MANILA, Philippines – Tears stream down Zeny’s pale, sunken cheeks as she gazes at the crude stick drawing of a figure of a mother holding on to her children, and at the words written underneath: “Sa aming pinakamamahal na ina, HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY! Salamat po sa inyong pagmamahal at pag-aaruga sa amin. Pagpalain po kayo ng Panginoong Diyos… ang inyong mga anak, Arvin, Mimi, Jhun-jhun (To our dearest mother, Happy Mother’s Day! Thank you for loving and taking care of us. May Almighty God bless you. From your children, Arvin, Mimi, Jhun-jhun).”

Her weary eyes slowly survey the one-room shanty where she lives with her three children, aged seven to 14, finally settling on her kids, huddled together in a corner, sleeping peacefully.

Widowed for more than two years, Zeny, 46, feels helpless since her husband died suddenly in an accident in the factory where he used to work. The case Zeny filed against her husband’s employers for negligence is still pending in court.

Her meager savings have all been used up, and to make both ends meet, she peddles snacks around the neighborhood. But the money she earns is hardly enough to feed and send her three children to school.

On the other hand, Robielyn, 32, still finds it difficult to accept what her husband has done – left her and their four children, aged three to 10, for another woman.

Compounding Robielyn’s woes was her being terminated from her job. Feeling emotionally bruised and physically exhausted, she is desperately in need of comfort and assistance.

Caren, 50, feels that her boys, aged 14 and 16, have drifted apart from her since the annulment of her marriage to her husband of 20 years, whom she had found to be a homosexual.

To her sons Mark and Dave, she should have stuck to the marriage. Working almost 10 hours a day to make her small buy and sell business succeed, Caren hardly has the time to interact with her troubled teenagers. Thus, she feels confused, lonely and guilty, and does not know where to turn for help.

Zeny, Robielyn and Caren are solo parents or nay-tays, a play on the term nanay-tatay (mother-father). Although their circumstances are different from one another, they – along with several thousands more – are considered vulnerable members of society, and in need of special guidance and assistance from the government.

Help on hand

Data from the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps) implemented by the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) show that some 170,000 beneficiaries are solo parents.

Forty-two-year-old Rita Callado of San Jose, Arevalo, Iloilo City, a Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino beneficiary, recalled her ordeal when she separated from her husband after 13 years of marriage.

According to Rita, “4Ps is a blessing to our family. I have found a new partner to help me sustain the needs of my children,” she said.

The Social Services and Development Department of Quezon City places the number of solo parents in the city at more than 6,000 based on the number of solo parents’ identification cards they have issued as of July 2011.

Single parents are entitled to assistance under Republic Act 8972 or the Solo Parents Welfare Act of 2000. The DSWD is the lead agency implementing the law.

It implements the law in coordination with the departments of Health, Education, and Finance, National Housing Authority, and Technical Education and Skills Development Authority.

The programs for solo parents include trainings on livelihood skills and basic business management, scholarships in basic, tertiary and technical/skills education and non-formal education, low-cost housing projects, and medical assistance, among others.

The DSWD and its partner-agencies also provide critical incident stress debriefing (CISD) designed to assist solo parents cope with crisis situations and cases of abuse.

Solo parents in crisis situations are also entitled to temporary shelter, counseling, legal assistance, medical care, self-concept or ego building, and spiritual enrichment.

Other privileges enjoyed by solo parents under RA 8972 are flexible work schedule, protection against work discrimination, and seven-day parental leave.

More research

The DSWD continues to research on ways to better understand and address the needs of solo parents.

In 2004, DSWD organized the solo parent-employees at its central office into a solo parents’ support group.

The group was envisioned to offer an environment of support where members could exchange parenting techniques and strategies for facilitating access to other social services.

The strategy was included in DWSD Administrative Order No. 86 providing for the implementation of psychosocial activities for solo parents and their children.

The group comprising more than 30 employees elected their officers and embarked on activities to strengthen the spiritual and moral aspects of its members. These include sharing sessions, spiritual enhancement, and peer counseling.

More than a decade after the Solo Parents Welfare Act of 2000 was signed into law, advocates of solo parents’ rights and welfare deem it necessary to amend the law to make it more responsive to the needs of solo parents nationwide.

The recent approval on third and final reading of House Bill 6184, entitled “An Act Granting Additional Benefits to Solo Parents, Amending for the Purpose Republic Act No. 8972, otherwise known as the Solo Parents Welfare Act of 2000” is a welcome development. It aims to provide relief to solo parents by offering them discounts and benefits.

The approved bill includes amendments proposed by the DSWD, such as decreasing the waiting period to declare abandonment of spouse from one year to six months and the imposition of penalties.

“Solo parents are part of the disadvantaged sector that DSWD serves and protects, it is our responsibility to support legislative measures which will help improve their lives,” DSWD Secretary Corazon Soliman said.

“The changing times and the growing number of single parent-households call for more holistic and substantial help from the government,” she said.

The DSWD admitted that much has yet to be done to ensure that solo parents across the nation benefit from RA 8972.

Some local government units, especially in the rural areas, are not even aware of this law.

But authorities said a stronger partnership between the government and the private sector would make a big difference.

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(reposted from The Philippine Star, June 24, 2012)