Keynote Message at the Asian Forum on Enterprise For Society 2018
Thank you very much. Thank you very much. Kindly take your seats.
Excellencies of the diplomatic corps; Ambassador Jose Cuisia Jr., the Co-chair of the AIM-RVR Center for Corporate Social Responsibility [Board of Advisors and former ambassador of the Philippines to the United States] Dr. Anjan Ghosh, the Co-chair [of AIM-RVR Center Board of Advisors and Regional Director of the Corporate Affairs of Intel Corporation in the Greater Asia Region]; Of course, Mr. Ramon del Rosario [Jr.], thank you very much for the generous introduction and thank you for emphasizing that I’m… the one and only duly-elected Vice President [applause]. Former Secretary Senen Bacani, Chairman of the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation; Ms. Carn Abella, President of the Ramon Magsaysay Awards Foundation; And of course, Dr. Jikyeong Kang, the President and Dean of the AIM; I saw in the audience former government officials: we have former Chief Justice Hilario Davide Jr. and former Chief Justice Artemio Panganiban [applause]; And former Senator Jun Magsaysay is also here; we have former Cabinet secretaries: DOT secretary Mon Jimenez, CHED chairman Patty [Patricia] Licuanan, Brother Armin Luistro of DepEd; former PMS secretary Vicky Garchitorena, SSS chair Johnny Santos and many more; business leaders who are here, our experts, visionary thinkers and corporate social responsibility practitioners; honored guests; ladies and gentlemen: Magandang umaga po sa inyong lahat!
The ability of human beings to survive and even thrive on this planet hinges on how good we are at re-imagining and re-shaping our future. Throughout the corridors of time, our transformation—from hunter-gatherers, to inventors, to space travelers—show a continuing narrative of vast imagination and creativity. And in the next two days, much of that open-mindedness will be put to the test, as you discuss—and perhaps debate—in this important forum the fine points surrounding the critical questions humanity face today.
Re-imagining the future is a critical conversation at this specific moment in the history of our world. We are facing a major turning point as we approach the so-called fourth industrial revolution. And we all know that these kinds of planetary changes have always been accompanied by social unrest, institutional upheavals, and chaos.
The outcomes of the changes we face are not yet written in the stars. We may emerge stronger, or we could end up divided and distrustful. That is why this forum is momentous. What we talk about in this podium and in smaller group discussions could solve many of the world’s intractable problems. My prayer is for these discussions to take shape into real movements, so that our re-imagined future becomes one that is full of hope and potential.
Before we talk about robots and artificial intelligence, let us trace the velocity of innovation since man first discovered fire. From the hunting-gathering stage, it took millennia for man to invent the steam engine, the press, and the telegraph—the tides that brought mechanical production and factories in what became known as the first industrial revolution in the 1800s.
But then it took less than 150 years after for Henry Ford to mass produce gasoline-powered cars, and for electricity, radio, and telephones to radically change peoples’ way of life.
Then in around 20 years, we booted up the first computer, and people learned how to send emails—as well as go to the moon, make mobile phones, eradicate diseases through innovations in biotechnology, among many other things.
These things seem to have happened only yesterday, and yet, here we are on the brink of another industrial revolution. Around 40 percent of the world’s population today lived without computers and smartphones at some point in their lives. That includes me. [laughter] But to survive in this age, we need to wrap our brains around concepts like artificial intelligence, machine learning, self-driven cars, passenger-carrying drone aircraft, seeding alien worlds with Earthly organisms, and terraforming. Futurists talk about music as an implanted chip in the brain, or chair as bionic trousers that you can wear and just lean back on. I cannot help but be awed by today’s discoveries, since to tell you honestly, I am still trying to figure out how Instagram story works. [laughter]
Today’s audacious, exciting, and amazing world truly aims to make the word “impossible” obsolete. All that we know, all that we were, are being challenged. Klaus Schwab, former—founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum, has said, and I quote: “Westandon the brink of a technological revolution that will fundamentally alter the way we live, work, and relate to one another. In its scale, scope, and complexity, the transformation will be unlike anything humankind has experienced before.” Close quote.
At the cusp of this huge change, I believe we are either one of two things: excited or afraid.
There is value in choosing the light of hope instead of darkness, but there are reasons to be concerned.
With all the brilliance of the human mind and the wealth that mankind’s innovations have generated, we still have not made a big dent in solving hunger, poverty, inequality, terrorism, violence, and war, among many other problems. Sure, these are complex issues, but they should not be impossible to solve.
We must look at these problems with more urgency because they have given birth to so many ongoing crises that have created mushroom clouds of suffering everywhere: a world divided, social unrest, anger and frustration, widespread distrust in the institutions that have long served the human family. Do you see the dichotomy we find ourselves in? Machines are ready for the next stage, but it seems humans are not.
