Poverty cannot be whitewashed

By Buddy Gomez

Posted at Jan 28 2015 05:57 PM | Updated as of Jan 29 2015 01:57 AM

Social Welfare Secretary Corazon ‘Dinky’ Juliano-Soliman could not have primed for better timing the Department of Social Welfare and Development’s (DSWD) out-of-town training camp/familiarization/indoctrination for Manila’s poorest of the poor during Pope Francis’ pastoral/state visit. There was nothing clandestine about the exercise. And now we know that the exercise has been done before without notice and fanfare simply because of the absence of a major event to connect it to.

I can admiringly suspect that the timing was intentional (although I do not think so), this time calculated to be noticed and thus bring to fore once again the virtues of the Aquino administration’s Modified Conditional Cash Transfer Program (MCCTP), also known as Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program. Much envied, often misunderstood and underappreciated, the CCT program needed re-airing, enlightened understanding and an expansion of its forum and support.

Dinky, you are getting there! But be kind, just let the rabble rousing, ‘epal-seeking,’ envious and bellyaching malcontents enjoy their ‘panandaliang sarap’ (fleeting ecstacy!) of being quoted by media, and in fact, some of those in media itself! Congressional inquiry? I personally believe it to be a waste of time and another distraction but should it come, take it on as an opportunity to educate the malicious doubters and as an apt megaphone for the more relevant constituency outside the halls of Congress.

The fact is, Conditional Cash Transfer initiatives, worldwide, are genuinely beneficial and furthermore, could be better. That our CCT as a national government program is now qualified as “Modified” is indicative that under Dinky’s leadership, the program is being tweaked for betterment.

It is relevant to recall that the modest beginnings of the CCT program was during the past administration. The Aquino administration has never been shy about acknowledging its conception as a project under Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and that realizing its value, Aquino adapted, continued and expanded it despite criticism from some Congressional nooks and cranies.

The Conditional Cash Transfer program is not native to the Philippines. There are at least 15 countries, many of which are in Latin America (Christian, Muslim and Buddhist worldwide), that undertake initiatives using this concept. Would you believe that even New York City launched one such undertaking, albeit privately funded. The CCT program is aimed at poverty alleviation/reduction--cash being ‘transferred’ (handed out) on condition that the qualified indigent recipient complies with the exchange commitment of schooling for the children and regular medical attention. Such is the norm. In other words, money in exchange for child health, education, growth and development. (I think the coverage still involves per qualified family--P6,000 annually plus P3,000 per child-0 to 14 yrs. old--maximum of 3 children per family.)

The super sensitivity of handling cash, especially in a larceny-laced society such as the Philippines, cannot be overemphasized. It therefore behooves the personal background and character of Madame Secretary Soliman to be always aware, as indeed she is, that the successful beneficence of CCT will always be anchored upon an openly declared and practiced accountability and transparency. Dinky, a civil society activist before joining government, possessing excellent academic credentials and extensive professional experiences, has her heart in the right place. Not necessarily bleeding but it pulsates for the poor. She is honest and trustworthy. And certainly can use public sympathy and support for her Department’s initiatives.

If there is nothing to hide, there is nothing to fear. Nothing to fear, nothing to hide. The DSWD need not wait for the passage of the Freedom of Information legislation. It must launch its own--FTI, Freedom to Inform. The most facile and effective is a website (with public participation/response capabilities) where accountability and transparency are on daily display. And because there is nothing ever perfect among us homo sapiens--and therefore there will always be kleptomaniacal proclivities, anomalies or attempts at it--vigilance, summary and judicious disciplinary action must always be upfront and meted wherever and whenever incurred. In this regard, a departure from being too Filipino (ma-awain, mapag-bigay, madaling makalimot) is called for. How about an internal name and shame made public, just in case?

There is an alluring feature of the MCCTP that is worth exploring, if I may, because it presents what I will call a socio-political “cathechism” opportunity. In DSWD jargon, it is known as FDS (Family Development Sessions). Regular attendance in such sessions is a requirement for beneficiaries (mostly women/mothers). FDS is designed to inculcate (as in catechetical instructions) knowledge, skills and values of good and upright parenthood. So, why not include that of citizenhood, as well? The session leaders/lecturers are social workers, volunteers and resource persons. Maybe the most prominent and vociferous of the CCTs and Secretary Soliman’s critics and detractors ought to be invited to volunteer, participate and speak before these sessions. Coming face-to-face with poverty will be edifying!

FDS is an opportunity to have grateful and captive audiences representing five million families! Such is the CCT flock’s reach and magnitude! Grassroots civics and enlightened values of electoral selection are reasonable subject matters that ought to be taken up especially because the prevalence of seemingly unconquerable poverty is influenced by the malfeasance and misfeasance of those who are stupidly victorious by virtue of electoral choices cast by the masses to which the CCT beneficiaries belong. The poor must be made to realize and be taught not to be “used,” wittingly or not, by the politicians they presently idolize.

These beneficiaries, belonging to the voting social class “E” derisively called “bobotantes” (the undiscerning, glitz-oriented, much given to entertainment world idolatry and the naturally prone vote-buying electorate), along with class “D,” exemplify the country’s misdistribution of vote-count power that directly contributes to a deleteriously skewed voting polity.

FDS presents an auspicious and advantageous tool for democratic upliftment and enlightenment, emphatically on electoral terms, which after all is a continuing but unacted upon, and therefore unsatisfied, clamor commonly aired by the middle class. Participating in and supporting the country’s Modified Conditional Cash Transfer Program and its FDS is an opportunity for the concerned middle class to put its money where its mouth is! FDS ought to be utilized to spread the ‘anti-trapo, anti-epal, pro-enlightened/better electoral choice doctrine’ that enables a more reasonable and effective foundation for poverty alleviation to succeed at a faster tempo.

MCCTP/FDS is an opportunity, worthy of a major good citizenship advocacy that will attempt to convert its flock to become apostles of an enlightened grassroots democracy in exchange for helpful cash beneficence. The Family Development Session element of CCT is indeed a tool for mass nonpartisan political edification. It must also be utilized as such.

If your heart is in the right place (and nobody will admit otherwise)--just remember that in many Biblical instances, as well as in social and economic legislation, there is that constant moral exhortation “The poor will always be with you…,” and ……”help the needy.” “Remember the poor,” said Pope Francis. Helping the poor is truly self-help. For everybody and the nation, too.

Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.