At Large

‘No one left behind’


“Let no one be left behind” is a slogan adopted by the Department of Social Welfare and Development to stress the goal of its social protection programs: that no Filipino is left by the wayside as the country pursues development.

To achieve the goal of meeting the needs of the poorest and hardest-to-reach Filipinos, the department has adopted a “convergence strategy” to harmonize its three main social protection programs. Called “Tatsulo,” a play on the Tagalog word for triangle (“tatsulok”) and for torch (“sulo”), the strategy coordinates and integrates the different phases of the 4Ps, the Kalahi-CIDSS and the Sustainable Livelihood Program.

The 4Ps, for Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program, reaches out to the poorest families in identified municipalities with children (or a pregnant woman), and provides cash grants to these families on condition that they meet certain health and education requirements. Kalahi-CIDSS harnesses the power of the community in planning and implementing projects, making sure that the people have a voice in identifying their needs and managing the programs that answer those needs. The Sustainable Livelihood Program “aims to develop the entrepreneurial and socioeconomic skills of the poor by providing them with income-generating opportunities (or secure employment) to improve their way of life.”

“Tatsulo” is seen as a continuum of efforts to see that the poorest families move from a situation of dependence on government support (4Ps), to one of working with other members of the community to provide for their basic needs (Kalahi-CIDSS), and thence to moving out of poverty by finding a means of income (Sustainable Livelihood).

* * *

True to its name, “Pantawid Pamilya” is a “bridging” program, providing poor families with a temporary buffer at the most vulnerable times of their lives—while the woman is of childbearing age and the children are of school age. The monthly cash grants (a maximum of P1,400 for a family with three children) are meant to ensure that women and children meet their most basic health and educational needs.

At the end of five years, it is expected that the families—with healthy and educated children—would then be able to stand on their own and rely on their own resources. And as discussed in yesterday’s column, this early, teachers and school administrators attest to the effectiveness of the 4Ps in getting children to attend school regularly and stay in school until they finish elementary and high school.

To see for ourselves how the Kalahi-CIDSS program works, we traveled to Purok Mangga in Barangay Dagohoy, in the municipality of Talaingod in Davao del Norte. Talaingod is also known as the “Tribal Capital of Davao del Norte,” with around 75 percent of its residents belonging to the Ata-Manobo community. In Purok Mangga, the community had decided to give priority to building new tribal housing, with 28 new structures completed, together with one modern toilet for every five houses.

At the same time, they decided to augment their income by engaging in the planting of banana and rubber plants, plus an herbal garden beside the communal meeting house. The community members proudly discussed how they got together and divided the labor between themselves.

* * *

In Purok Mangga, we visited with Susan Espeleta, 23, the mother of four children who shyly admitted that she had her first child with her farmer-husband when she was 15. A 4Ps beneficiary, she admitted that her “biggest dream” was to send all of her children to school.

“What dreams do you have for yourself?” I asked her. The question seemed to puzzle her, and she smiled shyly, showing two lovely dimples. But a glance around the walls of her simple hut showed a glimpse of the dreams lurking in her heart. Pinned to one wall was a poster of a couple arrayed in wedding finery. On the other wall was the source of that poster: a write-up in a newspaper’s “society” page about a socially prominent wedding, with a smaller version of the bride and groom’s photo.

I wondered at the simplicity of Susan’s dreams: a “white wedding,” a portrait of wedded bliss. And yet, how distant it seemed from her immediate reality in that dark hut fashioned from sawali, where her young children clustered around her, clutching at her knees.

Later that afternoon, we dropped by the Sto. Niño Elementary School in Talaingod, where the principal, engineer Jose Figuracion, proudly declared that since the start of the 4Ps three years ago, “our dropout rate is now 0, compared to 5 percent before then.”

We visited with a Grade 6 class where about two-thirds of the students are 4Ps beneficiaries. I asked how many of them wanted to move on to high school, and nearly everyone raised his or her hand. But when I asked how many expected to move on to college, they looked back with blank faces. “Don’t stop dreaming,” we said as we exited the classroom. “Who knows, some of you might even be able to graduate from college.”

* * *

Last year, I was invited by Social Welfare Secretary Dinky Soliman to be part of the Multisectoral Governance Coalition (MSGC), composed of representatives of other government agencies, nongovernment organizations, professional associations and the media who were supposed to serve, in the words of DSWD Planning and Development Bureau Chief Lynnette Bautista, as a “third eye” to help observe, critique and better implement the projects undertaken by the department.

The field trip to Davao del Norte was the first undertaken by members of the MSGC, and during the final discussion, we all agreed that we had learned more than we had bargained for, and indeed, had seen with our own eyes poor communities in the midst of transformation.

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Tags: featured column , Government , Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino , Poverty , social welfare programs , Tatsulo

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