ASA KA PA? and the BUFFER ZONE
Asukal, Sibuyas, at Asin (ASA) have always been part of the daily lives of Filipinos. Using these three commodities in understanding our current conditions are very instructive.
Last week, the Sugar Regulatory Commission has proposed to import 450,000 metric tons (MT) of sugar this year following the instruction of President Marcos to bring down retail prices of the sweetener (Rivera, 2023). The proposed volume will cover a two-month buffer stock of sugar at the end of the milling season (Rivera, 2023). Last year’s plan to import 200,000 tons of sugar will make life less sweeter to some 66,000 sugar workers who will be directly displaced from their jobs and about 500,000 who derive indirect employment. If each worker has family of five the life would be less sweeter for about 3 million Filipinos (Mendoza, 2022).
Onions and salt have always been part of the meals of the Filipinos, “a staple in Filipino cuisine.” For culinary enthusiasts, both can make or break a dish. Last January 10, 2023, the president approved the importation of 21,060 MT and expected to arrive later this month or the first week of February, 2023 (CNN, 2023). This planned importation “to soothe a brutally high inflation and growing consumer woes could end up hurting onion farmers in the country (Royandoyan, 2023).
Onion farmers have been driven to despair, with some taking their own lives, after bearing the brunt of protracted losses, mounting debts, unscrupulous traders who have made their crops out of consumers’ reach, and the deluge of smuggled onions in the market (Lagare et. al., 2023).
The onion has become symbol of inflation (Palatino, 2023). Funny memes depicting onion as a luxury gift and symbol of affluence were widely shared on social media. The humor hides the suffering of poor families who are barely surviving amid the rising prices of basic goods and the absence of a substantial wage hike (Palatino, 2023).
We imported 628,500 MT or equivalent to 92 percent of the country’s salt requirements in 2019 and 2020, since local production was unable to meet demand (CNN Philippines Staff, 2022). According to an expert, the country has only 2,000 hectares remaining salt farm beds. This is very ironic since the Philippines is an archipelagic country.
As we all know, the structural driver for these phenomena is no other than the neoliberal ‘development’ paradigm that has been fully implemented since the 1970s. Consequently, heavy dependence on importations breeds cartels and syndicates that hoard the imported commodities, created artificial shortage of supply and raised prices. This is, of course is not possible without the connivance of well-positioned government officials.
The anti-Filipino character of this ‘development’ paradigm is exacerbated the extreme callousness of the current regime to the plight of the people. Earlier in August, 2022, Diokno said that “the giving out of ayuda in relation to the pandemic is already a waste of public funds.” According to Sonny Africa, Executive Director of IBON, “the high of PhP 233.7 billion worth of cash support in 2020 fell to PhP 9.5 billion in 2022and is down to a trifling PhP 10.5 million this year…. Regular emergency assistance programs have also been cut and are down from PhP 97.4 billion in 2022 to PhP 90 billion this year or a PhP 7.5 billion budget cut. This included billions slashed from the budgets for families in difficult circumstances (Department of Social Welfare and Development), displaced workers (Department of Labor and Employment), and overseas workers (Overseas Workers Welfare Administration. The Marcos Jr administration even cut the budgets of the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4PS) by PhP 5.1 billion and of the KALAHI_CIDSS community development program by PhP 2.8 billion.”
These facts are either deliberately hidden from the public coupled if not for the advocates and people’s organizations that expose them. There is also the barrage of the disinformation about the GDP growth redounding to the interests of the people. But the more insidious tactic is churning of lies that the government still care for the people. This is the buffer zone.
We social workers have been charged together with other disciplines and professions as part of the buffer zone. For Paul Kivel, “people in the ruling class have always wanted to prevent people at the bottom of the pyramid from organizing for power in order to maintain the power, control, and, most importantly, wealth that they have accumulated. At the same time, they have generally wanted to avoid directly managing people on the bottom of the pyramid. To maintain this separation and to prevent themselves from becoming the objects of people’s anger, they have used legal, educational, and professional systems to create a network of occupations, careers, and professions to deal directly with the rest of the population. This buffer zone comprises all occupations that carry out the agenda of the ruling class without requiring ruling class presence or visibility.”
Under this current ‘dark time”, the unmasking of the buffer zone is propelled by the sharpening of the contradiction between those who professed to govern and those at the bottom. But the complete unmasking and bursting of the buffer zone does not come naturally. Repression does not automatically lead to resistance. The pricking and the elimination of the buffer zone starts with the raising of our political consciousness and together with the people understand our current dark period, deepen our commitment, and eventually taking the resolve to act collectively.
One of these is exposing and condemning the mainstream social work practice as part of the buffer zone that has long time ago lost its relevance.
The need for transformative social work has long been warranted. Let us help each other to realize it.
Another Social Work is Possible!
