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    The Fight for Better Education

    27 October 2016 Keynote Speech at the 2016 General Santos Education Congress, Greenleaf Hotel, General Santos City

    Thank you very much for inviting me to speak before you today.

    Daghang salamat po sa inyong init na pagdawat sa aku-a.

    I must tell you, being here again in Mindanao gives me great joy and hope – that our tireless efforts to foster deeper ties and collaboration among our people will one day bring peace and prosperity to all.

    I don’t know if you are aware that Synergeia started in 2002, but it started with a small circle of mayors.

    Kabahagi po doon ang aking asawa, my husband Jesse was part of it when he was still mayor of Naga.

    Kaya when I entered and I saw a hall full of people, sabi ko I know that Jesse would be bursting of happiness if he were here, so see the Synergeia family already so big and so strong.

    To see local chief executives embracing the vision of education governance. To see teachers, school administrators, parent-teacher organizations, and other partners do their part.

    Tintingan ko po iyong mga nasa unahan, sabi ko talagang the spirit of collaboration is the in thing now. Alam ninyo po noong pag-umpisa po ng asawa ko sa Synergeia, we have three children, iyong amin pong anak ay six years apart, tatlo sila.

    And Jesse and I have been so involved in the education of our children. Pag sinabi pong so involved, understatement yata iyon. Kami pong mag-asawa ay mga stage parents sa education ng aming mga anak.

    Pag exam po ng mga anak namin, parang nag-e-exam din kaming mag-asawa. Hati po kami sa assignment ng aming mga anak, may mga subjects na para sa asawa ko, mayroon para sa akin.

    Parati po iyon sa amin pag umuwi na ang mga anak namin from school dapat nasa bahay na din kaming mag-asawa, even in all the years when my husband was mayor of Naga, hindi siya excused sa pag-tutor.

    And I remember very well, ako po iyong tipo ng nanay na sobrang pagka-OC sa pag-aaral ng mga anak ko. Napakahusay ko po gumawa ng reviewers. Color-coded po lahat ng mga reviewers na ginagawa ko. Alam na po ng mga anak ko na pag yellow iyan pangalan ng mga tao, pag green pangalan ng lugar, pag orange mga petsa—ganoon po ako ka-OC.

    Pero naalala ko po may mga subjects na hindi ko kaya, at Math po ay isa doon. Kaya noong naging DILG secretary ang asawa ko, iyong bunso nalang ang naiwan sa akin, because my two older daughters were with him in Manila already.

    He was appointed DILG secretary in 2010. Iyong bunso po na naiwan sa akin, parating contestant sa Math. Hindi ko na po kaya iyong kanya, I think she was in grade 5 or 4, hindi ko na kaya iyong inaaral niya.

    So pag may assignment po ang anak ko sa Math na hindi ko kaya, buti na lang may technology na. Pini-picturan ko po lahat ng Math problems, ipapadala ko sa asawa ko.

    I-sosolve po iyon ng asawa ko even if he was attending cabinet meetings. Paminsan nasa tissue pa ng Malacanang.

    Gagawin niya po ang mga solutions, pipicturan, ipapadala niya uli sa akin. Ganoon po kami ka-OC.

    But I think that was one of the reasons why my husband was first and foremost interested in joining Synergeia when it started. Because he knew that education is really the greatest multiplier of all.

    And education is not just the problem of DepEd. But it is a problem of everyone.

    I believe that educating children is also the whole country’s concern, most especially the Mayors and other local chief executives, who are the fathers of their communities. Improving the quality of public education is truly one of the most pressing issues in our society today.

    In a country where access to quality education is an ongoing battle for inclusivity – many Filipinos, especially the poor, do not get to enjoy many of the most basic necessities in life.

    Worse, those who live in far-flung communities and barangays are oftentimes left alone to manage the limited resources they have. Since my early days as an alternative lawyer.

    Alam po ninyo naging politiko lang ako noong namatay na ang asawa ko. But before I became a politician, I was a human rights lawyer. Ang pinagsisilbihan ko na talaga ang pinakamahihirap na communities. I have seen how deprived many of our communities are.

    Kaya po when I became a congresswoman, I made it a point to visit most far flung of our barangays. But my husband was mayor of Naga for six terms, almost 20 years.

    Ang nakikita ko lang parating example ay Naga. So I thought we were okay. But when I became a congresswoman of the third district of Camarines Sur, my district was Naga plus seven towns. When I started visiting the farthest of our communities, nakita ko ibang iba pala ang sitwasyon sa mga malalayo kumpara sa Naga.

    Just to give you several anecdotes, siguro bibilisan ko lang may panahon pa naman. One time I was visiting a mountainous barangay. Iyong barangay hall niya po may katabing paaralan.

