Aid chaos

It shouldn’t be just a chastened Social Welfare Secretary Erwin Tulfo who gets shell-shocked from the crushing brutal realities of poverty in this country. Everybody gets a wallop on the head.

More than anything else, last weekend’s chaotic distribution of cash aid for indigent students is but the latest grim, primal reminder of the desperation and degradation more and more Filipinos living in hard times are finding themselves in.

Not fully grasping that raw brutal fact we have just recently witnessed means we essentially are blind to our present social realities.

It also speaks volumes of how everybody in government — from the president, vice president, Cabinet members, senators, congressmen, mayors, and any other government functionary — have not fully grasped how serious poverty is.

Label with whatever spite you can heap on those responsible on what had just happened — failure of imagination, failure of management, failure of planning, lack of staff work, incompetence, and arrogance.

But the true failure here is the inability to see that the cruel sufferings and hardships of many people have gone from bad to worse.

Because if tackling poverty wasn’t just a bunch of lazy, smooth-talking platitudes, we won’t have to read, in outrage and disgust, such a raw sentence in a news report, “the Department of Social Welfare and Development did not expect that Filipinos would come in droves to their offices on Saturday.”

Surprise should have been the last thing to expect if the true extent of poverty had been taken to heart. Yet, surprise there was.

Restating the facts, at the DSWD’s main office, news reports indicate parents started falling in line at 7 p.m. on Friday — with some reportedly lining as early as Friday afternoon — after the DSWD recently announced it would be splashing cash assistance in the weekend.

If anything, that early line-up should have given ample warnings to DSWD officials that their assumptions about the following day’s crowd had turned tricky. Yet, it did seem they pretended nothing was happening.

Thereafter, it was all downhill, their enthusiasm and ebullience of giving aid to the poor markedly souring as the day progressed.

By 7 a.m. Saturday, it was too late to do anything. A crush of people was already at the gates, with some threatening to storm offices.

The situation forced officials to cut off the line, close the gates of its offices and call in riot police.

Thousands ended up being sent home by the DSWD, empty-handed and frustrated over not getting assistance, which in this case meant P1,000 each for elementary students, P2,000 for high school students, P3,000 for senior high school students, and P4,000 for college students.

Much the same thing roiled other parts of the country.

In Koronadal City, hundreds queued in the wee morning hours outside a local DSWD office. There, people jostled and shoved each other as soon as the office opened.

In the southern city of Zamboanga, about 5,000 people milled around a high school where cash aid was to be given out. Patience soon broke down leading to a stampede just as the gates were about to open.

Twenty-nine people later on were treated in hospital for “minor injuries.”

Swarms of miserable people are but the most graphic picture of the mess — there were others, like mixed messages on what documents mattered at distribution sites — but it is enough.

To cut its losses, the DSWD says it will now seek the help of local governments for orderly distribution of cash aid.

That in itself is an altogether another brutal reality in the mechanics of aiding the poor.

Despite the participation of LGUs, Mr. Tulfo stresses only social workers will manage the distribution of the cash to ensure only qualified students receive aid.

Tulfo says the DSWD was made in charge of the aid distribution so as not to repeat the alleged selective distribution of the Social Amelioration Program at the barangay level during the previous administration.

That past instance of giving aid bring us to another point about the poor and government: As long as the real poor Filipinos are not in the heart of government aid efforts, we won’t get anywhere near helping them nor assuaging their miseries.


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