Office of the Vice President
12 June 2017
Message at the Defending Democracy Summit,UP School of Economics, UP Diliman
Convenors of Defend Democracy Summit, representatives from the urban poor, farmers, and fisherfolk, senior citizens, the academe, religious sector, youth and student organizations, women organizations, summit delegates, fellow workers in government, honored guests, ladies and gentlemen, good morning!
One hundred nineteen years ago, a flag was raised over a house in Kawit, Cavite, between four and five in the afternoon. Stitched carefully in Hong Kong by Marcela Agoncillo, Lorenza Agoncillo, and Delfina Herboza, the flag was unfurled for the first time, in front of a large crowd of people. With that simple act, a dream called the Republic of the Philippines began.
It was not just the dream of nationhood that led to that moment. Or of self-rule by a people that had languished under 300 years of tyranny by a foreign colonizer. It was also a dream of equitable progress and prosperity, for a multitude that had long been denied their just share in the bounty of their homeland. A dream to be heard, to live a life without fear, and not be forgotten.
But exactly 119 years after, is it not saddening that our people are still fighting for the same things? To be included, to speak freely and be heard, to be remembered, to live without fear? For sure, there have been laudable milestones, and many of our people are living in better conditions. They have better access now to almost everything material. Economic numbers show that our nation is wealthier than before. But the root of our people’s suffering on the ground is our failure to equitably distribute such wealth.
A Forbes article explained the problem this way: the richest 20% of the Philippine population received 52% of the country’s total income in 1994, nearly 11 times the share received by the poorest 20%. I quote: ‘Indeed, from 1957 till today, aside from brief periods of improvement, the country’s Gini ratio has changed little, consistently remaining the highest or one of the highest in Southeast Asia. In 2009, the poorest 20% of the population accounted for just 4.45% of national income.
Since the last Family Income and Expenditure Survey of the government in 2009, official poverty estimates have shown that several millions of our poor have either moved closer to the poverty line or been lifted out of it. These numbers represent real lives given a bit more hope. But they have yet to show if the improvement in the poverty figures have made a difference in income inequality. As the population of the poor grows, the rich get richer. Clearly, the work ahead of us is still huge.
The long path towards democracy and the movements that came afterwards—sustaining it, strengthening it, and now defending it—has been marked by dedication, honor, and valor. But it was also fraught with bitter mistakes, a huge detour towards dictatorship, senseless deaths, poverty, and shattered dreams. Is it not true that here and around the world, people are crying out: if democracy is so good, why hasn’t it addressed the suffering of the world’s poor? Why is freedom only available to the ultra rich? How about the freedom of the rest of the world’s population, to choose the paths their lives are going to take?
I don’t have the answers. All I know is what I can see and what I hear. Our people can no longer wait, to ALMOST reach the real promises of democracy.
Marami na tayong pinagdaanan sa ating pagsisikap na maipatotoo ang mga pangakong dala ng demokrasya. Inip na ang ating mga kababayan. Inip na tayong lahat.
Pero buo ang loob ko, maabot natin ito. At hindi matitinag ang ating paniniwala na tanging demokrasya ang makakapagdala ng tunay na kaunlaran sa ating bayan.
At the Office of the Vice President, our every effort and our every step is dedicated to reaching the poor and marginalized. Every week, sometimes even twice a week, we go to the farthest and poorest municipalities around the country. We make it a point to go to their barangays in the same manner the people in those areas reach their homes—via small bancas, trekking in small footpaths across ricefields, hiking on stony mountain trails, sweating during hot months, or drenched by the rain during rainy season.
There is power in taking the difficult road. It transforms the concept of democracy into something tangible. That’s because inconvenience and discomfort fuels empathy and real understanding. When we take the inconvenient path, it becomes easier to listen to the people with our hearts, not with our ears. Our small team acts with more urgency and efficiency after each visit, as if their souls just touched the hearts of their suffering family and friends. And in these poor, suffering communtities, we find hope for our nation.
