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This is not a public affairs program

With the recent failure of an assistance program from DSWD, the glaring incompetence of the department is underscored.

Earlier this month, Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) Sec. Erwin Tulfo proudly announced that  Education Assistance would be distributed to indigent Filipinos. The plan was looked forward to by many, seeing that Tulfo actually had a sense of urgency in him. It seemed that he was trying to ease the burden of inflation among Filipinos, especially students. The intention was definitely good, especially now that students are slowly going back to in-person classes.

Last August 20—only two days after the program was announced—the distribution of the cash aid pushed through. While Tulfo mentioned that it would be better for those who need such assistance to first make an appointment via email, many opted to walk in. Seeing this from a civilian’s perspective, this approach was understandable considering the great need to avail of such benefits.

However, it seems that the DSWD centers around the country did not expect a huge influx of people wanting to avail of the assistance. It seems as if Tulfo’s plan was only a quick fix for an ever-looming problem—just like every episode of his previous TV stint. This resulted in thousands of people crowded in front of their offices, with 29 reported to be injured in a stampede in Zamboanga. This seems very reminiscent of when the government offered cash distribution programs during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic. They, too, were unprepared for the number of people who would come knocking on their doors, as if they expected that people in dire need would forgo this opportunity to be helped.

What’s worse was that when the department’s Metro Manila office issued a statement on the callous treatment of beneficiaries, they pointed fingers at the crowd, stating their non-compliance to health and safety protocols as the reason for the halt of cash distributions. What seemed like one of the priorities of the expected queue of beneficiaries seemed like an afterthought. But it was too late. The crowd became too overwhelming to control. The DSWD secretary finally realized that what he was handling was bigger than what he was used to. In interviews following the event, Tulfo stated that the local government units (LGUs) will handle the next cash assistance distributions in partnership with DSWD. If these were thought of early, the distribution would have been easier, and queuing would be less uncomfortable and would have prevented all of the problems encountered during its first run. Now, not only did plenty of beneficiaries go home empty-handed, they were also exposed to potential threats of catching COVID-19.

It’s concerning how an issue like this happened despite DSWD having previous experience in larger scale aid distributions under the Assistance for Individual in Crisis Situation where aid was previously distributed through LGUs. Beyond that fact, the country has already found some plausible solutions to lessen contact and long queues for programs like this. Throughout the pandemic, LGUs have determined innovative ways to reach those in  need, such as electronic distribution. Maybe they should have learned from that and adopted such a system. Moreover, it is also important to address the issue of the lack of communication regarding the program. While guidelines about it were posted, not many beneficiaries were able to fully understand how the distribution works and what it was for. Hence, they just went to their respective DSWD centers to see if they had any luck with getting assistance. Anyone in need would definitely do whatever it takes to get their ayuda just to get by—and this is supposedly common sense. Who in their right mind would think that those who need help would rather remain burdened?

While Tulfo admits that the whole fiasco was a case of miscommunication and lack of planning, it is highly expected of him to be accountable for what had happened. After all, this is not just a public affairs program where he could haphazardly issue a statement for a surface-level understanding of accountability; it’s a national issue. They—Tulfo and DSWD—need to ensure that they fulfill their promise to distribute aid through LGUs, that the assistance will not be given to those who do not need it, and that the Filipino people will get help when they need it. There are no trial runs for these things; there are no dry runs in the era of a national crisis.

There is a glaring, overwhelming need for help for a great number of Filipinos. Yet somehow, all those seated ever do is oversensationalize their bare minimum acts to downplay the worries and cries of our people. Let’s not let the people suffer again; let’s hold those in power accountable and help lessen the spread of misinformation and miscommunication so that situations like this never happen again. These problems can be eradicated if we learn to be more compassionate and understanding of the people’s struggles. Let’s help each other out.

By The LaSallian

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