Statement of the Social Work Action Network Philippines: “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.…/PhilASIN-salt-import…
CNN Philippines Staff (2023). PH to import 21,060 MT of onions, fewer than earlier eyed.…/PH-to-import-21-060…
Lagare, J.B., Ramos, M., & Gascon, M. (2023). Loses driving onion farmers to desperation.…/losses-driving-onion…

Mendoza, T. (2022). Importing 200,000 tons of sugar: Making life bitter for 3M Filipinos.…/importing-200000-tons-of…

Palatino, M. (2023). How the Onion Became the Symbol of Inflation in the Philippines.…/how-the-onion-became-the…/

Rivera, D. (2023). 450,000 MT of sugar eyed for importation.…/450000-mt-sugar-eyed…

Royandoyan, R. (2023). Import plan to hurt local onion farmers-analyst.…/import-plan-hurt-local-onion…

January 30, 2023

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.



Rappler, 2017). TIMELINE: How the Marcoses made their political comeback.

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


June 1, 2022