Emily Sarmiento performs a ritual prayer during the Katutubo Caravan held in Brgy. Puray, Rodriguez, Rizal. With the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program, her traditional views on health and education have changed, paving the way for a better future for her children.
Emily Sarmiento performs a ritual prayer during the Katutubo Caravan held in Brgy. Puray, Rodriguez, Rizal. With the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program, her traditional views on health and education have changed, paving the way for a better future for her children.

A Dumagat woman broke the age-old tradition of her tribe and never regretted her decision.

Emily Sarmiento, 44, from Rodriguez, Rizal, fondly called Kwatang by her tribesmen, said she cannot afford to repeat the mistake of compromising her family’s well-being just so to follow her tribe’s long-held traditional beliefs.

She recognized how Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program, implemented by the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) enlightened her perspectives and finally mustered enough courage to defy the culture that she has known all her life.

Healed by the spirits

The mistake Emily was referring to was the death of her fourth child.

Emily who was then pregnant with her fourth child was forced to seek medical help at a hospital in the town proper.  However, keeping in mind a Dumagat tradition that the spirits will heal the sick, she escaped from the hospital. She delivered her baby at home all by herself.  After a difficult labor, Emily delivered a dead baby.

“Eto pong pangyayari sa buhay ko ang nagbigay daan para matangap ko na tama ang mga tinuturo sa Family Development Session ng Pantawid Pamilya.  Noong una ay di ko matanggap dahil taliwas sa aming kultura at paniniwala. Pakiramdam ko po kasi na kapag tinaggap ko ang program ay isa itong pagtataksil sa kinagisnan kong paniniwala (The tragic episode in my life made me realize that the teachings in the Family Development Sessions of Pantawid Pamilya are true which I rejected at the start because of guilt. I felt that accepting the program would be a betrayal to my tribe’s culture),” Emily related.

“Ngayon po ay taos puso ko pong tinatanggap ang programa (Now, I wholeheartedly accept the program),” Emily said.

Pantawid Pamilya

Pantawid Pamilya is a poverty alleviation program of the national government that aims to break the inter-generational cycle of poverty of poor households by investing in human capital particularly on health, nutrition, and education of children aged 0-14.

Beneficiaries are given cash grants of as much as  P1,400 pesos for the education and health needs of three qualified children. To continue receiving the grants, families should comply to the following conditions:  Pregnant women must avail of pre-and post natal care in a health facility and attended by professional birth attendant during childbirth; children 0-5 years old must receive regular preventive health check-ups and immunization; parents or guardians must attend monthly family development sessions; children 3-5 years old must enroll in day care and attend at least 85 % of the classes monthly;  children 5-14 years old must enroll in pre-school and elementary or high school and should have an attendance of at least 85% monthly; and children 6-14 years old in elementary and high school should receive deworming pills twice a year.

Emily’s family is one of the 370,766 indigenous people enrolled in Pantawid Pamilya. Nationwide, there are  3.9 million household-beneficiaries of  the program as of June 26, 2013.

Family Development Sessions

After attending the Family Development Sessions (FDS), Emily realized that she has no one to blame but herself for the unfortunate incident that happened.

“Natandaan ko sabi sa amin sa FDS na ang pagiging magulang ay isang responsibilidad na dapat panagutan (I remember that our facilitator during our FDS said that being a parent is a responsibility),” Emily said.

FDS is a regular gathering of parent-beneficiaries of Pantawid Pamilya.  It consists of three modules, namely: Paglalatag ng Pundasyon ng Programang Pantawid Pamilya, Paghahanda at Pangangalaga ng Pamilyang Pilipino, and Partisipasyon ng Pamilyang Pilipino sa Gawaing Pang Komunidad. Topics discussed during FDS include effective parenting, husband and wife relationships, child development, laws affecting the Filipino family, gender and development and home management.

Through the FDS, Emily’s perspective in life changed tremendously. She began to enrich her knowledge and learn more about her roles and responsibilities as a mother.

Emily is now paying more attention to her children’s health and well being by giving them vitamins and taking them to the health center for checkup.

Learning to value education

Further,  Emily now puts a premium on the education of her children.

Looking back, before Emily’s family became a beneficiary of Pantawid Pamilya, she recalled that her children only attended an informal school in their sitio, a three-hour walk from the nearest elementary school in their barangay.

For the Dumagats, education is not important because eventually, at the age of 14, the children have to get married especially the girls. Emily herself married at 14, still in Grade 2, due to demands of her parents.

After realizing the importance of education, the family decided to move to the house of Emily’s brother, just a 30-minute walk to school. Currently, her three children are in school.

Emily plans to rent a stall in the market where she can sell their  produce to support her children’s education once they reach high school and college. Emily and her husband work hard daily planting crops to augment and save enough money  to  support their children even when the program is over.

Ultimately, Emily wants her children to have the opportunity to go as far as their abilities will take them.

“Ayaw kong matulad ang mga anak ko sa aming mag-asawa. Gusto kong makapagtapos sila ng pag-aaral at maging guro, pulis o kahit na anong gusto nilang maging (I do not want my children to grow up unschooled like us. I want them to finish school and become a teacher, policeman or any profession they want to become in the future).” Emily said.

From being indifferent to sociable

Emily also revealed that the program boosted her confidence. She became a parent leader who is willing to lend a helping hand to her fellow beneficiaries. What’s more, she can now accompany her fellow beneficiaries to the hospital and stay with them if necessary, without fear and guilt.

Still a Dumagat at heart

Emily went beyond her tribe’s tradition, but she is welcoming the change wholeheartedly. She may be practicing new things now, but she is still a Dumagat at heart.

Emily is hopeful that Pantawid Pamilya will extend the educational assistance of children-beneficiaries until they graduate from high school to give them a better chance of finding work.

Indeed, she realized that there are things outside of her deep-rooted traditions that can bring a better life for her family, especially her children.  ### (DSWD-Social Marketing Service and DSWD-Region IV-A/Noemee Jane Mayor) 10 July 2013