The undersecretary strives
to achieve DSWD’s aim—zero
poverty and zero hunger for
BY MARIELLE MONTAYRE
PHOTOGRAPHY BY ROMEO PERALTA, JR.
I want the Filipino people to feel DSWD’s presence. I want DSWD to reach out and not the other way around.” This declaration of the agency’s commitment comes from Undersecretary for Operations
Aimee Torrefranca-Neri of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD).
The DSWD is the lead government agency mandated to formulate, implement, and coordinate programs and policies for the social welfare and development of the Filipino people. It has livelihood programs that empower communities; financial assistance for those who lost their jobs and cannot return to their province; medical assistance for those who cannot afford proper healthcare; and more. Today, this
multifaceted agency continues to strive toward achieving its ideal of zero poverty and zero hunger for
Since 1939, the DSWD has undergone several name changes—from the Department of Health and Public Welfare, to the Social Welfare Commission, to the Department of Social Services and Development. In 1978, it became the Ministry of Social Services and Development. In 1987, it was reorganized by then President Corazon C. Aquino to what is known today as the DSWD. Yet, throughout its history, the
agency’s mandate remained the same in furtherance of the social welfare and development of the
poor, especially children, women, older persons, persons with disabilities, families in crisis or at risk, and communities needing assistance.
The DSWD leadership’s commitment to improving the ordinary Filipinos’ lives has also remained through the years. It is this same commitment that Usec. Neri continues to honor and live by. Previously assigned to the Department of Justice as Assistant Secretary and to the Bureau of Immigration as Associate Commissioner, Usec. Neri is committed to her new position at DSWD. On September 3, 2018,
Usec. Neri joined the ranks of the DSWD alongside Secretary Rolando Bautista.
“Even with my other posts prior to being DSWD Undersecretary, I always reminded myself of the
philosophy that I inherited from President [Rodrigo] Duterte. He always tells us [that] if you enter
public service, you have to love the people; otherwise, you’ll suffer burnout,” says Usec. Neri. “So
that’s what’s inculcated in my mind—when I’m in public service,
I really have to love the people.” Such personal philosophy is apropos to the mandate of the DSWD.
The 38-year-old public servant graduated with a degree in AB Economics and Bachelor of Laws
from the Xavier University Ateneo de Cagayan. She has extensive experience as a lawyer, having
served the Court of Appeals Mindanao, as well as the ATN Law-CDO and P&T Law Firms where she was managing partner. She is also known for her work as a women’s rights advocate.
The DSWD has many priority programs, one of which is the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program or 4Ps, a social protection program meant to aid the health and education of poor Filipino households. Beneficiaries receive cash grants for health, education, and rice subsidy upon fulfilment of certain conditions. The 4Ps targets 4.4 million beneficiaries, while the actual registered number of beneficiaries under the 4Ps is around 4.1 million.
There is also the Sustainable Livelihood Program (SLP), which aims to provide the poor with income-generating opportunities to improve their standard of living. With the SLP, persons in need can opt for either the microenterprise development that supports microenterprises to become more economically viable, or the employment facilitation that assists participants to further employment opportunities.
The Kapit-Bisig Laban sa Kahirapan-Comprehensive and Integrated Delivery of Social Services (Kalahi-CIDSS) is geared toward poor communities affected by calamities and disasters to improve local planning, budgeting, and disaster risk reduction and ensure access to services.
The Assistance to Individuals in Crisis Situation (AICS) aims to provide a safety net for those who face illness, death of a family member, natural or manmade disasters, and other crisis situations—it offers medical, burial, transportation, and educational assistance.
Finally, the Social Pension for Indigent Senior Citizens entitles indigent senior citizens to a monthly
stipend to augment their daily needs. Based on the directive of Secretary Bautista, the pension is to
be disbursed per semester for more efficient payout. This is the second priority of the DSWD because of
the clamor of more senior citizens, which resulted in the passage of Republic Act No. 11350 which
provides for the creation of the National Commission of Senior Citizens (NCSC).
“For my part, I really want to strengthen the Sustainable Livelihood Program,” the DSWD Undersecretary says. “The Pantawid has been strengthened because it has been institutionalized.”
The conditional cash transfers under the 4Ps is unfortunately not sustainable in the long run. It could,
however, help prepare economically disadvantaged Filipinos for participation in the SLP. The capital
given in the SLP aids the beneficiary to start his own business, earn profit once operational, and become selfsustaining. “I want to strengthen [SLP] because I want the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino beneficiaries
to graduate [from the program] not because of attrition, but because they are financially independent
already. My fervent desire is to strengthen SLP while I’m still here at DSWD, before my term ends,” she adds.