Social Work as a Profession in the Philippines

Accounts of the international development of social work typically point to professional development and recognition, the growth of social work education, the sharing of ideas through conferences and Internet-use, efforts to indigenize received methods and theories, and the increasing evidence of cross-national practice, student learning, and academic endeavor. Weiss and Welbourne name the 'drive for professional status' as a consistent – and consistently controversial – feature of the development of social work in all countries (2007: 1).

Indicators of 'degree of professionalization' (such as, the existence of codes of ethics and whether those codes are enforced, monopoly of specific roles, or protection of the title of 'social worker') suggest that social work is significantly more established and formalized in some countries than others. This section, drawing upon some of the main themes in Weiss and Welbourne's work, looks at core aspects of the social work profession in the Philippines.

One key aspect of professional development is that of public and governmental recognition, which can include restriction on use of the title 'social worker', licencing, and level of qualification. Here, social work in the Philippines 'scores well'. Republic Act 4373, passed in 1965, introduced the requirement that social workers complete a bachelor's degree, incorporating 1,000 hours of supervised field experience (typically in community, government, and private
institutions) and pass a government board examination in order to be registered as a social worker (Lee-Mendoza, 2008; Viloria and Martinez, 1987). Such formal recognition and regulation took far longer to achieve in many other parts of the world, 'developing' or 'developed'.

Since the 1960s, the Philippines saw ongoing efforts to set and monitor standards in social work education (Lee-Mendoza, 2008: 61–4). For Midgley (1997: 167),

American influences can be readily detected in Asian social work education, particularly in India and the Philippines, where the American preference for university-level training was adopted. ... While India, the Philippines and Korea have numerous schools of social work, countries such as Singapore, Thailand, and Papua New Guinea have more limited provision.

Social work qualifying programs in the Philippines are typically four years in duration. Admission requirements for social work training in the Philippines include the gathering of satisfactory references, health checks, evidence of appropriate qualifications, and the passing of a college entrance examination. A graduate of a social work qualifying course must pass the Board Examination for Social Workers in order to practice as a registered social worker in the Philippines. The Board of Examiners for Social Work was created in 1965, composed of a Chair and four members, appointed by the President of the Philippines. The examination is supervised by the Professional Regulation Commission (PRC).

In the 1960s, social workers demanded measures to raise the profile and status of the profession, resulting in Republic Act No. 5175 being passed in 1967. Among other provisions, this act permitted the qualification of master's degree holders in social work for board examinations and mandated the upgrading of the educational requirement of the members of the Board of Examiners from a bachelor's degree to a master's degree in social work.

A national curriculum has been in place for social work in the Philippines since the late 1960s, with the most recent version being developed by the National Association for Social Work Education (NASWEI) and the Philippine Association of Social Workers (PASWI) and approved by the Government's Commission on Higher Education in 2010 (CHED, 2010). These 'Policies and Standards for Bachelor of Science in Social Work Program' set out clear competency expectations (CHED, 2010: 3–4), which include skills in the helping process, critical understanding of discrimination and oppression, knowledge of social policy, applied psychology and sociology, and the ability to reflect critically and to make appropriate use of supervision. There is, therefore, considerable rigor in terms of expected standards of social work education across the country.

The long-standing existing of social work associations in the Philippines (especially the Philippine Association of Social Workers, Inc. [PASWI], established in 1947) is, in itself, another indicator of professional maturity. PASWI played a central role in the passage of the 'Act to Regulate the Practice of Social Work and the Operation of Social Work Agencies in the Philippines' in 1965 and
subsequent legislation which created the Department of Social Welfare in 1968. It first adopted a Code of Ethics in 1964, with the most recent revision being in 1998 (Lee-Mendoza, 2008: 134). The association organizes regular seminars, workshops, and conferences. PASWI has been able to question government policies and actions on a number of occasions. For example, it, 'took a stand on such social issues like [sic] family planning, the integration of cultural minorities into Philippine society, the release of activist social workers who were detained for charges of rebellion during the Martial Law Period … [and it]… campaigned for opposition to the government initiated proposal to merge the DSWD and the Department of Health in the 1980s.' (Lee-Mendoza, 2008: 60–61). It is equally important to note that the National Association for Social Work Education, Inc. (Philippines), has been in existence and active, though with slightly changing names, since 1965. NASWEI operates as the national umbrella organization of schools of social work in the Philippines

One final indicator of professional organization and standing, again discussed

by Weiss and Welbourne is that of prestige and remuneration. They comment that

Generally, the status and prestige of social work ... is not high. In half the countries ... its status is particularly low relative to that of other helping professions. (2007: 240)

In the Philippines, again this in part depends upon the sector within which particular practitioners work but there remains a general concern that more could be done to improve the status and professional image of social work (vis-à-vis, say, medical professionals) and to broaden the public perception of social work among many Filipinos as primarily related to 'dole out' (Dineros-Pineda, 1992). Thus, Salvador-Tojos and Cabilao (2003) pose the following question:

For all our efforts as social workers, why do some people still associate us mainly or solely with disaster management and the curative approach to providing assistance?

This section has sought to provide an overview of social work roles, education, and knowledge and of the place of the profession in the Philippines today. Social work in the Philippines is an established and comparatively well-developed profession but one which continues to tussle with the advantages and challenges of professional status and the inevitable tensions associated with practice in varied agency contexts.

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