    I was on my way to the barangay hall, and I passed by a classroom, it was a Saturday so wala pong pasok. What caught my attention was the classroom had five Manila papers sa kanyang walls.

    Noong tiningnan ko, nakalagay Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday. For each day, may nakalista na nine names of students.

    It was a grade 1 classroom. So tinanong ko iyong barangay kagawad, ang sabi sa akin, 48 po kasi ang estudyante sa classroom na ito pero 9 lang upuan.

    Kaya po nag-schedule sila kung sino ang puwedeng umupo para may chance lahat makaupo. Kasi kung walang schedule, mag-aagawan ng upuan.

    My heart was crushed when I saw that. It’s a basic right na bawat estudyante at least man lang makakaupo habang nag-aaral. So when I went home, and I’m talking about this because of collaboration, that it’s not just the concern of government but of everyone.

    I posed that on Facebook, kaya ang social media maganda din paminsan-minsan. I posted that on FB and put a picture of the Manila paper picture with the names and told the story of how it was.

    Alam po ninyo in a day, marami na kaming nakuha na sponsors ng chairs. And iyong dumating na upuan sa amin sobrang dami na, na hindi lang iyong classroom na iyon ang nabigayan namin pero napakarami nang ibang classrooms ang nabigyan na wala ding upuan.

    Another story, this was just last 2015 na pasukan. I was on my way to an IP community in Mt. Isarog and on my way, I saw along the roadside, may nakaupo na a group of people, about 15 of them.

    So hinintuan ko ang mga tao, sabi ko anong ginagawa ninyo dito? I remember it was a Thursday, pero ang noon Monday pasukan na, June iyon.

    Ang sabi nila, “Gumagawa po kami ng paaralan.”

    Sabi ko, “Nasaan ang paaralan?”

    “Ayan po.”

    May itinuro sila sa akin, eight posts, walang poste. The opening of classes was already on a Monday, and it was a Thursday.

    Sabi ko, “Nasaan naman ang paaralan ninyo?”

    “Iyan po ginagawa namin.”

    Sabi ko, then, “What are you doing on the roadside?”

    They were telling me they were waiting for their principal. Kasi ang principal namin, nakakuha ng pledge na P10,000. Wala pa iyong pledge, in-advance niya muna, nag-withdraw muna siya sa sariling ATM para ibili ng materials.

    So iniwan ko muna, umakyat ako ng IP community pagbalik ko nandoon na ang principal. Mayroon nga siya, mayroong kaunting coco lumber, mayroong pako.

    Pero what can you do with 10,000 pesos? So sinabi ko, but they weren’t asking for anything, very positive pa.

    Sabi nila, “Puwede iyan, Ma’am, kaya namin iyan ng Monday.”

    So tiningnan ko ang aking pitaka, mayroon akong P12,000.

    Sabi ko, “Sige na sa inyo na din ang P10,000, iwan na sa akin ang P2,000.”

    Tuwang-tuwa sila. Makakabuo na po kami ng paaralan.

    So, you know why I’m telling you this? The passion and dedication of our teachers. Sarili na nilang pera, ibibigay pa. And these are teachers who would travel very far and would walk very far just to reach the school.

    Then when I went home, again I posted it on FB. And in less than a week we were able to collect more than 300,000Php. Nabuo po namin ang paaralan and not only that, they were able to build four classrooms.

    Kalahati lang iyong wall, humingi na lang sa amin ng trapal pang-cover from the elements, but you see how dedicated the teachers and the parents are.

    And it only became possible because of the collaboration of the two most important ingredients of education. When the participation of the private sector made it possible for them.

    Dinala ko po doon ang DepEd, noong pinost ko siya nakakalap kami ng donations [unintelligible] we sat him there, and just two months ago, we inaugurated already a complete school building of four classrooms also.

    Ang laging tanong, kung hindi ko pa nadaanan ano na kayang nangyari sa kanila. And this is where collaboration is really very important.

    Unfortunately, solving the challenges and inadequacies in our public school system requires more than just having grand visions and well-drawn plans. Our local leaders know this. Many times, what looks good on paper does not translate well into actual practice.

    This Education Congress is your brave response to finally overcome the challenges we are facing. We must turn to one another and generate ideas to fully equip the next set of leaders and game-changers of this nation — our nation’s children. Kasi ang panahon natin tapos na, ang susunod na panahon dito na sa mga bata.

    We must continue engaging local officials, principals, teachers, parents, and even the students to be critical of how things have always been run. Not to be contented with the status quo.

    It is about time that we realize that if we are to truly address the root cause of any problem, we must turn to concrete, actual experiences on the ground to come up with the best solutions.

