Some need help in tracking down missing spouses. Others appeal for government benefits. And they come to President Corazon Aquino as their court of last resort.
Every year, thousands of ordinary Filipinos turn to Aquino, as they did to her predecessors, for help with the mundane problems of life and in sidestepping a bloated, cumbersome bureaucracy and ineffectual local government.
They might not be the sort of problems that would involve the White House.
But in a paternalistic society, tradition demands that the boss take care of subordinates. The president is not only expected to wrestle with complex issues of statecraft but also unravel red tape and intercede on behalf of the average Filipino.
‘Source of All Solutions’
“With a historical background of colonialism and a succession of governors-general in Spanish and American times, the datus (native chiefs) and sultans before that, the Filipino has been oriented to a strong, one-man leadership as the source of all solutions,” wrote commentator Luis Beltran in The Manila Standard.
Ricardo Galing, director of the presidential Office of Public Assistance, said his department processed more than 30,000 requests for assistance in 1987, the last year when complete records were available.
The office was established in the 1950s and maintains a staff of about 100 people to help with citizen complaints.
Galing said some of the appeals come from town mayors, village officials and even congressmen seeking help from constituents. But most come from ordinary people, he said.
“About 80% of those who come here to ask the government for help are our brothers and sisters in the depressed areas of the country,” Galing said.
He said the most common requests involve applications for government jobs, medical assistance or resolving rental, labor and property disputes.
A few seek help in marital disputes or tracking down spouses who went abroad for work and disappeared, he said. There were no figures on how many problems had been resolved to the satisfaction of the applicant.
“Sometimes, we just refer walk-ins to the proper government office and call ahead to say that so-and-so is on his way and to help them,” Galing said. “Sometimes we have to refer the problem in writing for a response.”
Others put their problems directly to Aquino in her weekly radio broadcast, “Ask The President,” which the government radio network carries every Sunday night.
The government’s Philippine Information Agency solicits and screens the questions. Aquino answers about a dozen of them every week--but sometimes short of what the supplicants had hoped for.
One caller, Alberto Tangapa of Cagayan de Oro, appealed recently for a government job so he could overcome “the injustices our family had suffered due to the cruel society to which we belong.”
“Please submit your application to the Department of Labor,” Aquino replied. “If you are qualified and if there are available positions, you may be hired.”
During another recent broadcast, a resident of Rizal province complained that his neighbor’s fence was blocking the pathway to his home.
“The mayor knows what they are doing is illegal but they won’t stop it,” he complained. “What can we do?”
“Before I give a rightful answer to your problem, I first want to know all the details,” Aquino responded. She ordered the Land Management Bureau to look into the dispute.