If I were to re-imagine a future so full of exciting innovations, I propose this: that we must think of humans, especially those who are poor and marginalized, in every decision that we make—big or small. Because if you think about it, not all the wealth in this world, and not all the tech, can save our world from the boiling wrath of the masses that have been left behind by progress.
Swaths of population have found the platform to let the world know that inequality and exclusivity are no longer acceptable, empowered as they are by the internet and the smartphone and the digital tools of the third industrial revolution. Their anger is fueling wars—both physically and digitally. And evil forces are harnessing this wrath for selfish ends. Such was the message of theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking just before he passed away.
This is why we must not make the mistake of measuring our success in terrabytes, and instead re-focus on the human condition—hunger and malnutrition, mortality rates, literacy, peace, social cohesion, the greening of the world—you get the idea. We have always talked about, and have in fact targeted, 17 social development goals as universal goals meant to end poverty, protect our planet, and ensure that all people live in peace and prosperity. But we must increasingly make sure that the human agenda is not subsumed by the tech agenda. The fourth industrial revolution should not just be about machines—it should keep the focus on our humanity.
There is one big problem. Much of innovation is driven by profit. Research and development are not cheap. Technology must serve the capitalist, or else it will never exist. How do we re-wire the future so that technology must serve society, as well as serve the capitalist?
I hope that you look at these issues as you continue your discussions today and tomorrow, because the solutions to this critical puzzle lie not in the big answers, but in the small ones—put together in a collaborative way. If we think about changing global trade, global politics, and the global economy in one swoop, we will never be able to do it. What might work instead is to attempt to introduce a new way of thinking, or a new way of doing things, to our own communities or local government units. Or attempt to put a face to every statistic, so that we can effectively lend a helping hand to a father who has just lost his job, or to that single mother who struggles to make both ends meet to keep her children in school. Most of us mean well, but sometimes the solutions that we think are best are not really what the ordinary man on the street needs most. In conferences such as this, sharing our expertise in the next group discussion—even open-sourcing technological, medical, and economic discoveries—are always great additions. If we think about collective individual transformations and collaborations, if we think about building bridges rather than walls, then we at least have one shot. More and more, in our world today, the things that matter most are the things that we do together.
Collaboration seems too simple a solution to the world’s problems at first blush, but the truth is that there is nothing easy about changing mindsets. At a time when the world is extremely divided, giving competitors, political opponents, and people who are socially, professionally, economically, situated at the other end of the spectrum from us—giving all of them a seat at the table and even the opportunity to shut our ideas down is not easy. But this is precisely the anti-thesis to the global rifts we see all around us today.
On top of encouraging collaboration, we also need to institutionalize to make it easier and make it more sustainable. Do public policy support solutions create in a participatory governance kind of way? For instance, how can we make it easier for the marginalized and disenfranchised, both at the individual level and the nation-state level, to influence legislative reform? We must find a way of bridging interaction between those at the grassroots and those who are governing our institutions. This is one way for us to put humans at the center of the fourth industrial revolution.
The sad truth is that sometimes, we say the right words, but our actions prove that we are not very eager to collaborate. The global talks on climate change is a well-documented example of how nations are, at times, not very eager to listen to each other. But the great part is that we already have the tech today to make this happen.
The biggest and most profitable companies in the world today support the new order of platforms. Facebook was in the public eye last week as Mark Zuckerberg faced the US Congress, which asked the important question: What is Facebook, really? When you think about it, Facebook has no factories, no stores, create no tangible product nor provide no traditional service. Its value is in its platform. In this field, it has virtually no competition in the business of bringing people together.
As with any platform, Facebook is still evolving, and I am hopeful that global thinkers will soon decide on the kind of regulation needed to protect people’s data privacy and prevent fake news from distorting the truth. In the meantime, we should consider how platforms, partnerships, and tools of collaboration can be used more proactively and powerfully to increase social cohesion, effect social transformation, and result in improvements in the human condition.
As many of you may be well aware by now, our office—the Office of the Vice President—has one of the smallest budgets in the bureaucracy. But when I assumed office, I told my staff that we cannot do six years doing merely ceremonial functions. Believing that poverty is the greatest challenge affecting the human condition, our office partnered with both private and development partners in uplifting the lives of our people through our anti-poverty program called Angat Buhay. It aims to address the gaps in the Filipino family’s most basic needs: from food security and nutrition, rural development, universal healthcare, public education, housing, and people empowerment.
One of the communities we visited was Siayan. Siayan is a second-class municipality in the province of Zamboanga del Norte, which is in the southernmost tip of the Philippines. We chose Siayan as one of our adopted communities because, for many years, it was declared as the country’s poorest municipality. In 2009, for example, Siayan’s poverty incidence was a staggering 97.5 percent. The people of Siayan could hardly eat three meals a day.