    Parati po itong kinukwento ng Synergeia, one of the initiatives that my husband started in Naga with Synergeia was reinventing the local school board. But I want to briefly tell you know how it all started.

    So my husband when he was the mayor of Naga in the early 2000, he started a program called Quality Universal Elementary Education in Naga or QUEEN Program. It was launched in early 2000 to address the high rate of school dropouts in the city.

    Conducting several consultations with constituents, the local government found out that children from indigent families had to work to augment their parent’s income.

    Wala pa po noong CCT, wala pang Pantawid Pamilya. Parents did not have money to pay PTA fees and other charges that covered the school’s operating costs. Instead of reading books and doing their homework – children were “forced to grow up” as trash scavengers, watch-your-car boys, or peddlers in the market.

    For a city with school-age children comprising 32% of the population, this proved to be a colossal task that government alone could not solve. The solution was to work closely with the Naga City People’s Council (NCPC) composed of a hundred local NGOs and people’s organizations.

    After several meetings, this collaboration proved to be very successful. Guided by the belief that budgetary allocations should always be aligned with the city’s vision-mission, Naga got the support of the Local School Board, which provided the necessary budget from the Special Education Fund (SEF) to support various projects, including the QUEEN Program.

    Eventually, this led to the expansion of the local school board to include in its membership, representatives of the other sectors of society.

    To ensure that children would show up in class, parents were given incentives such as rice subsidies every quarter for their active involvement in school activities such as PTAs and QUEEN General Assemblies.

    Students could focus on their studies, get high grades and eventually graduate. On the other hand, the amount saved for rice can be allotted for the children’s transportation and allowance.

    With over 24,276 student beneficiaries from approximately 14,000 families in 2014, the QUEEN program highlighted the significant role of LSBs not only in pushing for accountability but also in securing the future of our youth.

    Sa Naga po iyong local school board was expanded to include many other representatives from different sectors of society. The results were really outstanding in a sense that because other sectors were already represented in the local school board, ang nakikita nalang hindi na lang iyong education aspect but pati ang poverty aspect.

    The local school board was already willing to send for things like rice subsidies etc. And remember this was the time when the CCT and Pantawid Pamilya were not yet there.

    Your LGU’s involvement becomes even more crucial this 2016, as the K-12 program undergoes transition. For instance, the creation of an Education Coordinating Council, parang first time ko nga iyon Mayor narinig.

    That an LGU has created an education coordinating council. Composed of different groups from the private sector will be most beneficial in providing students with sufficient information so that they can choose specialization tracks that will ensure productive employment or business opportunities after senior high school.

    Iyong anak ko pong bunso, first batch ng K to 12, grade 11 po siya ngayon. Kaya this is really a very crucial time in our nation’s history. In the sense that the success of the K to 12 this year, will [unintelligible] to the benefit to the success of the future batches.

    When LGUs, such as the city government of General Santos, do more in bridging industries with schools, students and their parents can make informed decisions. Use your experiences on the ground to come up with programs that will address the mismatch between the supply and demand of skill sets in our cities and provinces.

    Hopefully mawawala na po iyong mismatch na ito, kapag tayo na ang nagkakabit ng supply and demand.

    In the 1920’s there was musical “The New Moon” isa po sa mga kanta sa musical na ito, Stout Hearted man. There’s a line that goes: “Start me with ten who are stout-hearted men, who will fight for the right they adore. Start me with ten who are stout-hearted men, and I’ll give you ten thousand more.”

    Highlighting the fact that sometimes it only takes one man’s fervent dream to inspire one whole nation to act, the song reminds us the important role of leaders in our communities.

    At iyong leaders pong tinutukoy natin kayong lahat na nandito.

    I am very happy that just like Naga, General Santos is currently exploring the possibility of becoming your region’s educational hub. And with this dream comes the great price of ensuring that your local officials, especially your mayor, will take on the challenge of carrying the torch of leadership – so that as one, your city can achieve your collective dreams.

    Remember always, that the full realization of any vision begins with a simple act of sincere commitment.

    So, as you listen to the different issues that will be raised in this summit, may you always remember that reforms have a greater chance at success when local chief executives believe in them.

    Good local officials mean good communities.

    This is the time to engage your LGU.

    Be the influence you are looking for.

    Alam ko pong marami tayong reklamo, marami tayong hinihingi, pero let us always remember that we are the change we want to see.

    Engage. Discuss. And propose.

    Use your influence and use it now.

    You are the hope of 24.4 million children in our public schools.

    You are the hope of our nation.

    Maraming salamat po at mabuhay kayong lahat!

    Posted in Speeches on Oct 27, 2016