30 January 2017
Speech at National General Assembly of Lady Local Legislators’ League of the Philippines
It’s a privilege to be here with all of you today. Being in the presence of incredible women makes me feel like we can take anything by storm.
We live in extraordinary times. Sigurado po akong nasasaksian niyo yun. There’s growing noise around the world, encouraging a culture of hate and division and polarization. People’s liberties are at risk and the easier option is to disengage and fall into a resigned sigh. As women, we CAN’T opt to keep quiet and sit down on the sidelines.
Our country currently ranks 7th in the 2016 Global Gender Gap Report, putting us ahead of over a hundred other states like Switzerland, Germany and United Kingdom.
More women are running for Congress and in Senate and are in very influential positions in government. The percentage of female elected officials rose to 20% in 2013 than 16% in 2004.
Apart from that, our country has the second-largest proportion of women in senior management roles – second only to Russia and ranking highest in all of Asia.
Ano po ang ibig sabihin nitong lahat? Lady legislators, you have been called for such a time as this…to flex your unique kind of power…to champion our people’s rights and basic freedoms during these extraordinary times with democracy and our very way of life is under attack…to lead and build a society that’s stronger and more resilient…focused on the values of integrity, empathy, kindness, patience…coupled with a laser-like focus on excellence over mediocrity, transparency and accountability over self-interest, and good governance.
The topic you’re taking on today is one way of doing all these. Local government budgeting can be so technical and intimidating. But if you commit your new knowledge to understanding, the rewards are tenfold: increased competence, a keener approach to local governance, and a greater ability to serve your constituents.
As a former Congresswoman, I’ve found that budgeting on the local level requires three things. First, we’re asked to know, very intimately, the unique needs of our constituents. Second, we must welcome innovation. Third, and most important of all, we must work with integrity.
Let’s talk about the first point. One of the best things about local governance is the closeness you share with the people you serve. The National Government will never have the proximity that you regularly have with ordinary Filipinos.
Therefore, citizen engagement is your leverage. Not for the sake of expanding your political influence, but for the sake of serving your constituents better. In the case of local budgeting, your closeness with your communities should give you insight on their unique needs. That kind of insight should help local officials craft budgets that are responsive and strategic.
The local government budget is the blueprint of your progress. A budget that isn’t strategic will not solve poverty. It might even worsen it. And we all know that poverty is the bigger war we all have to fight.
Let’s talk about the second quality that’s required of us. We need to find spaces for innovation in order for us to thrive. The rules that govern our work can be limiting. Maraming masyadong bawal, ‘di po ba? And that’s fine, because the rules protect the integrity of our local governments.
The challenge, then, is for us to find smart and creative ways to generate more revenue for our LGUs. We have to come up with fresh solutions that will address recurrent problems in income generation, like partnering with the private sector and creating systems that will illustrate how accountable we are with the use of their resources. The solutions must always abide by the law. Dapat walang shortcuts. Innovation demands that we test the limits without disrespecting them.
Finally, I can’t overemphasize the need for integrity. It is the root of transparent, accountable, and open governance. Public office is a public trust, as they say. To do justice to that trust, we must do our work with our principles intact. Without integrity, an elected official can be seduced by power or wealth, and later fall prey to corruption. Without integrity, we can lose sight of our purpose: that of upholding the welfare of our constituents.
When it comes to public financial management—including revenue generation and budget authorization—shortcuts will be very attractive. And unfortunately, Philippine local governance is notorious for cutting corners. It’s about time we repair that reputation with the proof of our service. We must defy the tradition of corruption with the sincerity of our integrity.
If you think of it, these three qualities are also crucial to governance as a whole. And here’s what happens when we put citizens at the heart of our work. Here’s what happens when we’re unafraid to innovate reforms, when our leadership is built on integrity: we can raise the caliber of local governance. We can serve our people better.
The effects of good governance also go beyond improved service delivery. Its ultimate effect is the empowerment of ordinary Filipinos everywhere. Indeed, empowering our citizens is the point of public service. It’s not enough for us to dream of a nicer future for our country.
To make that dream a reality, we have to show the people that they can be part of the solution, that they have a role to play in nation-building.
Too many of our constituents are rendered helpless by poverty and inequality. Again, I emphasize that this war on poverty is something that we all must take seriously. As local legislators, you must take the lead in empowering your communities in this fight. But to truly empower the poor, we have to uphold their rights and liberties.
They must not be dehumanized. The poor are not a disposable inconvenience, easy to get rid of through summary killings. Instead, their lives are a grim reflection of how society has failed them. They deserve better from the government. They deserve better from all of us.
Being women, being bearers of life itself, you would know firsthand the value of human life. Your duty is to develop legislation that honors and protects the well-being of every Filipino, so that the disempowered are finally empowered.
That word—“empowerment”—to me holds much weight. Most of you know my journey, I was a human rights lawyer. For years, it was the cry of the disenfranchised that I amplified; it was their fight that I fought. Now that I am Vice President, the fight of the poor and marginalized is still my fight.
Everyday, I am filled with gratitude that I too, have been called for such a time as this, to bring their causes to the fore, and do my best to make people listen.
You are all amazing women who have the ability to uplift the lives of our people. Use your strength and your influence to empower them – especially our women. I believe that you can help bring out the best in our people.
We have all been called for such a time as this. And it is time to fully live up to our call and work hard to serve our people – not just by duty or drive for power or fame, but with passion and purpose.
Thank you very much, at mabuhay po kayong lahat!