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    The Harmony That Comes From Unity

    Office of the Vice President 19 June 2017

    Message at the FASO Gala 2017 Mary Pickford Estate, Los Angeles, California, USA, 17 June 2017

    Consul General Adelio Angelito Cruz and his lovely wife, Lilet; we also have here State Senator Ben Allen; we also have the Vice Mayor of Culver City, California; Honorary Consul Audie de Castro of San Diego; of course, the Chair of tonight’s gala, Ms. Rocio Nuyda; Mr. and Mrs. Edwin Raquel, who opened the doors of your lovely home for all of us tonight; Mrs. Sonia Delen of San Francisco; Mr. Luis Ramos, the Vice President of FASO; of course, Maestro Bob Shroder, our Musical Director and Conductor, and the rest our musicians in the orchestra; Members of the Board of Directors; my fellow Filipinos, my kababayans: Magandang gabi po sa inyong lahat!

    I am extremely delighted to be with all of you tonight. I consider it a great honor to be given the chance to help, even in a very small way, in raising funds to sustain the only Filipino symphony orchestra outside of the Philippines.

    Bringing music to every man, woman, and child, especially for those who long for the sounds of home, is a very important advocacy. You pour your heart into every note and dedicate your precious time in the land that does not sleep. I can only imagine how difficult it must be to drive two or three hours to attend rehearsals. One of you, I was told, even brings a trailer full of percussion instruments when you meet to practice.

    You have sacrificed so much. But remember this: You may, perhaps, never know the full extent of the miracles you give life to, with your music. But I’ve seen so many people’s lives changed by it, become empowered and empowering because of it, and find new meaning or purpose in harmonies, their tensions, and resolutions. At the very least, you make someone hum a song on the way to work, finally face a sad memory with acceptance, or allow someone to fall in love. These things make every sacrifice worthwhile.

    I also find the diversity of your team very interesting. It confirms what I have long believed: that if we are willing to work together, focused on just one purpose, what seems to be impossible can always be possible. You have a computer scientist, a criminal investigator, a software engineer, an accountant, an HR professional, a public health professional, and IT experts, among others, in the team. Music has brought all of you together, from students to professionals, from first-time immigrants to second and third-generation migrants. What an image of hope—for us and for our nation.

    Just like you, our people back home are constantly making the most of every opportunity that comes their way. These are extraordinary times. There are global and local challenges, many of which we cannot control. But the extraordinariness of ordinary people are giving us hope.

    Some examples of these can be seen in the lives of the people we have met, while going about the advocacy of the Office of the Vice President called Angat Buhay: Partnerships Against Poverty. When we launched the program last October, we received more than 700 pledges from our private partners for our 50 adopted municipalities.

    With very limited resources at our disposal, we decided to focus on the things that are most urgent and will have the most impact on the poorest of the poor. We looked for interventions in food security and nutrition, universal healthcare, rural development, public education, women empowerment, and housing.

    After eight months, we are now in 127 cities and municipalities. We have built 22 fully furnished classrooms for more than 1,000 students, provided school supplies for more than 12 thousand children, healthy and nutritious food to more than 2,000 undernourished children and gave nutrition education to their parents, turned over P4.2-M worth of motorized fiberglass boats for 164 fishermen, provided livelihood opportunities to over 5,500 families, medical, dental, and surgical assistance to almost 3,500 indigents, and solar electricity, safe water, and hygiene facilities to almost 2,000 families. All of these, we were able to do, with the help of generous donations from our private partners.

    I guess you have heard of what is happening now in Marawi City. We just recently concluded our relief operations for families in the evacuation sites in Iligan, Cagayan de Oro, and Marawi. As we speak, our soldiers are still in battle and families have not been able to return to their homes. The local government unit of Marawi continues to call for donations of Halal-certified food items, malongs, breastmilk, water and water filters, as well as psychosocial intervention for the holistic healing of our brothers and sisters affected by the conflict in Marawi.

    We have found, as we travelled to the farthest and poorest barangays right after we assumed office, that in those communities, every little bit of help is very important. Even if we have to take the difficult road, we will not stand by and watch even just one child suffer. The biggest lesson of our almost one year in office came from witnessing the outpouring of generosity among ordinary people. It truly is very touching to see Filipinos part with their savings for those who are hit by typhoons, caught in crossfires, hungry, or otherwise.

    Hunger, by the way – in the Philippines – may not be as dramatic as bullets being fired, but it can kill just as efficiently. Did you know that, in our country, 95 child deaths every day are caused by malnutrition and hunger? Hunger and stunting are silent crises that our office has decided to take on in a really big way.

