MANILA, Philippines – Unlike her predecessor, the new social welfare secretary does not sport a color-coded streak in her hair that represents a political statement.
Before she assumed the post, Secretary Judy Taguiwalo has already been identified with one political color – red.
The 65-year-old Taguiwalo is proud of her activist roots which grew in the University of the Philippines Diliman, were she served as a respected professor and academic leader most of her professional life. She found a common ground with President Rodrigo Duterte.
“Kung may nagtataka bakit tinanggap ko ang pagsilbi sa pamahalaan bilang bahagi ng kabinete pagkatapos ng halos buong buhay ko na aktibismo sa kalsada, madali ang sagot. May pinagkakaisahan kami ni Pangulong Digong sa pagpapauna sa kapakanan ng nakararami at ng bayan bago ang sarili,” stressed Taguiwalo at the turnover rites held on Friday, July 1, at the DSWD central office in Quezon City.
(For those who ask why I accepted to serve the government as a Cabinet member after my life-long involvement in street activism, I have an easy answer. President Digong and I agreed to put the welfare of the country before self, to aspire for a government that prioritizes the poor and powerless.)
Taguiwalo is one of the 4 leftist leaders who have so far joined the Duterte administration on the recommendation of the National Democratic Front (NDF), which also represents the revolutionary Left in the renewed peace talks with the government. (READ: Joma: Left welcomes Duterte offers of Cabinet posts)
Taguiwalo’s leftist background highlights a life experience that even former DSWD Secretary Dinky Soliman, whom Taguiwalo and her activist colleagues have criticized in the past, recognizes.
“Ating yakapin ang pagpasok ni Secretary Judy. Malalim ang kanyang itinaya para sa demokrasya at para sa kaunlaran,” Soliman stressed before she handed over the DSWD flag, vest, and a thick transition report to Taguiwalo.
(Let’s embrace Secretary Judy’s coming in. She has deeply sacrificed for democracy and development.)
Detained and tortured
A veteran of the First Quarter Storm, the historic period of youth dissent in 1970, Taguiwalo helped organize the anti-Marcos women’s organization Malayang Kilusan ng Kababaihan (MAKIBAKA), which went underground when martial law was declared in 1972. (READ: FQS: The uprising that created and nurtured people power )
“Dalawang beses na siyang na-detain, na-torture, dahil sa paninindigan na hindi dapat magkaroon ng diktadura sa ating bansa,” Soliman reminded the employees of the department.
(She has been detained twice, and was tortured, because of her conviction to oppose the dictatorship.)
Soliman was all smiles when activists greeted Taguiwalo with chants as both entered the DSWD central office’s lobby, where she handed over the post that she held under the Aquino administration and part of the Arroyo administration.
“Sahod, trabaho, at karapatan, ipaglaban (Fight for wages, labor, and rights)!” chanted members of the Social Welfare Employees Association of the Philippines (SWEAP), the employees’ union of DSWD.
“Nasaan ang kababaihan? Hanapin (Where are the women? Call them.),” she quipped with Taguiwalo, who noticed that only male activists were chanting.
Activists, board topnotchers take over DSWD
Taguiwalo reciprocated Soliman’s cordial gestures with hugs and a gift, a necklace given to her by the Morong 43, the health workers who were detained under the Arroyo administration on suspicion of being communist rebels.
It was not a mere gracious act on the part of Taguiwalo. It also sent a clear message to the entire DSWD bureaucracy that activists have taken over the leadership of the agency. (READ: Leftist nominees join meeting of incoming Duterte Cabinet)
But they are not just activists, Taguiwalo assured the employees, who also witnessed the turnover ceremony via livestreaming and Facebook Live. She is is bringing in a team composed of social work board topnotchers, lawyers, and experts from the academe, mainly from the UP College of Social Work and Community Development (CSWCD), where she taught for 15 before she retired.
