Sunday, November 29, 2009

Lack of Volunteeers in DSWD Warehouses? Let's revisit the NSTP

Relief goods in the custody of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) allegedly gathered dust in four warehouses, one month after typhoon Ondoy. There was indignation about this in blogosphere lately.

The October 29, 2009 post entitled "Aanhin pa ang damo kung patay na ang kabayo" at lambasted DSWD for alleged hoarding of relief goods in DSWD warehouses. Overzealous people in Facebook and eGroups circulated the link to this post.

But earlier, on October 26, 2009, DSWD Secretary Esperanza Cabral has already made a statement on these relief goods, admitting that the DSWD "warehouses are indeed full" but that this was . . .
"inspite of the fact that we have distributed 500,000 food packs and 200,000 clothing packs as well as thousands of sacks of rice, blankets, beddings, and items of personal hygiene in the past almost 4 weeks."
Let me say my piece.

Typhoons of severe intensities caused depressing kinds of tales in affected areas. On the positive side, these typhoons drew out heroism, time and again, from a society known for its high levels of volunteerism and people power.

To be a caretaker in the movement of goods that flow from the goodness of one's heart to the home of a distressed family is therefore a sacred duty worthy of all dedication and highest levels of expediency. One has to have love in his or her heart as well in order to be a caretaker worthy of everyone's trust.

Thus, when someone---the government's social welfare department in this case---appeared or was made to appear to fall short of the expectations on someone entrusted with huge amounts of relief goods, what result do you get?

You guessed it right. Indignation.

How sweet it was to be part of the accusing party, and how difficult it was to be the defendant. After all, the government---rather, the group of politicians that run it---had a tainted reputation, justifiably or not, when it came to handling relief goods, especially that election was forthcoming in less than a year.

Besides, Ella had pictures and a personal testimony to back up her point. It was a lethal post.

In Facebook, I read commentaries questioning the intentions of the government in dealing with typhoon victims, almost to the point of accusing the government of treason, of betraying its people for the personal gain of its officials.

But the statement of the DSWD Secretary sounded valid too. Nobody refuted the figures that despite the release of huge amounts of relief goods, the warehouses were still full. Should we lambast that department for not having enough manpower to move the goods from A to B?

That was the whole point of Ella's post.

What I felt compelled to recognize was the fact that DSWD was the steward of relief goods. It could not afford to let any Tom, Dick and Harry to get into the warehouses without proper clearances, for a clear reason --- security of the relief goods entrusted to them.

Another aspect of DSWD operations that I felt compelled to recognize was that it must dispatch the relief goods with prudence. Yes, prudence could indeed slow things down, especially when implemented in a bureaucracy. But was the risks of the alternative acceptable?

The third aspect of DSWD operations that I felt compelled to recognize was the fact that it was ran by human beings that were subject to fatigue, not robots. Human beings could be in a 24-hour watch for only so long. A month after, you would expect burn outs.

The government admitted that it was ill-prepared to handle disasters with the magnitude of Ondoy. Part of that can be accounted to lack of equipment. The other part could be accounted to lack of organic manpower. The third part was lack of public preparation.

I was most concerned with the third part, because this was where volunteers came into play.

There was a time when high school and college students were required to undergo military training. The Citizens Army Training was required for both sexes in high school. The Citizens Military Training was required only for males in college.

These military-oriented trainings were later "demilitarized" and simply referred to as the National Service Training Program with three components:
  1. Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC)
  2. Civic Welfare Training Service (CWTS)
  3. Literacy Training Service (LTS)
Starting 2002, the NSTP was required for both male and female students. These students were required to take two NSTP courses under the component of his/her choice.

I have a radical idea, something that can earn for me the ire of many students; but this is something our country desperately needs. This is the idea: make the NSTP a one year requirement to be undertaken full time before everyone is given his/her diploma.

Two countries that I know require their students to serve full time are Israel and Korea. Every citizen is required to serve the military for a year or two. France also requires their students to go through this too, but with an option to its top students to serve in a non-military way.

Why not require all citizens in the Philippines serve the country full time for a year or two? This way we get the manpower we need in times of calamities. We would also teach our students to love the country by actually sweating it out to help it.

We say, kawawa naman mga students natin! Well, we say that because we ourselves did not undergo full-time service the way I just suggested.

But looking beyond, if we implement this suggestion well, we would see a new generation of Filipinos who would debate on matters that they themselves experienced on the ground.

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