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    Leadership that Listens

    21 April 2017 Message at the VP Leni Goes to LB, UP – Los Baños, Laguna, 21 April 2017

    Maraming salamat po. Maupo po tayo.

    Dr. Portia Lapitan, our Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs; Dr. Arnold Elepaño, Dean of the College of Engineering and Agro-Industrial Technology; Mr. Bon Angelo Rizabal, Chairperson of the UPLB CEAT Student Council and the rest of the Student Council Officers; UPLB officials, administrators, faculty, staff and students; my fellow Iskolars ng Bayan: magandang umaga po sa inyong lahat muli.

    Kanina po kinukuwento ko kay Vice Chancellor na noong ako ay nasa Diliman pa, mahilig ho kaming mag-weekend dito sa UPLB, kasi marami kaming mga kaklase noong high school na dito pumunta. Nagkukuwentuhan po kami kung ano iyong mga pinupuntahan ko dito sa UPLB. Marami na pong nagbago, pero natutuwa ako na parang iyong kaluluwa ng UPLB ay buhay na buhay pa rin.

    I may have gone to UP Diliman for my undergraduate studies, but I have to say: there’s something very special about UP Los Baños and its students. Maybe it’s the lush greenery or Mt. Makiling’s magnificent presence. But I get the sense that what makes UPLB so special are of course the faculty and staff who are the university’s backbone, and the students who are the heart and soul of the university. So it is a privilege and an honor to be with you today, and thank you very much for the very warm welcome.

    Here, in the College of Engineering and Agro-Industrial Technology, we have a glimpse of the path to our country’s future. Your college is at the center of a greater industry on which the welfare of our economy is built.

    The art of the engineering sciences is uniquely practical, and that the rigors of your study are very demanding. Every year, we all know, thousands of students apply for Engineering courses in the UP system, pero konting-konti lang iyong natatanggap. Kaya nasa inyo ang pinaka-prestige ng quota course, kumbaga.

    But you must also remember that intelligence is not enough for us to live meaningful lives and make a positive difference in a world larger than ourselves. Hindi lang po kayo ordinaryong estudyante, dahil kayo ay mga Iskolar ng Bayan. As students of the University of the Philippines, you are expected to be socially and politically engaged and to find ways to give back to the country and its people.

    UP is not UP without its keen awareness of the political and social realities that govern the life of every Filipino. UP is not UP without the depth of its causes, without the insight that the university community brings to the national conversation on public policy, governance, and social justice. This is why I was very excited with your invitation to come over. And today, I seek to deepen the conversation with discerning young minds, who will most definitely be the leaders of our country in the coming years.

    My own social and political awakening happened when I was about your age. As someone who grew up in the province—perhaps like many of you—I knew so little about the world beyond my family and my immediate community. But the time I spent in Diliman was also a time of upheaval for our country.

    Our people fought to emerge from the shadow of Martial Law. It was impossible to be neutral about the abuses of the Marcos family, and it was even more impossible for us to tolerate those abuses. Many of us got involved in the activist movement, because the future of our nation was at stake. We had to stand up for what was right.

    Alam niyo po pinatay si Ninoy, second year college ako. At iyon na iyong umpisa ng matinding-matindi na mga demonstrasyon na pinangunahan ng mga estudyante.

    The EDSA Revolution happened when I was a graduating student. Hindi ko po alam, Vice Chancellor, kung nangyari rin dito sa UPLB, pero during the months preceding the EDSA Revolution, iyong mga teachers po namin iyong nag-e-encourage sa amin na sumali sa mga demonstrasyon.

    At noon, puwede kaming hindi na pumasok sa klase. Iyong compromise noon, iyong magiging grade mo, hindi na numerical. Pero iyong grade mo, pass or fail na lang. Kaya karamihan sa mga pumapasok, iyong failing pa iyong standing. Iyong mga pass na ang standing, halos hindi na pumapasok, at sumasama na po kami nang sumasama sa mga demonstrasyon. Kaya nag-graduate po ako ng college, right after the EDSA Revolution.

    My experiences in joining political demonstrations were formative in my work in civil society and later, in government. The People Power Revolution proved that in every democracy, every voice should be counted. Every life should matter. Before I joined the EDSA revolution, I thought I was just an insignificant probinsiyana. There was no way, I thought, that my voice mattered, or that I could really help steer the country towards a brighter future.

    But the lesson from the People Power Revolution is that great movements begin on the ground, with the outcries of the powerless and the voiceless. Great revolutions are sparked when the voices of a brave few ignite the conviction of millions. The EDSA revolution showed me—as it must show all of us—that no matter how small or insignificant you may be, you have it in you to be the change that our country needs.

    Now, this is not to say that revolutions are always necessary. Political upheavals are costly, oftentimes taking lives. We must create a free and empowered society within an existing political system—by deepening discussions on social, economic, and political issues in events such as this, by giving all our people a voice in decision-making, and by instituting mechanisms for transparent and accountable leadership.