The social welfare secretary graduated cum laude from UP, where she also obtained her doctorate degree in Philippine Studies. She got her master’s degree in Public Administration in 1992 at Carleton University in Canada.
Taguiwalo, who is also the founder of the All UP Academic Employees Union, drew applause from the DSWD employees when she announced that she will address concerns about the widespread contractualization in the department.
She said that she will hold talks with the union so thay can agree on negotiation points, saying that she will engage them not only because she is a “unionist from UP” but because union rights are guaranteed by law.
Drawing the line
At the beginning of her acceptance speech, she retold Duterte’s visit to an urban poor community in Tondo, Manila, on the night after his inauguration, emphasizing the new administration’s battlecry: “Tunay na malasakit para sa mahihirap” (Genuine care and concern for the poor).
“Sa palagay ko, ang unang official business kagabi ay ang pagpapakita ng pakikiisa ng bagong president sa mga nasalanta ng Yolanda; sa mga magsasaka tulad nilang mga nasa Hacienda Luisita na patuloy na naggigiit ng sariling lupa; sa mga Lumad ng Mindanao na nasa mga evacuation centers na humihiling na mahinto ang militarisasyon at makabalik sila sa yutang kabilin o lupang ninuno; at sa mga bakwit sa Zamboanga City na biktima ng armed conflict sa rehiyon.“
(In my view, our first official business last night was to demonstrate that the new president is in solidarity with Yolanda victims; the farmers – like those from Hacienda Luisita – who continue to fight for land; the Lumad of Mindanao in evacuations centers who are asking to stop militarization, hoping to return to their ancestral lands; and the evacuees in Zamboanga who are victims of armed conflict in the region.)
The department under Soliman and the Aquino administration has been criticized, for example, during the first few weeks after Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) that claimed thousands of lives and devastated Eastern Visayas. (READ: Aquino: The friends he kept, the crises he (mis)managed)
Soliman wrapped up her stint at DSWD in Guiuan, Eastern Samar, Yolanda’s ground zero, hoping that the memory that she will leave behind is that she managed to turn an image of devastation and hopelessness into a showcase of the milestones of the Aquino administration’s anti-poverty programs.
In Guiuan, she announced that recovery efforts in the region were almost 90% complete and that she is leaving Taguiwalo with at least P 85 billion for the department’s various “social protection programs.”
These poverty reduction efforts include the Sustainable Livelihood Program (SLP), the Kapit-Bisig Laban sa Kahirapan-Comprehensive and Integrated Delivery of Social Services (KALAHI-CIDSS), and the controversial Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps), the flagship anti-poverty program of the previous Aquino government. (READ: It’s a wrap: Dinky Soliman’s report card at DSWD)
Fate of 4Ps
If there is a practice during Soliman’s stint that Taguiwalo will continue, it is providing leadership to the Cabinet cluster on human development and social services that also includes the agriculture, agrarian reform, education, environment, and labor departments.
But Taguiwalo spelled out where her perspective and policy on social protection and services will depart from Soliman’s.
“A shift from targeted social protection to universal provision of social services shall be studied and endorsed,” she said, noting that all polices and programs of the department will be reviewed during her first 100 days in office.
Under Soliman’s watch, the conditional cash transfer program expanded from 800,000 family-beneficiaries in 2010 to about 4.4 million by 2016. The former secretary has called for the enactment of a law that will institutionalize the program, but Taguiwalo dismissed the idea, describing it as a mere “stop-gap measure” and noting that it has reportedly been used for patronage politics and anti-insurgency campaigns.
Taguiwalo suggested that if continued, a promise made by Duterte, the 4Ps program will be “complemented by initiatives that will help the poor stand on their own through jobs, asset reforms, and other pro-people economic and social reform initiatives.”
As the transfer of power begins, Taguiwalo gave marching orders to the entire DSWD bureaucracy – “Paglingkuran ang sambayan (Serve the people)!” – something she has lived by from the state university to the streets to the slums. – Rappler.com