But a mayor and a disruptor named Flora Villarosa changed the town’s future. In 2016, we started introducing Siayan to our Angat Buhay partners. First, we partnered with the Philippine Toy Library and opened a beautiful playspace for the children of Siayan. When we launched the playspace last December of 2016, I could never forget the wonder and the excitement in the children’s eyes when they saw the toys for the first time and realized that they now have unlimited access to them. We also have an ongoing feeding program for more than 800 children in partnership with Hapag-asa.
We found out that several schoolchildren from Siayan National High School live at least six to ten kilometers away from school. Mayor Flora and the rest of her team had been working very hard to address these struggles, but the illiteracy and dropout rates were still very high. At first, the usual solutions were given: they were provided with additional classrooms, given more school supplies, and more teachers were hired. But still, this did not work out. And then we partnered with the Yellow Boat of Hope Foundation. The foundation first provided school boats to service children from coastal communities who would swim every day to and from school. But we learned later on that many schoolchildren still spent hours going to and from school by foot, even crossing rivers. So we thought that a dormitory inside the school was the necessary solution.
Earlier this year, we returned to Siayan to inaugurate the first dormitory for boys at the Siayan National High School with our partner, the Yellow Boat of Hope Foundation— something that we hope will be life-changing–that will be a life-changing development for the young people we met there.
One of them is Rain-Rain Tusing. His name is really Rain-Rain. Rain-Rain is 17 years old and is in Grade 10. To get to school, he told us that he would walk two hours each way, and crossing two rivers each way also. And he was telling us that when it rains hard, the water level would immediately rise, making it impossible and dangerous to cross. He wakes up very early in the morning, but still arrives late because of the long distance he has to travel. As a result, he would receive multiple warnings, and he was telling us he would fill up an entire bond paper’s worth of violations. According to him, he was very happy to be a dormer because he won’t miss the daily flag ceremony anymore. The dormitory, by the way, is free for the students.
We also met Troy Cating. Troy is a 14-year-old Grade 8 student from Brgy. Litolet. Both of his parents are farmers, and he is the eighth of 11 siblings. His father died early, and since then, his foster father would accompany him to school. Because he has to walk many hours every day, he would be too tired to study and do his homework. Now that he lives in the dorm, he promised me he would get better grades and excel in school.
Finally, we met Junrey Marinog. Junrey is already 22 years old but still in Grade 10. He said he had to stop going to school to work as a construction worker in the nearby city of Dipolog, because both his parents are sick. At a very young age, Junrey is now the sole breadwinner of his family, driving a habal-habal now to provide for them. But he is determined to pursue his dreams by going to school.
Listening to the stories of Troy, Rain-Rain, and Junrey already broke our hearts, but they represent only a fraction of the many struggles that poor students in Siayan face on a daily basis. That is why we must do more and do things better. Siayan’s local chief executive could not have completely turned around the community’s poverty situation without bravely embracing disruption.
In the same vein, the Office of the Vice President could not help much in nation-building if it chose to maintain its traditional ceremonial functions. We had to disrupt and choose new models of engagement that work better, by collaborating with public and private development partners who are willing to do their part in nation-building. We have gotten to know many corporations doing CSR work. Perhaps, some of you are here today who are willing to embrace the disruption as well by working with us, keeping in mind the faces and stories behind the statistics of the people we meet on the ground.
Eradicating poverty is a huge and trenchant goal, but it is not impossible… it is not impossible to solve if you look at it one person, one community, one problem at a time. It is not impossible when partners collaborate, when governments are open to interfacing with the marginalized and the disenfranchised, when collaboration is institutionalized. When knowledge and opportunities are shared, it is possible to imagine a new type of society.
Richard Falk, professor emeritus at Princeton University, said, and I quote: “Somethinghas to awaken humanity; itis still in a global sleep. So you have to find what kind of alarm clock will awaken humanity without arousing forces of extremism.”
This alarm clock could be heightened, institutionalized collaboration. The quote ends this way, and again I quote: “What happens at the grassroots level of people and whathappens at the institutional level of governments—we need some kind of creative interaction between those levels if we are to evolve the new kind of planetary politics that are needed to meet the challenges of our age.” Closequote.
Some of this collaboration will hopefully happen in this forum in the next two days. As we discuss the future of security, money, smart and livable cities, data management, health management, education, governance, and corporate responsibility, let us think less of intellectual property and more of creative commoning.
Knowledge is mankind’s greatest asset, and it is not something that we can and should keep to ourselves— especially as we wait for the culmination of the fourth industrial revolution. When we open-source solutions to man’s problems, then can we re-imagine the future full of hope, full of potential, and with much less suffering.
Thank you very much for this great honor of addressing you this morning, and I’m hoping to hear of more collaborations as a result of this forum. Magandang umaga pong muli sa inyong lahat! [applause]