How Manay Judy Taguiwalo inspired me as a DSWD employee
The night before her confirmation hearing at the Senate, I prayed hard that Manay Judy Taguiwalo, as she is popularly known, will be confirmed as Social Welfare Secretary by the Commission on Appointments (CA) . That is why it felt like a hard punch in the gut when it was announced that she was rejected by the powerfull body.
I cried that night. The following day, when I reported for work, sadness pervaded the air. We, Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) employees asked each other: “Why did they reject her? What are their reasons? What will happen now?” (READ: DSWD employees 'confirm' Taguiwalo after CA rejection)
As an advocate lobbying for amendments to Republic Act 8972 or the Solo Parents Welfare Act of 2000 and as an employee at the central office, I felt I had a personal stake in her confirmation. In the history of the department where I have been working since 2003, no other secretary has given solo parents a hundred percent support and recognition as Manay Judy did. I remembered the day I first met and spoke with her. “Ikaw pala ang leader ng mga solo parents dito sa department (So you are the leader of solo parents here in the department," she said. I admitted being nervous at first, not knowing what to expect from her. (READ: The challenges and triumphs of single moms)
My anxiety quickly faded as Manay Judy led the department and supported the advocacy in so many ways.
Going out in the streets
Because of Manay Judy, I was inspired to do things I have never done before. This included going out in the streets to join other activist groups in making our voices heard by the legislators and authorities.
“Kailangang dalhin ang laban sa lansangan, hindi ninyo makakamit ang tagumpay kung nandito lang kayo sa opisina. Kailangang marinig ang inyong mga tinig," she would tell us.
(You must bring your fight to the streets. You cannot achieve success if you just stay here in your office. Your voices need to be heard)
I did this for the first time, together with my co-officers and members of the Federation of Solo Parents Luzvimin-United Solo Parents of the Philippines (FSPL-USPP) and DSWD CO-SPEO, on August 31, 2016 when we showed our support to Gabriela Women’s Party and the Makabayan Bloc in the House of Representatives as they filed House Bill 3398 seeking to amend RA 8972.
It was a giddy feeling to go out of our offices and march in the streets, bearing our placards and streamers. Afterwards, we spoke before dozens of solo parents and our supporters.
That unity walk and rally marked the first of the advocacy activities we conducted as a federation to lobby for the immediate passage of the amendments.
In just a year since FSPL-USPP was organized in April 2016, we had launched several initiatives in coordination with other organizations like Gabriela, Ilaw, Social Welfare Employees Association of the Philippines (SWEAP), and COURAGE. With Manay Judy at the helm, the DSWD fully supported all of our advocacy activities.
I quickly learned the language of activists: "Pagsama sa malawakang kilos protesta, at pakikibaka para sa ating karapatan." (Joining massive protest actions and fighting for our rights)
Before Manay Judy joined the agency, I admit I did not understand the sacrifices that activists make – standing and marching under the scorching heat of the sun for hours, talking and shouting with clenched fists.
I have never been an active street protester. I used social media and wrote articles to drumbeat the plight of solo parents. Occasionally, I would grant media interviews as a resource person.
Manay Judy inspired me to go beyond this and do more to further enhance our advocacy. During the People’s SONA last July 24, solo parents like me marched alongside scores of activists. We also stood for hours, notwithstanding the heat of the sun during the rallies while calling for her confirmation outside the gates of the Senate and the House of Representatives.
Manay Judy, being an activist at heart, knows the issues not only of solo parents but also those of other vulnerable groups.
As the DSWD secretary, she would go out and join the officers and members of SWEAP, COURAGE, and other groups during rallies calling for the resumption of the peace talks, the protection of the rights of the Lumad, and the promotion of the welfare of Contract of Service (COS) and job order workers of the department.
It is her commitment, passion, and dedication for the ordinary employees and vulnerable sectors which endeared her to us. As netizens said, Manay Judy is “everyone’s favorite aunt.”
For me, she is a friend, adviser, ardent advocate, and champion of solo parents. She gave us hope and helped our advocacy gain ground in our legal battle.
Manay Judy was also instrumental in putting a spotlight on solo parents when she bravely stood her ground after Senator Tito Sotto’s insulted her with a controversial remark about solo parents during her first confirmation hearing.
That incident, as Sotto himself said, was a blessing in disguise since it opened the doors of opportunity for FSPL-USPP to strengthen our advocacy. I was besieged with media requests for interviews, and Manay Judy encouraged me to accommodate these and “strike while the iron is hot.”
To further show her support, Manay Judy paved the way for the first ever “Solo Parents Day” at DSWD Central Office last June 24.
It was truly a milestone with more than 300 solo parents and their children participating in an array of activities lined-up for that day. The preparations left me and my fellow officers and members of the DSWD CO-SPEO exhausted.
It was, however, definitely gratifying and heartwarming to witness our fellow solo parents from the workplace and communities enjoying that day.
During the forum, Manay Judy said: “Mahirap maging magulang kung dalawa kayo, lalo na kung nag-iisa ka, kaya’t kailangan ninyo ang suporta ng pamahalaan." (Being a parent is already difficult even when you have your partner with you – moreso if you are doing the parenting alone. This is why solo parents need the government's support.)
Memories of that day will stay with me for as long as I live. Now, I wonder, would there still be a repeat of that event? Who will be our champion now in the department?
The day after CA rejected her confirmation, some of the solo parent employees at DSWD CO went to her office at the third floor to personally convey their gratitude for everything that she has done for us. I fought back tears as she hugged each one of us.
“I will still be here to support your advocacy. Ituloy ninyo ang laban at magkita tayo sa lansangan.” (Continue the fight and we’ll see each other in the streets.)
These were her parting words. She even told Manuel Baclagon and Ferdie Gayte, presidents of SWEAP National and COURAGE, respectively, to support us in our continued advocacy.
“Huwag ninyong pabayaan ang mga solo parents, suportahan pa din ninyo sila sa kanilang laban sa pagpapa-amyenda sa batas," she said.
(Do not neglect the solo parents. Continue to support them in their fight to amend the law.)
And so, Manay Judy, as you leave the department which you have faithfully served for the past 14 months, I promise that as long as I am able, I will continue our advocacy.
We at DSWD, FSPL-USPP, and our supporters will go out there in the streets, waving our flag, and raising our clenched fists. We will continue to hound the legislators and we will not stop until RA 8972 is amended to grant additional benefits to solo parents.
And we will never forget the injustice that has been done to you. And to us.
As you said Manay, “Magkita tayo sa lansangan, tuloy ang laban! Padayon!" (Let us meet in the streets. The fight continues!) – Rappler.com
Carina A. Javier is the current president of the Federation of Solo Parents Luzvimin-USPP, the umbrella organization of 15 solo parent associations all over the Philippines. She is also the president of the DSWD Central Office-Solo Parents Employees Organization. She is working at the department as an information officer.