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‘Special’ children of the 4Ps

/ 07:58 PM February 27, 2012

The schoolhouse in Barangay Cogon in the Island Garden City of Samal sits at the end of a dirt path leading from the community basketball court and barangay center. Dropping by one of the classrooms, we find students seated on the wooden desks, clean and bright-faced even if they are dressed in faded clothes, their feet shod in worn-out rubber slippers.

When we meet the school principal, Antonio Arcega, we ask him what the impact has been on his school and students of the “Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program” or “4Ps” administered by the Department of Social Welfare and Development. “Oh, the school has improved a lot,” he exclaims with hardly any prodding. “We find the child beneficiaries attending classes daily and their school work has improved.” Before the 4Ps came into effect, he adds, the children from the poorest families were frequently absent, and when asked why they missed school, they would invariably reply that it was because they had nothing to eat for breakfast. But ever since the program was established, said Arcega, the children are noticeably healthier and better fed and thus are able to go to school regularly. Of the 600 or so students in Cogon Elementary School, more than 200 belong to families receiving cash grants under the 4Ps, said Arcega, spread out among the different grades from pre-school to Grade 6. Indeed, notes the school principal, in Cogon, the 4Ps children are seen as “special,” being government “scholars.”

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Under the 4Ps, families classified as poor based on the National Household Targeting System, and with a pregnant woman or a child (or up to three children) from 0-14 years old, receive monthly cash grants of P500 and P300 per child provided each child goes to day-care or is enrolled in school and attends at least 85 percent of school days. A pregnant woman also commits to seek pre- and post-natal care, while the children are supposed to go for regular checkups and vaccinations in government health centers and for de-worming twice a year. In addition, parent-beneficiaries commit to attend “family development sessions” where they discuss matters ranging from childcare to family planning, gender-fair parenthood to financial management.

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And if we go by Arcega’s observation, it seems that the parent-beneficiaries have been putting the cash grants to good use: to buying more and better food for their families and ensuring their children’s health. Arcega even notes that with the money, the children have been able to buy school supplies that help them with school work.

“This will not last all our lives,” avers Yvonne, one of the mothers attending a family development session going on in the school. “We know the time will come when we have to fend for ourselves,” she said, speaking in Bisaya. “But we are using this time to prepare ourselves and our family.” Although a father, talking of the support provided by the 4Ps, quips that “I wish this would last forever.”

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Also during the FDS, Nimfa stands up to complain that her family was stricken off the list of beneficiaries, leaving her, a single parent, helpless to educate her three young children.

A local social worker explains that Nimfa’s troubles stem from the fact that her children all bear different surnames, so that per DSWD records, “they do not belong to the same family.” At once, Esther Vergara, the Region XI director for DSWD, approaches Nimfa and asks for copies of her children’s birth certificates, promising to clarify matters with the head office.

But beneficiaries or observers don’t have to wait for DSWD officials to visit before they can air their complaints or report anomalies. There is a grievance process, DSWD officials informed us, and the public can simply fill out a form and submit it to the local social worker.

Of the 200 or so 4Ps beneficiaries in the school, there have been only two drop-outs, Arcega informs us. One, a child in Grade 3, simply stopped going to school. His mother even came to the school in tears, complaining that she could not talk her son into coming back to school because he had fallen in with a gang of older youths, even if an older brother in Grade 6 was still going to school regularly.

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The other drop-out was already in Grade 6 and would have been graduating this March but he stopped attending classes in January. The boy, it turns out, belongs to a large family of eight and had chosen to engage instead in domestic work.

Again, the social workers say they will double their efforts to talk to both boys, especially the drop-out from Grade 6 because, warned Vergara, “once he starts earning his own income, it will be very hard to convince him to continue with his education.”

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It isn’t only because the two boys were 4Ps beneficiaries that the teachers and administrators were aware of their situation and concerned about their decision to stop schooling, clarifies Arcega.

“As teachers and administrators, it is our duty to look after every child,” he says. “We try to keep track of every child’s school performance and want each one to do well.”

Because of the 4Ps, the DSWD has had to hire a new complement of researchers, enumerators, coordinators and FSD [?] leaders to see to it that the billions being spent on the program, which seeks to reach a total of three million households by the end of this year, are spent wisely. But the department also relies on other allies, especially from the local governments, the health department and the education department, to fulfill the potential of the 4Ps.

The public is also an ally, not just in reporting anomalies and keeping watch on how the money is spent, but also in communicating how the program works and how it could transform the lives of the poor.

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