Cagayan Valley Business Convergence 2019
Crown Pavilion, Luna St. Ext., Ugac Norte, Tuguegarao City
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Thank you very much. Kindly take your seats. 

Ms. Alegria Limjoco, the national President of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry; Mr. Robert Lim, the North Luzon Vice President of PCCI; Mr. Cloyd Velasco, chairman of the Cagayan Valley Business Convergence 2019; Atty. Charo Villaflor, chief-of-staff of the Provincial Government of Cagayan and representing Gov. Mamba this morning; Atty. Romeo Calubaquib, City Administrator of the City Government of Tuguegarao, also representing the good mayor; Director Narciso Edillo, regional executive director of the Department of Agriculture of Region 2; Director Ruben Diciano, OIC, DTI-Region 2, regional director; Director Nestor Ave, regional director of TESDA-Region 2; all the other regional directors present; provincial presidents of the PCCI present; delegates from the different provinces of the Cagayan region; honored guests; ladies and gentlemen, magandang umaga po sa inyong lahat. 

It is good to be back in Tuguegarao. Alam niyo po gala ako masyado sa buong Pilipinas. Kanina paglapag ko sa airport, sabi ko parang ang Tuguegarao yata isa sa mga bihira kong mabisita. I think this is only the fourth time that I visited your region. The last time was after Typhoon Lawin. So masaya po ako na nakabalik muli and for a very good reason. Noong nakita ko pa lang: Cagayan Valley Convergence Program—Business Convergence—sabi ko parang akmang-akma sa ginagawa ng aming opisina. So thank you very much to Chairman Cloyd for having me over. 

Earlier, Ms. Limjoco was telling us of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Parati na natin siyang naririnig, ‘di ba? Fourth Industrial Revolution, globalization, and the fast-paced development of not just of the Philippines, but of the world. Kapag pinaguusapan nga iyong globalization and the Fourth Industrial Revolution, pinag-uusapan na ang commercial flights to the moon, ‘di ba? Artificial intelligence, and all those things. Parang iyong mga ka-edad ko, mayroon nang pakiramdam na hindi na yata natin nahahabol iyong development. 

But the sad part about it—and I think, that is what the challenge is for all of us this morning—is despite the many developments, despite the rapid, fast-paced progress of the world, we still have not solved two very important problems—hindi lang two pero marami pang iba—hunger and poverty, ‘di ba? Parang, bakit umaasenso nang grabe iyong mundo pero hindi pa rin nareresolve ng mundo iyong problema on hunger and poverty. And I think, part of—that is part of the reason why we are here this morning, or why we are here for the next two days: papaano ba natin hahanapan ng solusyon ang mga problemang ito by this convergence? 

Earlier, our… the President of the PCCI was telling us that our office has been involved in a flagship program called Angat Buhay. Angat Buhay was really an innovation of our office. Alam niyo po, I’m sure most of you are familiar with how the Office of the Vice President stands as far as the entire government bureaucracy is concerned. Kapag tiningnan natin iyong batas, wala namang nakasaad na… parang walang prescribed na obligations iyong Office of the Vice President. And right after the inauguration, I was looking at our budget. We have one of the smallest budgets in the entire bureaucracy. I was looking at the things that we are expected to do and I was telling my staff, “We can’t do six years just doing ceremonial work. So let us reinvent the office and make it more advocacy-heavy.” And that is why we came up with our flagship program called Angat Buhay. 

Pero iyong problema namin with Angat Buhay—we wanted an anti-poverty program—but our problem with Angat Buhay is where to get the funds. So doon namin pinasok itong convergence. We reposititioned—we positioned our office as just as a sort of a conduit between communities needing help and individuals and organizations wanting to help. And you know, the good thing about it is we realized that there are so many people wanting to help but just don’t know how. So we provided groundwork, we provided for, you know, all the coordination, pero pinapartner namin iyong mga grupong gustong tumulong and mga communities na nangangailangan ng tulong. 

When we started, we looked at the 20 poorest provinces in the entire country. Iyong 20 poorest provinces, we asked our teams to do the groundwork and look for the poorest communities, poorest municipalities in all those 20 poorest provinces. And we started by adopting 50—we started  by adopting 50 of the poorest, the farthest, the smallest of communities. Now, we’re in 176 [communities]. So—and we are so happy that we’re partnering—we started this just recently—with PCCI. Kinikuwento kanina… kinikuwento kanina ni Ma’am na we have an ongoing project now with PCCI and we are very, very grateful.

