Toying with fragile lives

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Ben D. Kritz

Ben D. Kritz

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.

* * *

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.

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12 Comments

  1. ..maybe Tony has selective eye amnesia..he forgets some words he reads & remembers only what he chooses to remember…I’m apolitical initially but when Pnoy began defending the PDAF, I changed my mind, I can’t stand such stupidity, now this ineptitude & finger-pointing..of course I would not also be happy if he falls because another guy with pachydermal skin would take over…do we deserve the kind of presidency that we have now? No, to some of us who never rooted for him, we don’t deserve this presidency…

  2. vladi celestine on

    Mr Tony
    Huag kang padala ng emosyon mo. Ilang beses ng na bypass di Soliman.Nakalimutan mo ba na sya ang nag advice kay GMA na magsorry sa public Then after that ina bandon nys ito. Yan ang true character ni Soliman. I am not pro GMA.

  3. It is good to read one’s sentiments specially when verbalized by another in black and white. I have long disliked this DSWD secretary way back when she was already part of the Hyatt 10, including Abad, Deles, Purisima, etc. The more I hated them and her in particular when they started sucking up to Pnoy during the campaign, till they got their present appointments. You are correct in saying that Pnoy puts too much weight on loyalty. Never mind that this lady is obviously inept and even has a possible graft case (peace bonds) being swept under the rug for now. I look forward to the day when cases are filed against her and her accomplices. But going back to the DSWD as an important lead agency in times of disaster which we are so prone to yet so incapable of handling year after year, she clearly does not exhibit the true mark of a good leader when her own dept. and people have not espoused the values needed in public service. Her leadership in that dept. does not inspire them to move to action and with compassion. Maybe I am generalizing too much the people in DSWD but until they show true and sincere service, decency in handling donated relief goods and moving fast enough to save lives, they will continue to remain as an instrument for political patronage by a sitting Pres. (CCT dole out) and his allies.

  4. louie de la cruz on

    I am now a permanent resident of Australia and my family. I have seen here in television news how the politicians and volunteer workers help the community and people affected by flooding or fire. They are well organized from military, police, firefighters, first aid worker’s plus volunteers. In the philippines, it will start from media publicity gimmick to benifit or make a very good profit of their papers or other forms of media. It means disorganized. The government should start now reorganizing these departments from military, police, firefighter, first aid worker’s, volunteers and among others. They should review their mistakes from these aftermath. They should have rigorous training in their respective duty and it must not politicized. Soliman is a failure from politics but she is trying to prove in public that she is capable of doing her job which is not. If she is a shameful person right now she should resign. As what will other say por delicadeza senora Soliman. That’s all I can say. May god have mercy on her. God bless philippines.

  5. President Aquino should fire Dinky Soliman! What in the hell are those people in charge thinking? I think Dinky is idiot if not stupid! Who care if she’s the friend or political ally of Aquino. President Aquino is to be blamed for the inefficiency of all government officials in charge of emergency relief. What a shame!

  6. Let Dinky the traitor work her fat ass off then haul her to jail for corruption later. Share the cell with her idol BSAquino and Mar Roxas. Bagay sila, barkada.

  7. Mr. Kritz, your article on “Ronz” is so typical of the Filipino culture of CHISMIS. If “Ronz” has valid complaints, then she and perhaps with your assistance are better off notifying the appropriate agency(agencies) instead of resorting to CHISMIS. It is no different than if I contracted a media writer/reporter and said media person put out a story and accused you of molesting an underaged girl, but you could not verify the story because the accuser was cloaked behind media anonymity. That is not journalism. I do not endorse any political party in the Phils; in fact I despise every single one of them. But if you are to continue practicing what you perceive to be journalism, I suggest you brush up on your journalistic etiquette.

    • Tony, with all due respect po, paki-basa po ulit yung article, baka hindi nyo po naintindihan ng mabuti at nagpadala kayo agad sa inyong emosyon. Kung susuriin nyo po ang sabi po ni Ronz ay “I was there”. Si Ronz po ay isang volunteer. Yung nakita po nya yung pangyayari ay CHISMIS pa po ba yun? Sa sistema po ng Pilipinas, kung nag-file po sya ng complaint sa agency mismo, tingin nyo po ba may papansin sa kanya doon?

    • The testimony of Ronz is verified by other first-hand testimonies of other DSWD volunteers and even media practitioners who witnessed the same inefficient and incompetent handling of relief goods at Mactan Airbase. Oh, they raised a howl over it and notified your “appropriate gov’t agency” (DSWD-7) which merely echoed the official statement of Sec.Dinky that all is well and those complaining are only making CHISMIS. Mmm, sounds familiar.

    • mawalang galang na po. pero ptang ina ninyo po. anong problema mo kung gusto nila ilahad sa facebook yung mga hinaing nila? sa tingin mo ba papansinin sila ng DSWD kung sa kanila mismo sila maghihinaing?
      andyan na yung mga pictures nakakalat makikita mo nakatambak lang yung mga food na ipamimigay pero nagbubulag bulagan ka pa din.

    • report to appropriate agency?

      which agency under Pnoy is functioning appropriately?

      pls list them down here so people would know!