Development of Social Work in the Philippines in Global and Historical Context
Social work internationally is a relatively young profession and one which has arguably struggled to assert or even explain itself. Around the time that social work was developing in parts of the 'Global North', the Philippines was (in 1898) beginning a period of American rule which was to last for almost 50 years and which followed more than 300 years as a Spanish colony. Some parallels can be drawn with much of Northern Europe, at least in terms of the role which the Church played in encouraging private charitable acts and poor relief (Almanzor, 1966; Yu, 2006). The Roman Catholic Church remains a core participant, alongside state and voluntary sector agencies, in health and social care in the Philippines, whether through encouraging donors, providing care, or delivering social work education in Church-based universities across the country.
Prior to – and alongside – the development of professional social work around the world, family and community based informal caring and charitable acts were the primary ways in which human and social needs were addressed. However, as Dominelli puts it,
Charitable giving was often rooted in a moralizing tendency that sought to affirm views of goodness and 'acceptable' behaviour. Such acts were normative, consistent with the dominant views held by society, and often punitive, in that they sought to limit claims on goodwill to avoid legitimating a desire to expect handouts rather than working for one's living. (2010: 18)
Social welfare in Southern (predominantly Catholic) Europe in the 1800s was significantly dependent upon faith-based charitable acts and individual donations,
whilst the Protestant nations of Northern Europe, though also building upon and reflecting religious underpinnings, saw a growing State influence. The notion of charity itself was increasingly questioned, particularly in Northern Europe, on the grounds that it created dependence. Social welfare and social work grew more rapidly, typically as a state activity, in Northern Europe in the period from, say, 1945 to 1975, and less so in Southern Europe. 'Part of the reason for this was the reliance of the Iberian dictatorships until 1974 (Portugal) and 1978 (Spain) on the Catholic Church and charitable effort' (Payne, 2005: 72).
Whilst, as we shall see, the Philippines was, at this time, moving out of a long period of Spanish and then American rule, the combined influences upon social work of Church and charity remain. The interplay of 'traditions' of Catholic charitable giving when a Spanish colony and notions of targeted relief and limited state involvement in welfare introduced by the United States during their period of colonial rule have undoubtedly helped construct the Philippine approach to social work, though these influences now operate alongside (and at times in conflict with) community-focused initiatives aimed at promoting social and economic development. A specific influential dynamic in the early development of social work in the United Kingdom and United States was the growth of the settlement movement (Ferguson and Woodward, 2009; Horner, 2009; Payne, 2005), which emphasized living within poor communities, social education, community development, and (less so in America) social action. Projects such as these remain common in Philippine social work practice and also that social work in which students quite often move into deprived areas in order to undertake 'practica'.
Almanzor (1966: 27) notes that 'the humanitarian impulse' was present in the Philippines before colonial rule, but goes on to identify the influences of both Spain and the United States on the country and its social institutions. However, it fell to Yu 40 years later to offer a more critical account of the lasting impact which this had upon the profession (Yu, 2006). Both accounts present the period of Spanish rule as one in which social welfare developed, as missionaries converted most of the population to Christianity and developed schools, hospitals, and almshouses.
The period of American rule (1898–1946) saw the further development of charitable provision but also the gradual extension of public coordination and provision of welfare services. The position of the United States vis-à-vis the Philippines, however exploitative, was a different one to that with Spain. Howe (2002: 32) observes that
the indirect or informal political control exercised by ... the United States over the Philippines, might (or might not, according to political preference) be described as imperialism. But it is not colonialism, since ... the Philippines retained formal political sovereignty. Nor is it colonization, since ... American migrants did not settle in ... the Philippines in significant numbers.
Social work is seen to have developed as a profession during the period following independence, initially by way of the influence of aid workers from the United States and elsewhere and then through a small number of Philippine social
workers, trained in the United States, who established the Philippine Association
of Social Workers (Almanzor, 1966; Yu, 2006).
Thus, writers on social work in the Philippines have broadly identified the adoption of Christian philanthropy/charity and aspects of American social work practice as the two major influences, with debate continuing around the interplay of those factors with indigenous culture.
Writing in 2006, Yu asserted that existing social work accounts within the Philippines of the development of its social welfare failed to engage critically with the repressive dimensions and lasting legacies of Spanish and American rule. He acknowledges that home-grown critical histories of the Philippines exist (Constantino and Constantino, 1978) but correctly sees these as absent from the work of many social work academics.
Thus, for Yu (2006: 561), 'The austerity of the Spanish colonial government and the omnipotence of the clergy created a model of social welfare that was dominated by the religious orders, with minimal government involvement.' Dominant accounts of social work in the Philippines continue to present Spanish rule as the time when hospitals and orphanages were established by a benevolent church and kindly individuals made private acts of giving as a route to salvation. Indeed, the ethos of charity and of donors is very much alive in Philippine social work and, for example, campaigning and community-based forms of social work exist alongside a deeply held faith which has the potential both to underpin committed and compassionate practice but also to limit expectations and individualize deservedness for support.
