26 January 2017
Speech at the JPMAPTalks: I Am Possible 2.0, FEU Mini Auditorium
It’s great to be with so many young people like you, and to be in the presence of your academic mentors. You always energize me—with your massive potential, your creativity and spirit of innovation, and your search for deeper meaning.
In today’s world where divisiveness, polarization, and being mean is in- tama ba iyon?
Where our liberties, democracy, and our very way of life is under attack; and where Facebook posts look more real than real life, the boundaries between right and wrong could get blurred.
Events like these allow us to take a deep breath and find time to look for our True North. They teach us how to pause for reflection. And ask ourselves, are we still pursuing values of honesty, civility, integrity, empathy, and dignity. And are we allowing others around us to do the same? These are the leadership qualities that you, who will mold our country’s future, will need to build a nation of greatness.
When I was your age, many, many years ago, I also thought hard about what I wanted to do and what I wanted to become. My father was a long-time judge in our native city, who always sought to honor the spirit of the law, and his work inspired me to pursue the same career.
It took me a while, huwag kayong gagaya sa akin, before I proceeded to Law School – kasi nag-asawa na ako.
By the time I studied law, I was already married, was raising a family, and holding a full-time job as an economics professor. It wasn’t easy, and I’ve wrestled with some tremendous disappointments.
What helped me overcome each setback was this conviction: that the law should be on the side of those who are vulnerable to its maneuverings. And the most vulnerable are always the poorest, those who occupy the fringes of our society.
After I passed the bar, I joined the Public Attorney’s Office, defending the rights of indigent clients. Thereafter, I joined SALIGAN, it’s an acronym for Sentro ng Alternatibong Lingap Panligal, a non-profit organization composed of lawyers. We gave free advice to farmers and fisher folk involved in legal disputes, so that no one could use their poverty and lack of education against them.
While working with these communities, I remember that my colleagues and I would sleep in makeshift huts or sometimes in very small boats. It was rough work and we lost our own share of cases, especially when we were fighting powerful people, but every win was true and fulfilling, and every win meant the world to the people we helped.
This is the brand of governance that I stand up for. For me and my team, it is important that we don’t forget the humanity of the people we serve. The Filipino poor are not just faceless facts. Only by respecting the dignity of each person can we hope to empower them and transform them into partners.
In my first 100 days as Vice President, my team and I visited many of the poorest communities in the country. I was meeting farmers in a very remote barangay called Malaking Patag in Culion, Northern Palawan, when I noticed that everyone was emotional. The mayor was crying when she gave a short talk. The same with the barangay captain. Later, I learned that those were tears of joy because that was the very first time that the people in that barangay were being visited by a national government official.
These visits underscored the urgency of addressing pov-erty where the need is greatest. So last October, we launched our five-point antipoverty framework called Angat Buhay.
The framework is a comprehensive blueprint for fighting poverty, focusing on key sectoral issues, including health, education, and livelihood development — putting the Filipino family at the front and center of all our initiatives.
Under this framework, we hope to improve maternal and child health care by giving proper natal care to the poorest mothers around the country. Our second focus is on nutrition and food self-sufficiency. When mothers are in good health, their babies are likely to be as strong and healthy. This is the reason why we support the Department of Health’s First 1,000 Days Program.
You see, the first one thousand days of a child’s development are crucial in the formation of their mental and physical faculties. If babies do not receive the right amount of care and nutrition, they’re likely to be stunted, which results in irreversible mental and physical impairments.
Just to show you how alarming this stunting phenomenon is in the Philippines, there is a very small, very poor town, called Agutaya, hindi ko alam kung narinig ninyo na ito, also in Palawan. To get there, you take a 10-hour boat ride from Coron. We went in November and saw the children, I noticed that the Grade 5 students were only as tall as the Grade 1 students. All the kids I saw were stunted.
On the way back, the doctors I was talking to said those children would never recover. Ganoon pala iyon, iyong sinasabing mahina, iyong sinasabing bansot, iyon pala ay dala ng stunting. Pero ang nakakalungkot doon sabi ng mga doktor, stunting is already irreversible from age 5 up. So talagang early intervention ang kailangan. Kaya sabi namin, paano pa natin matutulungan pa iyong mga stunted na bata doon?
Quality education is another thing we want to focus on. Now that the K-12 system is in place, we’re seeing a greater emphasis on preparing young Filipinos for career development.
To support this, we’re advocating for better technical or vocational training for senior high school students. If we help them this way, they have a much better chance at finding meaningful work in adulthood.
But what about Filipino adults already constrained by poverty? We believe we can reach out to them, too. We plan to jumpstart rural development and economic self-sufficiency—especially in remote communities—by making supply chains more rewarding for our poor farmers and fishermen. We plan to give them the necessary training they need so they can grow their livelihood into proper enterprises.
Those who are taking up business courses should be interested to know that we have a very good model for this already. Jollibee Foundation partnered with a farming community in San Jose City in Nueva Ecija, and provided the technical know-how so that the onions they grew could be sold back to Jollibee. Jollibee used to import onions; now they are getting all their onions from these Nueva Ecija farmers. This Jollibee model would be a very good model to replicate in farms all over the country.
We have started to adopt the model already in one of our adopted communities in Tampakan, South Cotabato by linking the coffee and cocoa farmers there with Nestle Corp. Small-scale farmers and fisherfolk can get proper training, which will allow them to engage in business with more clients.
These new clients could include nonprofit groups, small to medium enterprises, or even the local and national government. Ultimately, what we have in mind is a countryside of budding entrepreneurs who can help drive the economy from the ground up.
Finally, we are also looking at empowering Filipinas all over the country. We have teamed up with the right partners to influence the conversation on gender awareness and equality. When the Filipina is liberated from the constraints of sexism and bigotry, she can flourish into her fullest self and be in the best position to make a difference to the community. The fight for women’s rights is the fight for everyone’s rights.
I would like to extend an open invitation to everyone, ito seryoso ito, within the sound of my voice, to join us in the Angat Buhay program. Pwede kayong sumama sa amin kapag pumupunta kami sa probinsya and that is every week. We have many millennial volunteers, who have been going with us in our provincial trips, who have been helping us, working with our partners. This would be a good chance for you in making the first step to make our country great again. Iba ang inaaral sa nakikita.
You see, it is the endurance of reform and the public’s ownership of that reform, that I hope to bring to this country, so that the fruits of good governance are never beyond the reach of our people.
In a political environment such as ours, the welfare of the ordinary Filipino is often shelved in the most terrible name of greed, in the name of greater wealth and power. In our history, this manifested most brutally in a dictatorship where rights were disposed of as swiftly as bodies were.
We must not let this happen again. We must not allow our people—especially the poor—to be rendered disposable, to be degraded as mere numbers in a game of blood and bullets. No, the Filipino people must always be the fulcrum of our endeavors. Only then can we aspire for real solutions that can actually work. Only then can we truly say that we hope to serve well, and that we hope to make a difference, however small.
Thank you very much, and mabuhay kayong lahat!