    For those three things to work, we need a government that truly makes an effort to listen, especially to those who are voiceless and powerless. This is why I devoted nearly my entire career to strengthening communities at the grassroots. Sit with the communities for a while. Listen to their stories and their dreams. You will discover that they know what our country needs to thrive and to grow. Listen to the most vulnerable Filipinos, and you will discover that the empowerment of our poorest is really the change that our country needs.

    Empowerment, unfortunately, is not desirable to those who are already entrenched in power. And the tragedy is that when people have been poor and left out of the decision-making process for so long, they no longer seek empowerment. Instead, they seek saviors who will give them what they need.

    Ito po iyong pinag-uugatan ng patronage politics. Dahil hindi pinakinggan iyong mahihirap sa napakatagal nang panahon, maraming nag-aakala na habambuhay wala na silang boses. Kaya umaasa na lamang sa mga politiko sa oras ng pangangailangan, ibibigay sa kanila iyong kanilang pangangailangan kahit panandalian lamang.

    They do not realize that they are their best saviors. Who else would put the highest attention and care on solving their needs but themselves?

    We need leaders who are determined to show our people what empowerment brings—patiently and with conviction. We need leaders who share power with the people, and are unspoiled by the perks and entitlements that their positions hold. We need leaders who value the rights and liberties enshrined by our Constitution, focused on the welfare of the people rather than on entrenching themselves in power.

    This is the leadership that our people deserve: leadership that listens and empathizes.

    These are the principles behind the Office of the Vice President’s antipoverty program. We want to make a difference wherever poverty begins: poor maternal and child health care, malnutrition among children, inadequate skills and vocational training among our youth, the underdevelopment of rural areas, and finally, discrimination, harassment, and violence against women.

    To make our initiative possible—and to make this a collective, nationwide effort—we partnered with the poorest and most marginalized communities in our country, development partners, civil society, and the private sector. Angat Buhay represents our hopes for change that empowers every Filipino—the change we are fighting for.

    We are already piloting this program in 50 local government units all over the country, and are poised to choose many more in places like Lanao del Sur and Marawi where we just recently launched it. We chose these LGUs because they proved to be transparent and honest, and ready to be accountable for their work. Fighting poverty at the grassroots requires good governance. We want to make a model of these local governments, so that hopefully, other local government units will follow suit.

    You will wonder how you can help. We welcome anyone who wants to be part of our campaign. Bumababa po kami linggo-linggo, puwede rin po kayong sumama. For instance, you can also be our social media warriors by sharing on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter our Angat Buhay stories and initiatives. You can be our information ambassadors, flooding virtual and real communities with positive and inspiring information to counter the negativity that we see on a daily basis.

    Already, Angat Buhay has yielded so many inspiring stories that are vehicles of positivity.

    There is Agutaya. Hindi ko po alam kung narinig niyo na ang Agutaya. Pero isa siyang munisipyo sa Northern Palawan. Para makarating ka doon, kailangan mong sumakay sa bangka. Ten hours na trip from Coron bago ka maka-land. Pero pumunta po kami doon. And we saw na iyong mga bata, they were stunted. Nakita po namin, ini-introduce sa amin, ito iyong Grade 1, Grade 2 hanggang Grade 6. Parang pare-pareho iyong kanilang sizes. So tinatanong po namin bakit iyong mga Grade 1 bakit pareho lang ng mga Grade 5. And the doctor who was with us, sinabi po sa akin, “Stunted na kasi iyong mga batang iyan.” Ang nakakalungkot po kasi, after the age of 5, irreversible na po pala iyong stunting. Iyong mga tinatawag na bansot, iyon pala iyong mga stunted. Nakakaawa po iyong mga bata.

    Pagpunta po namin, iisa iyong paaralan, sira pa. Sabi po sa amin doon, nasira daw po iyon noong Yolanda. Eh pagpunta po namin, four years after Yolanda na. Hindi pa rin naaayos. Siguro hindi pa alam na nasira, kasi walang nakakakita at napakalayo. Nagulat po kami kasi pagdating namin, nag-iiyakan iyong mga tao. So ang tanong namin, “Bakit nag-iiyakan?” Sabi po sa amin, “Natutuwa lang po kami kasi ngayon lang kami nabisita.” Parang iyong napakaliit na effort galing sa atin, iyong appreciation nila, napakalaki.

