January 22, 2024
MANILA, Philippines — They now go by the acronym FISS — for “families or individuals in street situations” — and President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. wants a more coordinated, long-term approach to take them off the curb, into shelters, and eventually toward a more secure future.
Marcos has directed a multiagency effort to ensure the effective implementation of the social welfare Pag-abot Program aimed at taking homeless families, especially children, off the streets for their safety while offering them livelihood, relocation, and decent shelters.
In Executive Order No. 52 issued on Jan. 18, Marcos said it was “imperative to institutionalize” the program which was called “Oplan Pag-abot” (reaching out) when it was pilot-tested last year by the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) as one of his administration’s antipoverty measures.
“The Philippines is fully committed to realizing the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal No. 1 of eradicating poverty, implementing nationally appropriate social protection systems and measures for all, and granting equal access to economic resources, particularly for the poor and vulnerable sector of society,” he said.
According to the President, the Pag-abot Program will serve as a platform for an “enhanced and unified” delivery of social services to FISS by providing them “social safety nets and protection against risks brought about by poverty.”
The program is a package of assistance to these families, ranging from financial aid, transportation and relocation, transitory shelter, livelihood, and employment.
The interagency committee that will oversee the implementation will be headed by the social welfare secretary as chair, assisted by the interior secretary as vice chair.
The committee members are the secretaries of trade, labor, health, budget, and education. The others are the director general of the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority, the chair of the Presidential Commission for the Urban Poor, the president and CEO of the Small Business Corp., and the administrator of the Cooperative Development Authority.
In an interview on Saturday, Social Welfare Undersecretary Eduardo Punay said the Pag-abot Program was allocated P300 million for 2024. Some of the money would be used to profile around 5,000 FISS this year.
“We are expanding the operations by boosting our staff complement, both in the National Capital Region and the receiving regions. We are also digitalizing the program through an e-profiling tool and a database of families or individuals in street situations,” he said.
Punay said a team of around 100 social workers had been tasked with meeting FISS in Metro Manila in a manner that would be unlike similar local government and law enforcement programs on street dwellers.
“The program is a rights-based approach and we’ve been working with the Commission on Human Rights,” he said.
“This means we do not force them to come to us. Instead, our social workers explain to them the programs of the DSWD and the government that they can avail of and persistently convince them to come with us. Our rule is, puwedeng kulitin pero bawal pilitin (we can be persistent without forcing anyone),” Punay said.
If their social workers succeed in convincing the street dwellers to get help from the government, the prospective beneficiaries are brought to a processing center where they are fed and have their basic documents like birth certificates and national identification processed, he said.
Social workers also profile and assess the street dweller as to the appropriate interventions or programs that would be best for the beneficiary.
“They are either sent to our care facilities, sent back to their homes in Metro Manila through the LGUs (local government units) or in the provinces while being given medical, livelihood assistance, etc.,” Punay explained.
Under the EO, the DSWD will also help strengthen the capacity and competence of community volunteers and local governments to attain livable communities and improve social protection systems.
Community grants may be also given to local governments to help them with projects for the development or rehabilitation of their localities, improve access to basic services, and ensure a suitable resettlement area for the program beneficiaries.
The DSWD last week rolled out a tablet-based profiling application, or app, to streamline the program’s overall operations, according to Julius Gorospe, the DSWD assistant secretary for e-governance and information technology.
With the new electronic tool, social workers interviewing the street dwellers for proper intervention measures will be able to update an individual profile’s data “in real-time from a remote location” and get biometric data, including fingerprints, Gorospe said.
The app also features a geotagging function that would help social workers easily locate children and adults living in the streets.
The DSWD conducted a review of the pilot Pag-abot Program last December and all stakeholders found that it was a success, according to Punay.
They were able to profile 2,695 individuals, and 1,772 of them were taken off the streets and given assistance, he said.
Launched in mid-2023, the program includes “Balik-Probinsya,” which would cover the expenses of the street dwellers’ return to their home provinces. Those who qualify would be endorsed for inclusion in the antipoverty Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps), the Assistance to Individuals in Crisis Situation (AICS) and the Sustainable Livelihood Program (SLP).
Pag-Abot also aims to protect beggars from syndicates, which use children or indigenous people.
The government has no updated figure on the number of street children or families living in the streets around the country.
Punay said there were about 3,000 FISS in the National Capital Region in 2020, according to the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority.
4.5M homeless in PH
In a memorandum outlining the guidelines for the program in August last year, the DSWD said there were about 4.5 million homeless people in the country, citing data from a 2020 report.
Homelessness is caused by various reasons, including loss of employment, unstable jobs, insufficient income, domestic violence or loss of homes due to natural disasters, it said, quoting from the report by the Borgen Project, an international nonprofit.
The DSWD cited the 2019 Lifebank Foundation and Social Weather Stations survey, which estimated “no less than 369,000” street children.