Hugman (2010) makes the very significant point that 'social development' has constituted a core dimension of postcolonial social work. Whilst this may well be a response to poverty, Hugman also suggests that in Africa and Asia, social development forms a bridge between micro and macro approaches, and
incorporates those notions of 'harmony and cohesion' which are central to those societies. Whereas Western social work tends to emphasize the interpersonal and individual social need, Hugman points out that social work in 'developing' countries typically engages with capacity building in communities and with economic development at the local level. It seeks to reconcile individual rights and wishes with those of family and community, in a way which might be considered contrary to Western ideas of anti-oppressive practice. However, for Hugman,
Ironically, we have to recognize that the terms of this debate are couched in the value system derived from the European tradition, in which the postEnlightenment notions of human rights and social justice are understood predominantly in a very individualistic way. ... For social work to operate only with an overly individualistic notion of how these values are to be achieved in such contexts may be both practically counter-productive and also constitute an implicit form of neo-colonialism. (2010: 85)
I hope to have shown that, though social work and social welfare in the Philippines has been influenced very considerably and directly by European and US social work, it has also developed its own policies and approaches in order to offer more culturally appropriate and economically realistic responses to human need and to contribute to a broader development agenda.
Social work is a well-established profession within the Philippines and one which is evident across a range of government and nongovernmental settings. Tensions within the profession include those around public perception and professional prestige, between specialist and generic practice, and between individualized and community-oriented approaches. Social workers uniformly describe their practice as being anti-poverty work (with many providing direct support to slum-dwellers, poor fishing communities, street children, and so on) and the profession is often conceptualized in terms of development objectives.
It is by no means uncommon to see social workers challenging social policy or protesting alongside marginalized people and communities, fighting for the extension of rights and welfare provisions, and supporting organized action. However, it is equally common to find social workers within private and public hospital settings, mental health or child protection contexts, working to something akin to a casework approach. Of course, social work in the Philippines also responds to the fallout of armed conflict and natural disasters. Social workers offer support, expertise, protection, and hope in a country whose people face many challenges.
Faith (predominantly Roman Catholic but with significant Muslim populations) brings much to social work in the Philippines: compassion, cultural understanding, a prime source of motivation and commitment, and a basis for ethical practice. The legacy of Spain (not least in terms of the Catholic faith) is very evident in the approach to welfare, the settings and services available, sources of funding and, perhaps, the ways in which clients or service users are perceived and approached. The impact of the much shorter period of American rule has also been discussed, with the early pioneers being trained in the United States. Whilst many social workers are troubled by the common equating of their profession with 'dole-out', this does at least mean that the public perception of social work is largely positive and 'appreciative'. Social work in the country continues to provide tangible support at times of crisis and extreme need.
The relative fluidity of many social work roles, in terms of method or approach and of engagement with individuals within families and communities, is (for this author, at least) a real strength.
A further strength is the extent to which qualified social workers operate across government agencies, international and local NGOs, charitable organizations and campaigning groups (and that their roles and contributions in all of these contexts are considered social work).
If the Philippines is, indeed, moving into a period of economic growth, it is to be hoped that some of the increased wealth reaches those most in need and that social work continues to play a central role in protecting people and communities from the potentially detrimental effects of social and economic development.