Again, for Yu (2006: 562), these beliefs 'hold perseverance in suffering as a virtue, fate as the will of God and misfortune and poverty as punishment for sin or a test of character'. Notions of individual failings and salvation, within welfare and broader society, would appear to have been a key legacy of Spain's colonization of the Philippines.
Developments under US rule included the establishment in 1915 of a Public Welfare Board to coordinate the efforts of charitable organizations and the settingup of new charities, some initiated and sponsored by American citizens. A chapter of the American Red Cross was initially engaged in disaster relief but became increasingly concerned with health and social welfare. Institutional responses to need remained a core feature but with the gradual growth of health centres, social work offices in poor areas, some limited attempts to remove people from slum living, and so on (Landa Jocano, 1980).
The period also saw the registration of charitable providers, clearer eligibility criteria, and increased government and private funding of charitable services. However, the impact of economic depression in the 1930s, in a context of reliance upon the United States, was very significant, with a need for basic relief work (Lee-Mendoza, 2008). A small number of women gained scholarships to attend American universities for training from the 1920s onwards, and brought back social work theories and approaches to the Philippines.
In 1935, the Philippines entered a commonwealth period, with Manuel L. Quezon becoming the first president. The economy began to recover, a minimum
wage was introduced and there was an expansion of public welfare legislation and programs, including some extension in rural areas. For Landa Jocano (1980: 63), the 1930s saw a transition in social welfare in the country (prompted by American influence), both in terms of a growing attention to 'professionalization' and an increasing emphasis on the need for coordination.
In 1940, the Department of Health and Public Welfare was established. However, the government was forced into exile from 1942–1945, during which time the Philippines was occupied by Japan and, again, emergency relief work became the focus of all agencies, governmental, religious, and charitable. After the war, the government faced 'the gigantic task of serving a war-beaten people, weakened by three painful years of enemy occupation' (Jocano 1980: 92). In 1946, the Philippines was proclaimed a republic. State engagement with welfare grew. The year 1947 saw a Social Welfare Commission being situated under the Office of the President which, for Lee-Mendoza (2008: 25) 'signified the formal recognition of social welfare as a responsibility by the state'.
The main areas of social welfare – and of social work activity – at this time were financial and other forms of relief, institutional care, work-training/incomegeneration projects, and rural welfare (not only concerned with relief but, very gradually, with the development of community kitchens, self-help programs and cooperatives, and the construction of basic road networks).
Building on the experiences of that small number of Filipinos receiving social work training in the United States, social work schools were established, initially in and around the capital, Manila. The Philippine Association of Social Workers was formed by that same handful of overseas-trained workers in 1947. Social workers in the 1950s and 1960s were, indeed, engaged in 'casework' rather than group or community work, mostly working in hospitals and mental health settings, assessing eligibility for free treatment and financial support (Lee-Mendoza, 2008: 56). UNICEF funding of training for children and families social workers provided a boost to the number of trained professionals at this time. A key development for the social work profession came in 1965, when Republic Act 4373 introduced regulation of social work and of the operation of social work agencies.
In 1965, Ferdinand Marcos became president of the country, a position he retained until 1986. The country saw a growing UN focus in the 1960s and 1970s on a development agenda. UNICEF, for example, became active in the Philippines. Funds were directed to national initiatives which aimed to tackle poverty and raise overall living standards. It has been suggested that Marcos's early years saw real attempts to achieve such aims, though he faced growing protest from students seeking educational reform, from the Filipino Communist Party, and from Muslim separatists in the south. In 1972, Marcos declared martial law, which was to stay in force until a visit of Pope John Paul II in 1981. Opposition leaders were silenced or forced into exile. Curfews were imposed and, seemingly, 'accepted' by much of the population. The armed forces grew in size very significantly. Yet the 1970s saw economic growth, relative prosperity, and a form of repressed stability. Much of this was sustained – if not created – by the billions of dollars of aid provided by the United States, coupled with the associated markets for Philippine products. In 1976, existing government welfare agencies evolved into the Department of
Social Services and Development, which for Lee-Mendoza (2008: 31) reflected the
... shifting emphasis from the traditional, often institution-based social welfare to community-oriented programs and services which underscored people's own capacities for problem-solving.
Social workers continued with activities such as emergency relief work and day care but became increasingly part of the drive for development, working with communities to develop businesses and skills for employment.
So, as martial law continued around it and the country became ever more reliant on a former imperial power, social workers and others (in government, voluntary, and private sector agencies) arguably engaged with a system which placed the onus on the poor to work their way out of poverty. Much of the social and economic development agenda was to be promoted through the existing political structure of barangays, a form of government at the very local level. The barangays remain very influential for social welfare and can have a key impact upon social work at the practice level. Long before Spanish rule, barangays were the main structure for settling disputes or seeking communal support at times of need (Zulueta and Nebres, 2003; Viloria and Martinez, 1987).
