Has it not occurred to President Aquino that there may be a very good reason Social Welfare and Development Secretary Corazon “Dinky” Soliman has been “bypassed” no fewer than three times by the Commission on Appointments? That’s a rhetorical question, of course. President B.S. Aquino 3rd is the epitome of “loyal to a fault,” and his erstwhile Social Welfare and Development secretary is likewise the epitome of “fault.”
Ironically, one of the very few legislative measures co-authored by Aquino during his brief and unremarkable career as a senator was the “Appointee Ineligibility Act of 2007” (Senate Bill 1719), which would have largely eliminated the then-criticized (because Gloria Arroyo was doing it) practice of retaining Cabinet members in spite of a lack of approval by the Commission on Appointments. Had that measure passed, or alternately, if the President had some grasp of and respect for ethical consistency, the country would have been spared the post-calamity disaster of Soliman’s management of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD).
Soliman and the DSWD have come under public scrutiny before, with accusations of slow, inefficient distribution of relief goods, pilferage and waste having become routine in the wake of calamities like Typhoons Sendong and Pablo, and last month’s Bohol earthquake.
In the aftermath of Super Typhoon Yolanda, however, the revelations of just how ham-fisted the management of what is probably the most important government agency in times of disaster is under Soliman’s direction indicate a problem that cannot be deferred “until things are back to normal.”
On Wednesday, I had a brief conversation with “Ronz,” a relief volunteer from Southern Leyte (who asked me to use only her nickname), who provided a distressing narrative, complete with photos, of DSWD’s activities in Tacloban. Here are some of her observations (she also suggested I might edit them a bit for the sake of clarity, so the following differs slightly from her post that was widely shared on Facebook):
“As you can see in the photos, relief [goods]are abundant. Every hour, international and local relief arrives at the warehouse. A number of volunteers come to help. And, a number of survivors walked [from]as far as Jaro, Leyte, to the warehouse, trying to get relief goods directly. Dear DSWD, I saw you. We saw you. I have seen the central and regional offices’ staffs. Secretary Dinky Soliman is even there. . . . It breaks my heart seeing bottled waters outside the warehouse spread like garbage, rice grains scattered like no one cares, relief boxes literally being dumped by trucks without thinking that whatever inside might be damaged, relief outside the warehouse soaked by the rains, and your DSWD staff at the warehouse spending your day talking/chatting/sitting while there are a lot of things that need to be done ASAP.
“I do not understand why you do not augment your standard, if that is your standard, that every relief family pack contains only three kilos of rice, when I have seen there are already a thousand bags of rice and more are coming! I do not know why you do not have enough plastic bags when I think you already know that it is a vital requirement for the packing! I do not even understand why you have that ‘Food for Work’ program, if that is a program, where you let the affected people, particularly children, pack a certain quota of relief goods in exchange for relief packs, when all this relief is forwarded to your office for free! It should be given for free without conditions!”
This is not the only criticism leveled at the DSWD, and the criticism is not much different from that which was directed at the agency and its hapless leader after every large-scale disaster the country has suffered in the past three years: Despite an abundance of material resources and eager volunteers, relief efforts are characterized by a lack of urgency, poor coordination and preparation, and relief goods, when they are finally doled out, are minimal. The “three kilos” story was also reported by several newspapers in Mindanao, and is significantly less than what was claimed to be the “average” contents of a family relief pack in an infographic published online by the Palace Communications Group last week (the infographic can be viewed at http://www.gov.ph/2013/11/12/average-contents-of-a-dswd-family-food-pack/).
And to even suggest that people, even children, who have just been through a disaster ought to work in exchange for basic humanitarian relief is not just insensitive, it is immoral and inhumane. And as far as the children are concerned, most likely a violation of not only this country’s laws, but also a number of international prohibitions against child labor to which the Philippines is a signatory.
Not only is the DSWD the lead agency in the short-term relief effort, the agency will be a critical component of the longer-term recovery of livelihoods and the social fabric of the affected areas. The country needs that agency to be effective, efficient and swift; it is none of those things now under Dinky Soliman’s direction. Regardless of her motivations, regardless of the good intentions we assume she has, the results produced by her DSWD have in the aftermath of Yolanda as well as in previous calamities been completely unacceptable. By making the unsound choice to adhere to political loyalty rather than a sense of mission and responsibility, President Aquino is toying with lives at their most fragile every moment he continues to uphold Dinky Soliman in a role she is, regardless of her motivations or good intentions, clearly incapable of filling.
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And to round out our week of thanking local businesses who generously contributed to Yolanda relief efforts, we’d like to acknowledge the efforts of Airlift Asia Inc.; Bronuts (which are really good, by the way), available weekends at Baker’s Dozen in the Power Plant Mall, Rockwell; Excelmed Generics Drugstore, Felix de Leon Street, Tondo, Manila; Earth Kitchen, located at Lot 10-B-10, White Plains (Katipunan Avenue), Quezon City; Café by the Ruins, 23 Chuntug Street, Baguio City; and Yabu House of Katsu, with branches at SM Megamall, SM North Edsa, Robinsons Magnolia, SM Mall of Asia, SM Southmall, SM Aura Premier and the Alabang Town Center.