Social Work in the Philippines Today
The history of the Philippines and of its social welfare system has had a profound impact on what social work is and does in the country. There are broadly three dimensions to professional practice, all of which remain core to the curriculum for social work students and all of which are evident in practice and are considered 'professional social work'. These are Social Casework (conceptualized as assistance towards individual adjustment), Social Group Work (group activities organized for welfare purposes), and Community Organization (Landa-Jocano, 1980: 5–6). Whilst this suggests a breadth to social work in the country which is less evident in many others, one could argue that social work in the Philippines, whether at the individual, group, or community level, is often concerned with maintenance, rather than opposition, and with notions of responsibility (whether individual, family, or social).
Social workers in the Philippines commonly characterize their practice as responding to poverty, and it is true that this very often underlies the issues which
they seek to address. However, as we have seen, the country imported an American model in which workers were expected to specialize in one of three forms of social work (casework, group work, or community organizing). Indeed, as we have seen, despite being a country which might be characterized as having a strong sense of community, social work did not take predominantly community (or generalist) forms until the UN push for development in the 1960s and 1970s. The preference for generalist skills and approaches, however, does also make pragmatic sense, in a context where just one social worker may cover a large area with extensive social need, particularly in rural parts of the country.
Lee-Mendoza tellingly comments that, even where social work in the Philippines does take the form of casework (for example, in responding to child abuse or to the needs adults with mental health needs), 'case managers have no choice but to also provide direct service which means ... resource provider, mediator, social broker, enabler, counsellor/therapist, and advocate' (2008: 529). Roles are perhaps defined 'softly', with social workers being able to conceptualize 'problems' broadly and to work across boundaries, in ways which do not occur in a good number of other countries.
This is, for many, a strength, and yet others in the profession argue for increasingly specialist training, practice, knowledge, and skills as the way forward. Social workers inthe Philippines work acrossa very wide range of organizational and practice contexts. They may, for example, be employed by international or national NGOs, central or local government, factories, charities, or faith-based organizations. The DSWD is the central government department responsible for the protection of social welfare rights and promoting and supporting social development. Whilst its direct social work functions and facilities are devolved to local government units (LGUs), the department employs social workers to devise and monitor national programs, undertake social research, and carry out training and capacity building across the country. According to its Annual Report 2011, the DSWD had a total staffing of 10,318 nationwide at the end of 2011, of whom 890 (less than 9 per cent) were based in the central office and the remainder were
assigned to 16 field offices (DSWD, 2011b).
Areas of social work practice in the Philippines include child welfare and family support; work with older people, women, disabled people, and those with mental health problems; disaster management; community development and sustainability; community organizing; and advocacy and social action. Roles and tasks undertaken range from direct practice with individuals, families, groups, and communities to positions which focus upon social administration, project development, training, and the management of programs. Social work takes place in settings which include private companies, military contexts, private and public hospitals, courts, statutory and non-statutory welfare institutions, schools, and church-based services. Practice will sometimes focus upon particular 'groups' within the population, such as street children, farmers, the urban poor, or migrant workers.
However, it is equally likely to take the form of generic practice, tackling issues as they arise within a local area. A significant dimension of social work in the Philippines is that many qualified and registered social workers are in posts
with titles which do not mention social work. Almanzor (1988) commented that this can be because they are working for NGOs or international organizations where the job title relates to funding requirements or specific agency aims (say, around youth work or campaigning for the rights of older people) or that they are in planning or research positions within, for example, the United Nations. Social work in the Philippines is, indeed a very 'broad church'.
This considerable range of sectors, settings, and roles has implications for the degree of autonomy afforded to social workers. Social workers do work in government positions but are also commonly employed by self-help/people's organizations (where the agenda should properly be set by clients or service users themselves) and by local and international nongovernmental organizations (which will, of course, have set aims and are likely to expect funds to be used for preagreed purposes). Workers and academics also recognize the impact of political influence and financial constraints on professional autonomy. As in all countries, therefore, one can identify significant differences in the extent to which social workers in the Philippines are able to act as autonomous professionals.
We now turn to look at the extent to which one might identify a body of Philippine social work literature, as one indicator of the maturity and establishment of social work within the country.