Anong implications noong very wide gap between the rich and poor? Parang it is so difficult for governments to manage communities dahil iyong progress, parati niyang ihahabol iyong mga families na napapag-iwanan. And our flagship program Angat Buhay is catered to those very poor families. Hinahanap talaga namin iyong pinaka-mahihirap. 

But we have in our midst, very, very, innovative, very, very good programs and one of them is the program of the Jolibee Foundation. I don’t know if you’re familiar with the program of Jolibee Foundation, pero mayroon silang programa, iyong farmer entrepreneurship program. 

Iyong farmer entrepreneurship program, before ang sabi, Jolibee was importing most of their agricultural produce needs. Iyong mga… pinaka-kailangan nila, ini-import nila kasi sometimes it’s cheaper, the quality is better, and sometimes, most of our communities cannot come up with the quantity that they need. But Jolibee, I think, in 2008, decided to try training one community in San Jose City in Nueva Ecija. Ito iyong onion farmers of San Jose City. Sinimulan niya, hinand-hold iyong mga onion farmers, pero nahirapan siya—nahirapan because Jolibee had to break mindsets, Jolibee had to, you know, change the entire outlook of the farmers, Jolibee had to organize these farmers into cooperatives, Jolibee had to train these people not just to be farmers but also entrepreneurs. But after so many years, nagbunga iyong kaniyang pinagpaguran. 

I don’t know if any of you has ever visited the onion farmers community in San Jose City in Nueva Ecija, pero sobrang inspiring iyong kanilang kuwento. We visited a community a few times, talagang ano na siya, model of convergence. Iyong kuwento ng mga farmers dati iyong pinaka-aspiration nila, mapag-aral iyong mga anak para maging call center agents sa Manila. Pero now, iyong mga anak nila bumabalik na sa Nueva Ecija to be farmers also gaya ng sinabi ni Ma’am kanina. And iyong income nila has multiplied a hundredfold. Talagang nagsimula sila sa walang-wala, ngayon, asensado na iyong buhay [nila]. They have several warehouses already, they have cold storage facilities, and that is owned by the cooperative already. 

After Typhoon Lawin, ‘di ba iyong Region 2 and the northern—North Luzon provinces in the country, talagang devastated by Lawin. And after Lawin, we partnered with Jolibee in a community in Kiangan in Ifugao. Pumupunta po kami. Kiangan, Ifugao is one of our adopted communities and we decided to help a group of farmers who are into planting bell peppers. Iyong mga bell pepper farmers ng Kiangan, Ifugao, inintroduce namin sa Jolibee Foundation and Jolibee decided to help them out. 

Nagbigay siya ng mga seedlings, nagbigay ng technical know-how, nagbigay ng capability building, and even—our office has been helping them with capital and many other things. And ngayon, just a few months ago, nakapasa na sila sa accreditation ng Jolibee. I visited them in January this year. Binisita ko iyong kanilang farm and sobrang inspiring ng kanilang story and they’re very excited because very soon, they will already be delivering their first harvest of bell peppers to Jolibee Foundation. 

Itong program ng Jolibee Foundation is, I think, is a very good example of convergence. Ang nagtutulong-tulong dito kasi hindi lang iyong farmer groups and a private organization, but also the government. Because DA (Department of Agriculture) is on board, DAR (Department of Agrarian Reform) is on board, DTI (Department of Trade and Industry) is on board, and many other government agencies that have local offices. We’re doing a similar thing and we are also being tutored by Jolibee Foundation, but we’re doing three other projects very similar to the Jolibee model: one is in Camarines Sur, another is in Lambunao, Iloilo, and the third one is in Zamboanga City. 

Sa Camarines Sur po what we did was we organized, we organized with the help of the Metro Naga Chamber of Commerce and Industry. We organized all the owners of restaurants, all the owners of hotels, and all the owners of hospitals. Mineeting po namin sila and we presented to them the Jolibee model and we asked them, “Would you be willing to partner with us kahit ilang produkto lang?” Noong sinabi [n]ilang, “Yes, we are committed to helping you out,” we also organized the very poor farmers. Hindi po ito iyong mga farmers na medyo nakakaangat na. Pero ito iyong mga farmers na kailangan na kailangan talaga ng tulong. Ito iyong mga farmers who do not have their own lands to till, farmers who do not have their own capital, farmers who do not have access to crop insurance, farmers who cannot get equipment and inputs from government agencies—we also organized them. 