Sa kanilang mga maliliit na tahanan tumitibay ang ating paniniwala na kaya nating abutin ang ating mga pinapangarap para sa ating bayan. Sa maraming pagkakataon, nakita po natin kung paano salubungin ng karaniwang tao ang kanilang paghihirap. Bugbog ng kahirapan man o biktima ng kalamidad, sa kabila ng kanilang maraming pagsusubok ay hindi sila nawawalan ng pag-asa. Patuloy ang pagsisikap.
These are the moments that allow us to set aside the narrative of divisiveness, hate, anger, and attacks that we experience in our nation today, and in many other parts of the world. It is true what someone said in passing: life is too short to bathe in other people’s rage. Instead, we must change the narrative with hope, unity, and positive conversations. This is something that ALL OF US can do to defend democracy. This is something that anyone—notwithstanding political color, tribe, religion, or gender—can do to fight for truth and freedom.
Pope Francis said in a January 2017 interview, and I quote: “Constant divisive attacks on other people or groups are not helpful and do not lead us to sanctity. It’s good to keep up with the world, but not through rage-filled people or news sources that purposefully goad us to unhealthy anger”.
All of us here believe that defending our democracy is our biggest fight today. The hard work of protecting democracy will require all of us to be strongly united. We may have disagreements on how to do things, but we should never allow these disagreements to divide us. These are extraordinary times, and if we are not able to lay aside our differences and talk to one another, we will be fighting enemies within as well as without. We will not stand a chance. It is imperative that we are united and focused on what are truly important.
We are already seeing our institutions being eroded. They are already weakening. We must move swiftly and effectively, if we are to ensure that they are strong enough for our children’s children. And more importantly, we must point our institutions towards inclusivity if we are to create a nation strong enough in these extraordinary times. In doing that, let us be more serious about giving the marginalized a seat at the table. When there is inclusivity, even at the birth of all our efforts, we are more likely to succeed.
Throughout the history of the world, from the Egyptians during the early days of mankind, to today’s technologically empowered societies, the roots of discontent have been caused by weak institutions that allow an entrenched minority to monopolize economic and political power. A documentation of why nations fail shows that countries that have allowed democracy to thrive and built strong, inclusive institutions are countries where people thrive better. WE NEED THAT DESPERATELY NOW: our people DESERVE to thrive better.
I have been to Marawi severel times over the past year, the latest being last March when we launched Angat Buhay for Lanao del Sur. The images of what I have seen before the siege are embedded in my mind. People were hopeful in spite of their poverty.
I visited again two Mondays ago, after the war began, but only went as far as Iligan City to visit the dead, the wounded, and those who were at the evacuation centers. The stories of the wounded who were extracted from ground zero and the cries of those caught in the crossfire continue to occupy my thoughts. Less dramatic and quiet, but no less urgent, are the problems of hunger and stunting among millions of Filipino children. Did you know that 95 child deaths every day among children are caused by hunger? We have REAL problems because of the erosion of our institutions, and we need real and urgent solutions.
This job will not be easy. The world today is a very different place. What worked before may no longer work now. This is the time to admit that where we are now in our journey towards democracy, may be the result, not just of other people’s mistakes, but also ours. Where did we go wrong? How do we now move forward? The most courageous act, perhaps, is to acknowledge our weaknesses. And that it is time to listen to others with divergent views. Again, a quote from Pope Francis:
“In times of crisis, we lack judgment, and that is a constant reference for me. [We] look for a savior who gives us back our identity and let us defend ourselves with walls, barbed-wire, whatever, from other people who may rob us of our identity. And that is a very serious thing. That is why I always try to say: talk among yourselves, talk to one another.” Close quote.
We have done that today—talk to one another—and because of that, we should be full of hope. Let us listen to each other and continue to collaborate. We must do this more often, not just during the celebration of the day we first let the flag of our independence symbolize our dreams for our people.
Let us build bridges of understanding, not walls. Let us bury our egos and our pride, and let empathy arise. Let us not just think of democracy as a concept, but as a means to lessen the suffering of our people. Let us not defend democracy for democracy’s sake, but for the emancipation of the last, the least, and the lost.
So, on this day, let us once again celebrate the greatness of our nation, our people, and most of all, the glory of our future!