    As I have said, if you were there, our eyes were opened to a lot of challenges. We left with so much sadness, but also with so much hope in our hearts. Pag-alis po namin, iyong mga members of our staff, nakabalik na ng ilang beses. Alam niyo po, iyong buong isla, walang kuryente. Iyong una po naming na-solicit para sa kanila ay solar generators. Noong nagsabi po kami na maghahanap kami ng solar generators para ma-share ng community, ang sabi po sa amin, “Kahit one hour a day lang kami magkakuryente.” Ang sabi namin, “Bakit kaya isang oras?” Ang sagot po nila: Makapanood lang sila ng Ang Probinsyano kahit isang oras. Siguro po ngayon nakakapanood na rin sila kasi mayroon na rin silang solar generators na pwedeng i-share ng community.

    We are also able to look for a partner for them na maglalagay ng water system, so that they would already have direct access to potable water. We plan to do much more over the next six years, and this is despite the challenges that arise because of its remote location. Marami naman pong gustong tumulong pero noong sinasabi po namin kung gaano na po kahirap makarating doon, medyo nagba-back out na iyong iba.

    There is also Siayan—hindi ko alam kung narinig niyo na rin ito—in Zamboanga del Norte, which for several years was found to have the most severe type and magnitude of poverty, based on a study founded by the World Bank in 2003. Its poverty incidence was, believe it or not, 97.5%. Talagang super majority iyong ang mahirap. The people in Siayan could hardly eat three meals a day. Sabi po sa amin ng mayor, hindi na nga nila alam kung ano ang “snacks,” kasi hirap nga na makabuo ng tatlong meals everyday.

    But when the local government, nagkaroon po ng very progressive mayor, si Mayor Flora Villarosa, when she became mayor, she drew a plan for the municipality a few years ago after much consultation with residents. The picture already gradually changed. May mga tinatayo nang mga kalsada, may tinatayo nang mga bridges. There were livelihood and entrepreneurial programs already, and health initiatives. When we visited Siayan last December, we saw people who were already full of hope.

    During the launch of Angat Buhay in October, Siayan got seven pledges from our development partners to provide micro-loans to small businesses, and toy libraries to keep children in school. ‘Eto po, nandoon ako noong hinatid iyong toy library. Parang first time na makakita ng laruan iyong mga bata. Buti na lang… alam niyo iyong mga Little Tikes? Iyong sponsor mga Little Tikes, iyong merong slides. Iyong mga bata halos maiyak sa tuwa. Ayaw nang umalis doon sa toy library. May feeding programs to prevent stunting and financial literacy trainings to teach them how to save for the future.

    There is also Kauswagan. I don’t know if you have heard of Kauswagan, in Lanao del Norte. Nakilala po namin doon, ang pangalan niya Commander Agila, kasi Commander siya dati ng MILF. Ang kuwento niya po sa amin, “Dati baril ang aking hawak.” Pero dahil iyong mayor din nila, si Mayor Rommel, nagkaroon po sila ng From Arms to Farms Program. Tinuruan iyong mga commander ng MILF na instead na baril ang hawak, iyong mga farm implements na. Pagpunta po namin, itong si Commander Agila, very excited na hinila kami sa kanyang farm. Happy na happy po siya sa kanyang produce. Ang sabi niya pa nga, kahit isang buwan na hindi kami pumunta sa merkado, hindi po kami magugutom.

    In Kauswagan also, one of our partners, Jollibee Foundation, pledged a Busog-Lusog program. There’s also technical assistance from the Peace and Equity Foundation to improve farming, an organic farming assistance from Chim Ho Village Association. Our staff, in fact, went there very recently to deliver materials for their vermi-compost facilities.

    I do not know about you, but I would rather focus on hopeful stories like these instead of the negativity that we can all find in national broadsheets and social media. Of course, we still look at the difficult realities around us and analyze the problems we face so that we can solve them, but it is this part of our national narrative that we are missing.

    You can change that. You can change the conversation. You can be our ambassadors of hope, even as you should be more discerning about the truth. Fake news abounds because negativity sells more, says a social media study. Perhaps it is already time the youth gets more involved in changing that, not just by being more responsible for the information you post, but also by being more mindful about sharing hopeful stories that will evoke inspiration instead of hate.

    My dear students, I wish you further achievement in your studies, and I hope you are doing your best to meet all your academic requirements. Sinasabi ko iyon kasi nandito si Dean, at saka nandito si Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs. But remember that life is greater than your classrooms. The deadlines you toil after, or the exams you study for until dawn.

    Know, too, that the world beyond UPLB is not just of conflict and upheaval. It is also a world of hope. You will find that hope in the stories of our countrymen and in the narratives of their lives. When we listen with empathy and compassion, we can later take action with conviction and with integrity. This is the least that we can do for our country.

    So as I close my short talk, this is actually an invitation to you to become more involved. Kasi kapag nakita mo na talaga iyong kahirapan staring at you, imposible nang wala kayong gawin. Kaya ito po, invitation to join us, invitation to do your thing. But whatever you face, let us not forget the last, the least, and the lost of our countrymen.

    Magandang umaga, at maraming salamat sa inyong lahat.

    Posted in Speeches on Apr 21, 2017