Then what we did—the first thing we did after organizing them—is to do a survey: what are the top 10 agricultural products that are being bought by the hotels, restaurants, and hospitals? Doon naman sa farmer groups: what are the top 10 agricultural products that you are planting? Alam niyo po noong pinagtabi namin iyong dalawa, walang nag-match. Iyong tinatanim, malayong-malayo sa binibili. 

So iyon iyong first step: papaano ba namin ima-match because the market is already there, pero the demand and the supply do not match. So iyon iyong unang gagawin and there was a lot of resistance from our farmers. Kasi karamihan po sa mga farmers namin hindi ko alam kung same demographics. Ayan iyong ating DA Regional Director. Sa amin po, Director, karamihan po sa mga small farmers, they want to have a little of all the crops, ano? Iyong kaunting lupa nila, lahat na crops, mayroon sila so they don’t produce in quantities so they couldn’t compete as far as prices are concerned. And when you give them a list of all of the agricultural products that these hospitals, these institutional buyers buy, hindi nila kaya. 

So we entered into a contract with the hotel-restaurant owners. Sabi namin, “Puwede bang mag-umpisa lang tayo sa limang produkto?” and they agreed. Iyong limang produkto: kalamansi, ginger, lettuce, sili, and pipino. Nag-start po kami sa kalamansi. One restaurant alone wanted 100 kilos of kalamansi a day. Pinool na po namin iyong lahat na calamansi farmers, hindi namin kaya iyong 100 kilos a day. 

So why am I telling you this? I am telling you this because sometimes, all it takes is collaboration. Sometimes, all it takes is for people to sit down in one table and discuss: What are our needs? What can I provide? And iyong mga restaurants namin are only too willing to do a little sacrifice kahit mas mataas nang kaunti iyong presyo basta makatulong sila sa local farmers. 

When we did a survey, “How many of you are buying from local farmers?” None. So alam mo iyon, parang iyong kagandahan ng programa is: Government and the private sector are collaborating. Iyong chamber po namin, sila iyong parang integrator, sila iyong parang integrator, sila iyong tumutulong sa aming mag-organize. And then things are shaping up. We’re not just into kalamansi now, we’re also… we’re also in ginger. Nagte-testing na kami ng lettuce, although iyong lettuce na napo-produce ng small farmers namin hindi pa nakakapasa iyong quality so pinapaturuan namin sila. 

But you know, these things can happen if only we collaborate, if only we’ll look at convergence models. Or even if there are no convergence models, tayo iyong gagawa ng sarili nating modelo. And that is what our Angat Buhay program is all about: We go to communities—the Office of the Vice President does not have its own resources—but we look for partners who can provide for the needs of the communities. 

One such community that we’ve adopted—I don’t know if you’ve heard of them—is Siayan. Siayan is a town in Zamboanga del Norte. For many years, Siayan was the poorest municipality in the entire Philippines, with a staggering 97.5 percent poverty incidence. Ang tagal po [na] pinaka-mahirap iyong Siayan. And then in 2010, may na-elect na young lady mayor who was very proactive, who was thinking out of the box. The lady mayor started organizing the women in the barangays and then the women in the barangays who were organized were turned into cooperatives. And then all of a sudden, ilang years lang iyong tumagal, na-half niya na iyong poverty incidence. Naging second-class municipality na siya ngayon and it keeps on progressing. 

So again, why am I telling you this? Kasi sometimes, all it takes is innovation. Sometimes, all it takes is thinking out of the box. And now, pagpunta po namin doon—pagpunta po namin Siayan was on its way to progress already. 

But when we went, ang sabi ng Mayor, “Ang pinaka-problema po namin, very high dropout rate of high school students.” And then we did a study. We tried to find out what is the reason behind the very high dropout rates of students. And then we learned that students needed to walk six to 10 kilometers each day just to go to the nearest high school. Ano po ito, one to three hours of walk each way. At hindi ito walk sa patag na lugar, pero walk ito sa mountains, sometimes without trails, crossing several rivers, just to go to school. 

