07 February 2017
Message at the Primera Luz Filipina Lodge No. 69, Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of the Philippines, 96th Annual Installation of Officers, Abad Santos Hall, Plaridel Masonic Temple, San Marcelino, Manila
delivered on 06 February 2017
There is a small island municipality in Northern Palawan called Agutaya, a fifth class town with a population of around 12,000. You have to take a ten-hour grueling boat ride from Coron just to reach its shores. Agutaya has no electricity, and access to safe, potable water is still a problem. During the height of Typhoon Yolanda, their only school building was destroyed – leaving many children with not enough classrooms to use, even up to this day.
When my team and I went to Agutaya two months ago, some of the locals were on the verge of tears. We were told later on that it was the first time that a national government official visited their area.
While walking around, we noticed that the Grade 5 students were as small as the Grade 1 students. Those children were stunted and would never get better. Stunting is an irreversible condition. We left Agutaya with broken hearts, but we went home with determined spirits. We promised ourselves that we will be back with help.
The town of Agutaya is only one of the many forgotten corners that have been left behind in our quest for economic growth and prosperity. The island is just some kilometers away from Amanpulo – a luxurious, high-end resort known to cater to the rich and famous. The disparity between the two islands is glaringly disturbing.
Despite our triumphs and progress as a democratic nation, a quarter of our population is still mired in deep poverty. I have personally seen this up close during my trips to some of the most unheard of barangays in the Philippines.
I have talked, listened, and worked with these people – an advocacy that started when I was still working as an alternative lawyer for SALIGAN, a non-government organization. For almost ten years, we trekked on mountainous paths, walked through muddied rice fields, crossed rivers and seas, to reach out to remote barrios.
There, we would hold dialogues and organize the local community. We would eat and talk with farmers, fishermen, indigenous peoples, rural women, and even children. We would translate laws into the local dialect, provide legal advice, and even handle their cases.
In our daily interactions, we would sometimes discover how some laws can be used to silence the poor and discriminate against the powerless. How some people with bad intentions can work the system for their own benefit.
There were days when we would spend the night sleeping in boats and makeshift huts. But never in our lives did we feel so passionate and very much alive. That’s because we discovered that the poor have the capability to think of solutions to the problems they face. That given a seat at the table, they are not individuals just waiting for dole outs, but people who deserve to be heard.
Participatory governance, I believe, is the kind of governance that brings about real change. The job of managing the country does not solely belong to government. It is about time that we let our people lead us from the ground. After all, nation building is everyone’s calling.
Nowadays, it has become easy to speak of our countrymen in terms of facts and statistics. It has become so convenient to treat them as disposable collateral in a numbers game.
But behind these figures are real faces and lives that lay hostage to a bigger and more destructive war – the war against poverty – which has long been overshadowed by the brutal war on drugs.
For the past six months, the war on drugs has claimed the lives of more than 7,000 Filipinos. It has brought out the worst in some of us – resorting to brute force and abuse of power. Let us not allow this culture of fear and senseless violence to govern our people. Let us remember that true, genuine leadership chooses understanding and compassion over aggression.
This afternoon, I stand before an organization whose rich traditions in upholding the values of fraternity and good work have lasted for more than a century. Since the colonial era, Freemasons have always been at the forefront of the struggle for equality, justice, and freedom.
You have cradled the likes of Rizal, Bonifacio, and Aguinaldo – great men who selflessly offered and sacrificed their lives for the Motherland because they believed in truth, justice, patriotism, and selflessness. Great men who understood that any position of power or influence is a chance to serve those who have less in life— not a way to gain favors, entitlement, or fame and fortune.
Today, we are we being called once again to be of service to the nation. As you install and welcome your new set of officers, may you be more inspired to follow their footsteps and gaze at their lives as shining examples of leadership and kind-hearted service to fellow Filipinos.
Our countrymen need us now more than ever. Everyday, poor families struggle with hunger, malnutrition, unemployment, and lack of access to quality education. Some of you might ask: how can we face these challenges head on?
We, at the Office of the Vice President, believe that poverty is best resolved through effective partnerships and transformative action. Such is the driving philosophy behind our Angat Buhay program; Angat meaning lifting our poor from abject poverty, and Buhay to signal a respect for life—every living Filipino, both rich and poor.
Focusing on six key advocacies, namely: hunger and food security, health, education, rural development, women empowerment, and housing, Angat Buhay reflects our dreams for the poor Filipino family. The program draws strength from bayanihan and pagkakaisa – traditional, Filipino values that have long guided our quest for equality, justice, and democracy.
We are now piloting Angat Buhay in 50 partner LGUs across the country. We chose these local governments not just on the basis of poverty incidence, but also on their fidelity to good governance.
We’re talking about LGUs that have shown a commitment to transparency, accountability, and citizen participation. Through Angat Buhay, these 50 LGUs will be linked with much-needed aid and resources from our various partners. We have already received hundreds of pledges from corporations big and small, as well as from development partners and nonprofit groups.
One of the last speeches Jesse gave before he passed away was at the Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of the Philippines event on April 26, 2012.
I am not sure of any of you were there during that event. But I found it very interesting that in his speech, he mentioned a (quote) “dramatic change happening all over the world.” (close quote)
In that talk, he spoke about global power shifts that are happening, which some believe will be followed by turbulent times.
In 2016, we saw something like that. We saw the end of traditional power and the start of a new global order. Brexit and the triumph of Trump is leading to protectionism from globalization. People seem to have given up on democracy, frustrated with the way poverty has escalated in a world full of wealth, grand innovations, and fascinating discoveries.
We have learned how to send rockets to Mars and yet failed to solve the problem of famine, hunger, and irreversibly stunted children. Why is there so much want in the midst of great discoveries and abundance?
Stephen Hawking talks about this period as “the most dangerous moment in the development of humanity.” Widening inequality is our world’s greatest challenge at the moment, even as we face so many other difficult challenges—climate change, dense and imploding cities, epidemic disease, and hunger.
Hawking says: “We now have the technology to destroy the planet on which we live, but have not yet developed the ability to escape it. Perhaps in a few hundred years, we will have established human colonies amid the stars, but right now we only have one planet, and we need to work together to protect it.”
“To do that, we need to break down, not build up, barriers within and between nations. If we are to stand a chance of doing that, the world’s leaders need to acknowledge that they have failed and are failing the many.” Close quote.
You Freemasons hold positions of power and influence in our country today. May I suggest that we think about where we have failed our people—those at the margins who need our help the most.
This is the kind of patriotism that we need during these extraordinary times. Patriotism that springs forth from honesty from within, cooperation, and creative collaboration. Patriotism that puts the welfare of others before one’s self.
As we leave this room and return to our respective professions, may we always seek to extend a hand to the least, the last and the lost.
May we never forget that small island called Agutaya, in the northern part of Palawan.
And the great potential it holds, and others like it, in bringing our nation back together.
Maraming salamat po.