    Last Tuesday, we visited Bgy. Pinagbayanan in Taysan, Batangas, one among four barangays that have the most abundant bamboo trees. Despite that resource, hunger and lack of livelihood opportunities were evident in that community. We found out that all households make barebecue sticks for a living. The stick makers, almost all of whom are women, earn a very minimal amount for a week’s work. Their children help too, so sometimes, they end up not going to school to finish the work in time for delivery.

    We interviewed one of the women, Mary Jane Pitallano, and she said she earns 1,400 pesos for three weeks worth of labor. She said of the 1,400 pesos, 120 pesos is spent to buy a bamboo trunk. Not only that, she had to travel really far to deliver the sticks to the market. When I got there and met the mothers who made barbecue sticks to help out their husbands, they were in tears. They told me, it was the first time that a national government official visited them. Taysan, you see, is a very small town nestled in the mountainous part of Batangas.

    When we visited with our partners, ideas to help the community better started to come to us and everyone started being excited for the future of Taysan. It is when we subject ourselves to the inconvenience of service when we see more clearly our mission in helping our people.

    This was even more evident when we went to Agutaya – I don’t know if you have ever heard of Agutaya – it is a small island town in Northern Palawan that you can only reach via a 10-hour boat ride from Coron. I don’t know if you’ve ever been to Coron, but Agutaya is ten hours away by boat from Coron. It is that far, but we went there. Since there are no major hospitals and other services in the island, this means that the nearest health care for people in Agutaya is a 10-hour boat ride away and that boat gets there from Coron only once a week. If their health concerns are more urgent, the residents can travel by boat to Iloilo port, which is available three times a week, but takes 12 to 14 hours.

    Agutaya captured our hearts when we went there for the first time with our little team. It broke my heart to see how many of the children were stunted. I looked at them lined up so eargerly to meet us, and I noticed that their Grade 5 students were no taller than those in Grade 1. Their only school was still dilapidated because it was severely damaged by Typhoon Haiyan, which was almost three years ago. They had no electricity and none of the conveniences that most of us have taken for granted. If you think about it, Agutaya could be the most powerful case study of what is wrong in our nation, but in it we found so much hope. It was deeply touching that people met us in tears, simply grateful that some people from the government went there to visit. Instead of bitterness, we only saw resolve to work hard every day despite their lack of resources. Instead of anger, we only saw acceptance and faith that things will be better.

    We left our hearts in Agutaya, and that is why we have returned to it often since then. Our partners have turned over a solar generator for them and some boats for the fishermen, and our staff personally raised toys and books for the children of Agutaya’s new toy library.

    One last story, before I end. When one of our staff visited Marawi City – this was before the ongoing battle – she saw a woman-farmer tilling the land with her bare hands because her family lacked money to buy a carabao. When she went back to Manila, and she was all of 21 years old, she couldn’t forget the images of the farmer in her mind, and through social media, through Facebook, decided to raise money herself to buy one carabao. Each carabao costs 35,000 pesos. It was not easy at first, but she and several friends persisted. And in less than a month, she eventually raised money for three carabaos and now three farmers and their families are better off because of that singular idea.

    I believe that the size of our hearts is more important than the amount of our donations. Sometimes, all it takes to change the course of one life and the generations that come after, is a single idea allowed to blossom to fruition. Please join us in our advocacy. There are many ways that each of us can give our nation a bit more push towards a brighter future.

    As I said earlier, these are extraordinary times. In the Philippines, here in the United States, and in other jurisdictions around the world, there are global power shifts that are causing massive changes everywhere. This will come with pain. But do we focus on that darkness that comes from that pain, or the light that emanates from the extraordinary lives of ordinary Filipinos, of ordinary people?

    Here’s the thing: love, empathy, and hope hold more power than hate and anger. Like music, they unify us in the face of diversity. They hold us together more powerfully than the forces that try to pull us apart. I find these words below from a popular TV series to be an interesting way of explaining the power of positivity and empathy in the lives of ordinary people. And I quote:

    “The Earth, as it rotates, emits a frequency, a musical note, at 7.83 hertz. But this frequency alters slightly for reasons as yet uncertain. Some postulate solar flares as the cause, or electrical disturbance in the atmosphere. But maybe there is a much simpler explanation. Maybe the sound of the planet is influenced by the seven billion souls whirring around it, each producing their own music, adding their own harmony.” Close quote.

    You have all been the source of so much harmony in this part of the world. So I urge you tonight, to keep on making music, and let us see the beautiful future unfold. Maraming salamat po sa inyong lahat at magandang gabi. Mabuhay kayong lahat!

    Posted in Speeches on Jun 19, 2017