SHE arrived at her new office last July 1 riding shotgun in a beat up and borrowed white pick-up truck, alighting in a hurry and forgetting to take her shoulder bag with her. She ran after the vehicle, laughing at herself, perhaps belatedly realizing it was the day she becomes a cabinet secretary and hundreds of colleagues were watching her. Her predecessor stood at the lobby, waiting with her trademark clip-on hair highlight, probably wondering what kind of a department chief her successor would make, displaying what could only be described as an unorthodox start to her new job.
Ten months into her new career, social work and development secretary Judy Taguiwalo still cringes at the perks and privileges showered her as she moves about the rarefied corridors of power. “Hindi ko na pwedeng bitbitin ang malaking bag ko at hindi ko na mapindot ang elevator buttons because people would insist they do it for me. Naging cabinet secretary lang, parang person with disability na bigla,” she says.
“Look at this space,” gesturing at her expansive office. “It is wasteful. So I asked one of my assistant secretaries to move in. Malungkot ang mag-isa rito at nagbabasa ng mga report ng disaster at kahirapan ng maraming mamamayan,” she said.
Behind a door near her desk is her office’s private pantry. On its floor were baskets and bags of donations and gifts from new admirers and supporters. She disappeared in it and emerged with two small bottles of sardines and tells her staff, “Ito ang pagsaluhan sa lunch.” She explained, “Tira pa iyan noong Pasko. Daming nagbigay. May five star hotel vouchers, Metro Manila Film Festival tickets, pagkain. Ipinamigay ko ‘yung mga pagkain sa community at sa staff at kaibigan yung tickets at vouchers.”
She is not so different out on the field, her staff said. She walks muddy paths to remote communities, gently shooing away those bringing her umbrellas to shield her from the relentless sun. She sits at poor people’s kitchens to talk to them and listen to their plaints first hand. At a forum with persons with disabilities, she stays behind so she could talk to every participant who wanted a chat. She is sometimes impatient with staff who take time bringing her papers she asked, but she is unwearied when she talks to common folk.
What most people know about the DSWD now is its prompt response to disasters and pleas for assistance. Relief goods packed in cartons arrive immediately after typhoons and earthquakes, with corned beef, noodles, sardines, soap and rice fit for human consumption. This efficiency can still be sabotaged by unscrupulous local politicians, but no one is now saying rotten items are still being distributed. Moreover, DSWD’s prompt response to the disaster brought about by Supertyphoon Lawin did not require the country begging for foreign aid and assistance as had been trademarked in the past.
In a blink of an eye, the agency that symbolized criminal neglect and inefficiency under past governments is resurrected in the people’s esteem, dearest of all agencies under Rodrigo Duterte’s reign.
Even her department colleagues are reinvigorated. “Ang Social Welfare Employees Association of the Philippines ay never naging pro-management. Ngayon pa lang kami nananawagan ng confirmation ng aming secretary,” its president Manuel Baclagon said yesterday at a forum for Taguiwalo’s confirmation, along with Agrarian Reform secretary Rafael Mariano and Environment and Natural Resources secretary Regina Paz Lopez. “Sa 20 years ko sa serbisyo, dating puro ka-plastikan, puro showcase lang ang programs ng departamento. Pero kay Sec. Judy, ang correct attitude sa paglilingkod sa sambayanan , tunay na malasakit, pantay na pagtrato, tapat na serbisyo, nangyayari ‘yan. Kitang-kita naman ‘yan sa Luisita, sa Lumad, sa Pandi,” Baclagon said.
MC9 and pork barrel
Ten months is a short time for one who really wants to institute reforms in a government line agency. But it had been enough time for at least one controversy.
Scarcely four weeks as secretary, Taguiwalo issued Memorandum Circular 9 last August 6. MC9 reminded DSWD employees that so-called guarantee letters from congressmen is not a requisite in the identification of beneficiaries. It also ordered the entire agency to act on requests from intended beneficiaries even without a letter from lawmakers.
For such a bold move at trying to stop the practice of making the DSWD the congressmen’s pork barrel, the agency was threatened with budget cuts to make it helpless; for such audacity, the circular’s signatory may not be confirmed by the Commission on Appointment at the Senate today.
But Taguiwalo herself is not too fazed over what her supporters are so worried about: her confirmation by the same kind of people she challenged with a simple memorandum. At yesterday’s forum, she said what is important to her is the affirmation from fellow social workers, public school teachers, single parents, persons with disabilities and activist comrades.
Many want Taguiwalo’s service as social welfare and development secretary extended with her confirmation. What she has shown in 10 months can only be described as one of the Duterte government’s genuinely pro-people achievements. # (Raymund Villanueva)