SOCIAL Welfare and Development Secretary Erwin Tulfo has come under fire after a chaotic start to the implementation of his department's educational program.

In Zamboanga City alone, at least 29 people were reportedly injured in a stampede at a coliseum where the local unit of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) had been set up to receive potential beneficiaries. The same scenario occurred not only in the DSWD main office, but also in the agency's satellite offices nationwide where cash dole-outs ranging from P1,000 for elementary students to P4,000 for college enrollees were distributed to qualified beneficiaries.

While taking responsibility and personally apologizing for the disorderly execution of the program, Tulfo justified the means that his office had devised to distribute the cash assistance for qualified student-beneficiaries.

This Aug. 24, 2022 file photo shows Social Welfare Secretary Erwin Tulfo speaking during a news conference after signing an agreement with Interior Secretary Benhur Abalos on extending educational aid under the Assistance to Individuals in Crisis Situations at the Department of Social Welfare and Development’s main office in Quezon City. PHOTO BY JOHN ORVEN VERDOTE
This Aug. 24, 2022 file photo shows Social Welfare Secretary Erwin Tulfo speaking during a news conference after signing an agreement with Interior Secretary Benhur Abalos on extending educational aid under the Assistance to Individuals in Crisis Situations at the Department of Social Welfare and Development’s main office in Quezon City. PHOTO BY JOHN ORVEN VERDOTE

According to the veteran broadcaster, he opted for direct distribution by the DSWD as he wanted to shield the process from parochial, partisan politics and favoritism of local chief executives for allied families, as he noted that the indigents who do not have "connections" to the city or town hall would not get the aid if local governments are allowed to handle the distribution.

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In another interview, Tulfo said that he did not tap the teachers either as the distribution could become tainted by allegations that certain teachers would favor a particular student because they are relatives.

"You know our teachers. They just live in the area. Our teachers might be accused, it would be a pity," Tulfo said in Filipino.

While the DSWD secretary has since made adjustments in the method of distribution of the student cash assistance, this time tapping the help of the local government units, I still have to air my disagreement with the reasons he cited in opting for a DSWD-direct distribution of the dole-outs.

(Tulfo clarified that the DSWD would retain the task of screening and approving the applications for educational assistance, but would take up the offer of manpower and other resources of LGUs as agreed upon during his meeting with Interior and Local Government Secretary Benhur Abalos.)

First, even before the DSWD's educational assistance was conceptualized, there was already the Assistance for Individuals in Crisis Situation, or AICS, being implemented by lawmakers through the DSWD with the assistance of the LGUs.

During the budget hearings, lawmakers allot certain amounts of assistance for their constituents through the DSWD and the Department of Health. This practice alone minimizes, if not totally eliminates, the possibility of corruption in the distribution of the assistance as no politician would ever actually get hold of the funds and the distribution would be handled by the agencies concerned. For cash assistance, it would be the DSWD. For medical aid, it would be the Department of Health (DoH) through guarantee letters for hospitals where the patient of the requesting party is seeking medical attention.

With the AICS, the lawmakers would ask the LGUs for a list of potential beneficiaries before they proceed to the city or municipality concerned on the date of the distribution. But still, it would be the DSWD that would handle the actual distribution. And according to lawmakers and their staff, this has worked effectively, with the distribution only taking a couple of hours to complete.

But with Tulfo's statement saying he opted for a direct DSWD distribution as "he wants to shield the issuance of assistance from parochial, partisan politics and favoritism of local chief executives for ally families," he is in effect insulting the lawmakers, the LGUs and even the DSWD personnel who are involved in the distribution of the AICS. Actually, his statement is questioning the very concept of the AICS.

Further, if Tulfo is really serious in shielding his program from partisan politics, why won't he issue a categorical statement denying the offer of Angat Buhay chairperson, former vice president Leni Robredo, for a possible tie-up in the distribution of the educational assistance.

Not only is Angat Buhay a political movement disguised as a non-governmental organization, which in effect would be tantamount to it using government resources in the furtherance of its political agenda. But channeling the distribution of the funds through Angat Buhay, or even for the latter to assist in the distribution of the cash or identification of the beneficiaries would be highly illegal.

Now, with regard to his statement regarding his decision to leave the teachers out of the distribution process, I don't think his spokesperson, Romel Lopez, is also doing a good job. In fact, as I see it, he just made matters worse.

According to Lopez, Tulfo's statement was simply taken out of context.

"I would like to take this opportunity to say that the secretary was taken out of context in his statement," Lopez said at a press briefing where he explained that Tulfo's statement was only meant to say that the reason why teachers were not tapped for the distribution of the study aid was to "not give them any more burden with their responsibilities."

And because of that, Lopez said Tulfo won't be issuing any apology to the teachers.

However, Tulfo's actual statement is as follows:

"Baka maulit na naman na may pinaburan si teacher dahil pinsan niya 'yung estudyante niya. Eh alam niyo naman po 'yung mga teacher natin. Do'n lang nakatira sa paligid-ligid. Baka na naman ma-accuse na naman ho ang mga teacher, kawawa naman." (There might be a repeat of an instance where a teacher favors a student because they are cousins. You know our teachers. They just live in the area. Our teachers might be accused, it would be a pity.)

But however you look at it, even reading it back and forth, I couldn't see any provision or phrase referring to any additional burden for the teachers as the reason why he wouldn't tap their services.

The statement is clear, it refers to possible bias by the teachers whose services would be tapped in the distribution of the cash aid.

Unfortunately, Lopez is twisting Tulfo's statement to suit his narrative, and in the process, trying to make every one of us look dumb.

Why not just apologize?

Anyway, as I stated earlier, the distribution of the AICS, tapping the LGUs, has so far yielded positive results. So why does Tulfo have to veer away from a tried-and-tested process and initiate or innovate the distribution process which, regrettably, has caused some mayhem.

You just don't fix a thing that isn't broken and experiment with something the effectivity and efficiency of which is yet to be tested, however noble the intention.