Spain introduced a centralized structure, with the country divided into encomiendas, or regions given limited fiscal powers and charged with promoting welfare and conversion of the population to Catholicism. Towards the end of the eighteenth century, a system of provincial government was introduced, in which the mayoral offices at the level of province and pueblo (town) were only open to Spaniards. Each pueblo was made up of a number of barangays, and it was only at this level that Filipinos were permitted to hold office. Zulueta and Nebres hold that corruption manifested itself at every level of the system and that, with the union of Church and State, a repressive state structure led to, 'much oppression and untold suffering' (2003: 60). Social workers in the Philippines today continue to grapple with a political system, and hence a welfare system, in which the personal power and influence of elected representatives and paid officials can hold huge sway. At the local level, social workers must typically inform and work through the barangay, which presents both potential barriers and an opportunity, a resource and a connection to local people.
Thus, for better and for worse, the community context is direct and real for much Philippine social work and those connections between barangay and welfare were first made explicit and formal as part of the development program under Marcos's 'New Society' policy ambition. Marcos undertook to breathe new life into the barangays, emphasizing their role as citizens' assemblies and as the focus for community decision making and planning to meet local needs. It is, however, difficult to see how this was to happen under a declaration which 'denied the people any meaningful participation [and] respected no constitutional rights, no civil liberties' (Zulueta and Nebres, 2003: 251). Martial law was suspended in January 1981, though not fully in the predominantly Muslim regions of Mindanao. Marcos's final years as president saw economic stagnation and increasing levels of poverty and corruption. His position was, however, fatally damaged by the assassination of returning opposition leader Benigno Aquino, Jr., in August 1983. In 1986, Marcos sought to reassert his position by calling an election. Aquino's widow, Corazon 'Cory' Aquino, stood against him. When Marcos was declared winner of the election, tens of thousands took to the streets, demanding that Marcos stand down. Senior politicians and military leaders defected, throwing their support behind Aquino, and mass 'people power' demonstrations were held. Marcos went into exile and Aquino became president.
She, too, was keen to see a shift from welfare and relief to a development approach, creating the Department for Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) (2009, 2011a, b), which exists to this day. The Department was divided into five areas: family and community, children and youth, women, disabled and elderly people, and emergency assistance/disaster relief. By the early 1990s, the DSWD was the largest employer of licenced social workers in the Philippines and policy was focusing on 'Low Income Municipalities (LIMs) and other socially-depressed barangays' (Lee-Mendoza, 2008: 35–6).
The Local Government Code 1991 (Republic Act 7160) sought to increase accountability and autonomy by decentralizing a broad range of responsibilities and functions from national to local government, with associated funding. The majority of responsibilities (within government, at least) to provide social work and welfare services were devolved to the level of municipality, with some services, such as maintaining local health and day care centres, devolved to the barangay. The DSWD became a research and policy planning agency. This was a wholesale revision of the context in which most statutory social workers would operate and of the structures with which social workers in nongovernmental agencies would engage. Social workers employed within DSWD itself would, in future, be involved with support to – and regulation of – the services provided by local government, NGOs, and people's organizations. From the 1990s onwards, social work in the Philippines continued to operate within a pluralist structure of local government units, nongovernmental organizations, faith-based charitable providers, and some private sector agencies (such as private hospitals and industrial social work settings). All of this activity is, to varying degrees, subject to the oversight and 'vision' of the DSWD, which also employs some social workers in research and monitoring roles.
Legislation since 1990 has focused on empowerment/rights (for example, of Disabled People in 1992 and Indigenous Peoples in 1997) and on protection (of Children, in 1992, and through an anti-trafficking law in 2003).
The Philippine Council for NGO Certification suggests that there could be 60,000 NGOs in the Philippines and their work is seen very much as a part of social work and a place for social work. Thus, the Mission of the DSWD in 2011 was as follows:
To provide social protection and promote the rights and welfare of the poor, vulnerable and the disadvantaged individuals, families and communities that will contribute to poverty alleviation and empowerment through social welfare development policies, programs, projects and services implemented with or through local government units (LGUs), non-government organizations (NGOs), people's organizations (POs), other government organizations (GOs) and other members of civil society. (DSWD, 2011a)
To conclude, one cannot understand social work in the Philippines without seeing it in the context of its colonial and political history, much of which has been shaped by foreign governments and international NGOs since independence. Yu acknowledges that US rule saw the introduction of democracy and of public provision and funding in welfare but holds that this happened in the interests of retaining very significant powers over the Philippines and Filipinos. Furthermore, Yu suggests that 'colonial rule' brought to the Philippines a form of social welfare which was functional, residualized, and individualist (Yu, 2006). Though it is true that casework models were adopted from US social work (and remain in some areas of practice), it is also the case that the drive towards development (coupled with very limited resources and reliance on overseas aid) has underpinned an emphasis on community-based social work since the 1970s. Social development remains a central focus of the DSWD.
In 2010, Benigno Aquino III was elected President of the Philippines, in part on an anti-corruption manifesto. Whilst this may be seen as bearing some fruit, corruption and graft remains a very significant dimension of Philippine society and electoral politics. However, post-war experience has demonstrated to Filipinos that protest can be a very powerful thing indeed. It is in this context that social workers go about their day-to-day work and this chapter now turns to consider the nature and features of contemporary social work in the Philippines.