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FEATURE STORY July 10, 2017

It Takes a Village: Thriving Together in Tabuk, Philippines

In the town of Tabuk lies Pinukpuk, a municipality located in the northern part of Kalinga. Pinukpuk is an agricultural community where more than half of the population are indigenous peoples. It has a population of 32,000 and 2,200 are beneficiaries of the government’s conditional cash transfer program called Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (Pantawid).

Pantawid is a conditional cash transfer program supported by the World Bank and other development partners where households receive a cash grant when they regularly send their children to school and visit health centers for maternal and child care. It is the largest social assistance program in the Philippines, currently supporting 4.4 million households and 9 million children.

Pinukpuk’s municipal hall is an impressive structure—a gleaming mint green building supported by four large columns. Just beside the municipal hall is the health center. “We conduct regular check-ups, especially among Pantawid beneficiaries. We also get invited to talk about nutrition during family development sessions”, said Jairus Pacua, one of the nurses in the health center. In exchange for the cash grants, Pantawid beneficiaries are required to attend family development sessions which focus on a range of topics from nutrition to disaster preparedness.

Right across the health center is a concrete drying facility where Regina Marquez, a mother of three, is drying corn. Regina received her cash grant of 2,800 Philippine Pesos ($56) the previous day which she immediately used to buy half a sack of rice, a set of school uniform and new shoes for her daughter Krizel. Krizel is a 6th grader who dreams of becoming a teacher someday.

Providing social assistance to eligible households is not an easy feat. On particularly rough terrains, officials from the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), who implements the program, have to go on a 5-day hike just to reach beneficiaries in far-flung communities. Maria Madiguid, a staff from the DSWD regional office, has made this trek multiple times. “There’s an indigenous peoples community in the province of Apayao where you have to allot a week for a visit—two days of hiking to the community with an hour to rest in between, one day for visiting the community, and a two-day hike back,” she explained. 

"I want to take my qualifying exam in August and someday have the opportunity to work overseas, maybe in Singapore. "
ALS student

For most of the staff, the hard work involved to get the job done is worth it especially when they start seeing the results of the program. “Pantawid beneficiaries are healthier,” said Proserfida Gupaal, a nurse at a health center in Pinukpuk. “Though we see stunted children in the community, children of Pantawid beneficiaries are healthier. These children visit the center regularly for check-ups as parents know that it’s good for them. And of course it’s one of the conditions of the program. They are also automatically enrolled in the government’s health insurance program (PhilHealth), so they are easier to track than non-Pantawid beneficiaries,” she added.

Scenic views are a default in Pinukpuk and the Alternative Learning System (ALS) center in Allangigan is no exception. Situated on a grassy hill surrounded by trees, the center caters to students across all age groups to acquire the basic skills taught in formal schools. Gladys, 18 years old, is an ALS student who has been a Pantawid beneficiary since she was in 4th grade. Gladys had to stop schooling when she became pregnant with her first child. She enrolled in the ALS program so she can continue with her studies and at the same time take care of her 2-year old son. “I want to take my qualifying exam in August and someday have the opportunity to work overseas, maybe in Singapore,” she shared. Attendance in ALS sessions in lieu of formal schooling is also a requirement to receive cash grants under the program.

In another village, Fidel Sangdaan and other Pantawid beneficiaries started a fishpond business with the help of the government’s Sustainable Livelihood Program (also managed by DSWD). “We hope to earn enough money as a group to help others in the community especially those who are not part of Pantawid,” he said.

For most beneficiaries, cash grants are considered an allowance for everyday expenses and are usually complemented by other social assistance programs that help poor communities earn a living, such as cash-for-work or microenterprise programs.

Social protection programs require the full cooperation of the entire community, and the municipality of Pinukpuk is one example of how it can be done. In a school in Bayao, Pinukpuk, families of Pantawid responded to a call for help by the school principal by providing free labor to construct a water system. School and local government meanwhile provided funds for the construction of the facility. In no time, students had running water in their school.