And then we found a partner—a private partner. The partner is called Yellow Boat of Hope Foundation. Ang foundation po nila—I don’t know if you’ve heard of them—pero iyong foundation nila, dati they just provide boats sa mga coastal communities. Then iyong boats, parang ginagawang school bus—school boats—na nagsusundo ng mga estudyante sa mga islands to bring them to school. But in Siayan, because Siayan is not a coastal community, we decided to innovate and build a dormitory instead. 

So with Yellow Boat of Hope Foundation, nag-build po kami ng dormitory inside the premises of the public high school. Ang usapan namin, kami iyong magbi-build, our partner, pero ang magra-run iyong public high school. Sabi ng public high school, kaya namin iyan i-run, basta sa amin, utilities lang at saka iyong suweldo ng bantay. Noong parang dorm master. Hindi namin kaya iyong pagkain. So ang usapan, kung sino iyong titira doon, potluck na lang ng pagkain every time they go home during the weekends. 

When I visited last year, we inaugurated the dormitory and 25 high school boys were already there, living for free. Our agreement with the school was they would choose the poorest of the boys and the ones who were going home the farthest or walking so many miles away. Noong kausap namin iyong mga boys na nakatira, some of them were already 22 years old but they were just in Grade 9, and the boys would tell us, “Dropout po ako nang dropout kasi ang layo pa po ng bahay namin. Kapag umuulan, hindi na ako nakaka-cross.” And now, just because of the dormitory, the increase in high school attendance is very dramatic. 

So gustong sabihin, talagang mag-iisip lang kung paano… mag-iisip lang… parang, we don’t allow ourselves to be confined with the existing models but we always try to find means. And now, because the Siayan dormitory has been very successful, we also did another project with the Rotary Club of Makati. We also built a dormitory in a farming community in Sumilao, which we will be inaugurating next week with the Rotary Club. And then we’re building two more in Eastern Samar, one in Balangkayan and another in Salcedo. So we’re building these dormitories in very far off places where there are few high schools and children have to walk very, very far just to give them less reasons not to attend school. 

So sobrang—again, why am I telling you this? Kasi there are so many problems in the community and the solution is not with government alone but also with the private sector. So that is what convergence is all about. Ang dami pong puwedeng gawin. 

Halimbawa po, we have another community in Palawan. I don’t know if you’ve heard of a town called Agutaya. Agutaya is one of the poorest municipalities in northern Palawan. Ang alam niyo siguro iyong Coron. You’ve heard of Coron, right? Iyong Agutaya po, 16 hours pa from Coron. So you have to take the boat from Coron to Agutaya. 

The first time we went, no electricity, no potable water, wala lahat. And then we were able to find partners, we were able to tap the CSR programs of companies. There is one partner, iyong Team Energy and another partner, ASA Philippines. Iyong CSR program nila, 400 plus households in Agutaya already have electricity now. Naglagay sila ng mga solar panels. And ano po iyong conversion noong electricity? The women already have livelihood activities because now, they do mats, they do hats, and they sell these to Amanpulo. 

So alam niyo iyon? Parang there is just so much that can be done. There is just so much that can be done and all we have to do is really collaborate. All we have to do is tap into the resources of each and every one of the members. There are just so many families, so many communities, that need help and if government and the private sector will collaborate and create convergence platforms, so much can be done. 

I am extremely honored and I am extremely grateful that you invited me to be with you this morning and allowed me to share with you our Angat Buhay program because it really is an example of convergence. And we’re dependent on business institutions, we’re dependent on private organizations, for us to be able to help these communities. 

So there is so much that can be done. I was told earlier that you have so many… you have so many chapters already in Cagayan Valley, so so many opportunities. 

So I end my speech by encouraging everyone to think out of the box, to look for innovative ways of reinventing what you have been doing now because transformation of society all lies with you. Sabi ko, kahit mayaman na mayaman na iyong ekonomiya, kung marami pa ring naiiwan—if so many people are still left behind, we cannot claim success yet. So it is the obligation, not just of government, but of everyone of us to make sure na iyong mga naiiwan, tulungan nating maiangat din. 

Maraming, maraming salamat po. Thank you very much for having me this morning. [applause]