COMMENTARY: Perils of people: Pablo or People in Power?

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/21 Feb) — The aftermath of typhoon Pablo in Compostela province has brought devastation amongst its survivors. Loss of dwellings, means of survival from their farms and animals, disruptions of their daily routines, and most damaging, the loss of their family members, either drowned or buried alive in mud.

I was aboard a taxi going somewhere during those stormy days and engaging in usual chat with drivers  which I do every time I l have the chance and I was impressed and at awe on what the driver said about the Pablo catastrophe.

He said: “gisingil man lang  Ma’am, sa kinaiyahan ang mga tao. Gihilabtan man gud nila ang yuta, ilang ginakalot ug kuot, pinaagi sa ilang pagmina. Pait lang ang nalubong sa yuta nga nalubong ug buhi pa man tingali, ang mga pobre, dili ang mga tag-iya sa minahan! Nasuko na ang yuta, ninglapaw ang lapok.”

The statement made by the taxi driver reminded me of a professor from UP Diliman (I was taking my Master of Social Work then) who said: “Do not underestimate the primal power of the simple people, they have that primal knowledge and wisdom, and unless forced to do otherwise, they are honest, they want to have a simple and decent life.”

The news in one of the local TV stations one afternoon featured a scenario in Montevista (in Compostela Valley province)  on January 15 where the Secretary of the Department of Social Welfare and Development,  Ms Dinky Soliman, together with (Compostela Valley) Governor (Arturo) Uy, the policemen, and the crowd of Pablo survivors were in heated arguments, and in particular there was that comic-tragic “tug-of-streamers” between Ms Mae Fe Ancheta-Templa, a social worker, and Ms Soliman.

I gathered Ms Soliman is a social worker, too, who graduated in UP Diliman in the mi 1970s.

I got entangled in my comprehensive examinations for my masteral course at ADDU (Ateneo de Davao University that I lost track of the drama that followed the Pablo survivors’ barricade, Ms Soliman, and Ms Templa. The most recent news I learned, the Pablo survivors’  leaders and  Ms Templa have been charged on January 24, 2013.

Whew! What a telling tale, what a concrete call for the social work profession and the social workers to have a rethinking of the commitment we pledged for the practice of the profession and the clientele we vowed to serve.

The crux of the profession is the people, Ms Templa representing the academe and the non-government organizations, and Ms Soliman, representing the ruling government.

My questions: how do we resolve those problems in interventions when the lives of people are at stake,  when they are hungry, homeless, in emotional turmoil due to grief, and in havoc?

1. Do we insist on bureaucratic procedures?
2. Do we become responsive to the call of the times, become flexible, and as our social work values and principles dictate:  respond to where the client is?
3. Follow the dictates of our commitment to serve the people, serve our country, serve our god?

It is saddening that in a governance pronounced as servants of the people, the downtrodden people who have survived the typhoons and landslide are battling with another storm: fighting for their right to welfare!

I am calling on the professional association of social workers to get into serious reflections and resolutions and actions on the cases of social workers working in different sectors who become divided and even become contenders in courts for doing what they think are their work.

There is this divide brought about by the nature and human-made disasters. The sadder point is, the people suffer! (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Malou Tiangco of Davao City describes herself as “social worker, educator, performing artist”).