Pasensya na muna ano ha.  Maski tao ka ni Pangulong Duterte, le-lecture-an muna kita (Who is this crazy person? I apologize, but even if you were appointed by President Duterte, let me lecture you (Fonbuena, 2019).  Tulfo’s rant included threats to slap Bautista if he ever saw him, and to dunk his head inside a toilet bowl (Fonbuena, 2019).

Several days after, Mr. Erwin Tulfo apologized to Sec. Baustista, vowing to tone down “Tulfo’s brand of journalism (CNN Philippines, 2019).  The practice of journalism has its own recognized ethical norms and standards. Practitioners in this profession always uphold these at all times.  Aside from the DSWD Chief, he also apologized to the Philippine Military Academy Alumni Association, who threatened to file libel and defamation charges against the broadcaster (CNN Philippines, 2019). A bully can only be contained by a force greater than him.

What is worrisome is the streak of arrogance and bullying exhibited by the Tulfo brothers, including Erwin Tulfo.  This is about mindset.  The Tulfo brothers had always been bullies, even challenging their perceived enemies to fistfights.

The appointment of a bully as head of the department is an act of   political payback since the Tulfo brothers are closely allied with the Dutertes. Good governance is about to be thrown into the gutter.  It is political loyalties again rather than upholding the best interest of the people. A bully has no space in a professional organization much less being its key leader.

As the country slowly recovers from the effects of the pandemic, social service delivery should be anchored on compassion and comprehensive understanding of the relevant policies, programs, services, protocols and mechanisms. Social welfare and development programs are beyond the realms of charity, whims or popularity. They are best administered by professionals who have extensive experience, possess appropriate technical knowledge and skills, and uphold the principles and values of social work and social development practice.

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References:

CNN Philippines. (2019). Broadcaster says sorry to DSWD secretary, vows to tone down “Tulfo’s brand of journalism. https://www.cnnphilippines.com/news/2019/6/3/Erwin-Tulfo-DSWD-Secretary-Rolando-Bautista-apology.html

Fonbuena, Carmela. (2019). Soldiers seethe on line after Erwin Tulfo threatens to slap ex-Army chief. https://www.rappler.com/nation/231925-soldiers-seethe-online-after-erwin-tulfo-calls-ex-army-chief-crazy/

Department of Social Work

College of Social Work and Community Development

UP Diliman