CNN Philippines Staff (2022). 96% pf PH salt might be imported by 2030, group warns. https://www.cnnphilippines.com/…/PhilASIN-salt-import…
CNN Philippines Staff (2023). PH to import 21,060 MT of onions, fewer than earlier eyed. https://www.cnnphilippines.com/…/PH-to-import-21-060…
Lagare, J.B., Ramos, M., & Gascon, M. (2023). Loses driving onion farmers to desperation.
Mendoza, T. (2022). Importing 200,000 tons of sugar: Making life bitter for 3M Filipinos. https://opinion.inquirer.net/…/importing-200000-tons-of…
Palatino, M. (2023). How the Onion Became the Symbol of Inflation in the Philippines. https://thediplomat.com/…/how-the-onion-became-the…/
Rivera, D. (2023). 450,000 MT of sugar eyed for importation. https://www.philstar.com/…/450000-mt-sugar-eyed…
Royandoyan, R. (2023). Import plan to hurt local onion farmers-analyst.
SOCIAL WORK ACTION NETWORK – PHILIPPINES
January 30, 2023
Graduates from UP CSWCD took the oath as newly-registered social workers during the oathtaking ceremony held on November 14, 2022 at the Fiesta Pavillion, Manila Hotel. Ms. Lorna C. Gabad, Chairperson of the Philippine Regulatory Board for Social Workers, administered the oathtaking.
Ms. Luna Cajilig Salanio, BS Social Work graduate from UP CSWCD, topped the Social Worker Licensure Examination given on September 2022. Four other graduates from the college joined Ms. Salanio in the top ten namely: Sydney Claudelle Miña Aguba, Jeravem Gamao Ortiyas, Gia Santos Evangelista, and Hermie Dawn Ilasin Salmon. A total of 2,955 out 4,723 passed the said examination.
UP President Danilo L. Concepcion received the award recognizing the university as one of the top performing schools with 100% passing rate. UP has consistently maintained its perfect passing rate in the licensure examination for many years now. UP graduates have topped the last three has topped the last three examinations given by the Professional Regulation Commission.
In her message, Ms. Salanio, highlighted the need to amplify the voice of the poor and marginalized, “trabaho natin bilang mga manggagawang panlipunan na pakinggan at unawain nang lubos ang mga boses at tinig na ito, gaano pa man sila kahina at kagaralgal”. She ended her message with words of encouragement to her fellow social workers, “uli’t muli at lagi’t lagi, bumalik tayo at matuto kasama ang mga pamayanan at paglingkuran ang sambayanan!”
Faculty members from UP CSWCD’s Department of Social Work presented the initial results of the study, “Stories from the Field: Social Work at the Time of the Pandemic”, at the Joint Conference on Social Work Education and Social Development (SWESD) held on October 26 to 28, 2022, in Seoul, South Korea. The theme of SWESD 2022 is “Redefining Social Policy and social work Practice in a Post-Pandemic Society: Social Welfare Programs and social work Education at a Crossroads”, hosted by the International Council on Social Welfare and International Association of Schools of Social Work.
Assistant Professors Hazel Cometa-Lamberte, Suzanne Nazal, Florence Pasos, and Glennie Marie Sina-on discussed the challenges and lessons faced by social workers during the onsite symposium. The findings were based on 16 stories contributed by social work practitioners from various setting all over the country.
In particular, the study revealed the true cost of inequality in which poor communities which lack health and social services, are those which experienced the worse impact of COVID-19. The presentation also undescored the importance of ICT in case management and engaging with clients and communities, as well as the need for the profession to optimize the use of ICT in innovative and creative practice. It also emphasized the social workers’ important role as frontliners in COVID-19 response, together with other helping professionals. Caring for social workers’ physical and emotional well-being is essential for the growth of the profession. The presenters posed a challenge on the preparedness of the Social Work Profession to develop the necessary tools, practice models, and policy changes moving into a postcovid-19 world.
Associate Professor Justin Francis Leon V. Nicolas, PhD, made an online presentation on “Remote Community Organizing Strategies during the Pandemic: Introducing Change through Model-Building”. He highlighted how the pandemic has opened opportunities for social workers to explore innovative strategies in working with communities. The book, “Remaking Social Work for the New Global Era”, was also launched during the conference. Dr. Nicolas contributed a chapter, titled, “Knowledge Creation in Social Work During the Time of COVID-19”. Edited by Ngoh Tiong Tan, P.K. Shajahan, the book features global perspectives on the future of Social Work.
Asst. Professors Hazel Cometa-Lamberte, Glennie Marie Sina-on, and Diadem Rose Camba-Jontarciego of Iloilo Doctors College, presented their paper in the oral presentation category entitled “An Exploratory Study on the Challenges Encountered and Strategies Employed by the Philippine Child Caring Agencies Amidst COVID-19: Social Work Administration in the New Normal”. The team presented the challenges encountered and strategies employed in managing and operating the residential care facilities for children in the Philippines during the height of COVID-19 pandemic. The results showed implications for the conduct of social work administration and the delivery of social welfare and services in residential settings.
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.
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