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    Liberating the Poor Towards the Light of Empowerment

    20 September 2016 Keynote Speech at the CBCP 38th Anniversary Celebration: National Social Action General Assembly, Chancery Hall, Palo Cathedral Compound, Leyte

    Our gathering today is celebratory, not only because the CBCP is marking its 50th year of faithful service. It is celebratory also because you are now at a joyful juncture in the nine-month celebration of the CBCP’s successes, and over this same period, you have also reckoned with the challenges you confronted in the course of your ministry.

    I am truly humbled by and thankful for the opportunity to speak with you during such a momentous occasion.

    The good news is that we are seeing clear wins in the fight against poverty. Last March, the Philippine Statistics Authority reported that poverty rates in the country continued to decline from 27.9 percent in 2014 to 26.3 percent in 2015.

    Siyempre po ang ating panaginip ay bababa pa iyon ngayong 2016. And while a significant factor in this improvement lay in the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program, we can’t deny this other truth: this was not just government’s handiwork.

    That these gains were the product of earnest collaboration among different sectors, including those and maybe because of the participation of the Catholic Church, is clearly apparent. You helped make these successes possible. You helped translate the cause for good governance into real and visible benefits for our countrymen.

    Yet marami pa rin pong problema. As of the latest reports, over 26 million of our people remain mired in poverty, while another 12 million Filipinos continue to lead lives of extreme impoverishment. Napakarami pa ring mahihirap.

    But going by mere numbers puts us at risk of forgetting the ordinary Filipino who suffers the brutal injustice of poverty. Figures can unwittingly erase the face of the poor Filipino and render them invisible.

    Ito po paminsan yung problema pag puro numero yung binibigay sa atin. Nakakalimutan natin yung mukha ng bawat Pilipinong gusto nating tulungan makaahon sa kahirapan. Because they become nothing more than statistics, they become nothing more than a problem to solve.

    We mustn’t view them as faceless facts. Rather, we have to renew our appreciation of their own persons and the dignity of their humanity. We must, as Catholics, stand in solidarity with them as they fight for a better future for themselves.

    More than most, you know too well how difficult this can be. While many of our poor countrymen are keen to work with us in improving their lives, many still are not as easy to engage.

    Iba iba naman po, I’m sure you know this very well. We have been working with communties for a very long time. Merong madaling kasama at meron din mahihirap intindihin. And since I assumed my position as your Vice President, my team and I have considered to devote a lot of time towards meeting our country’s most marginalized communities.

    Ito po iyong ating linggo ngayon: Kalahati ng linggo nasa Manila para mag trabaho, kalahati ng linggo umiikot sa communities. I was telling your archbishop on Tuesday last week on Tuesday last week, I was in Hernani, before that I flew from Pagadian, in Dipolog. Yesterday, I was in Batanes.

    Now I’m in Leyte and on Friday I will be in Bukidnon. Palagay namin, mahalaga sa aming mga public officials na hindi lang papel ang aming tinitingnan. Hindi lang report ng mga opisina. Mahalaga na bumaba kami, on the ground, para yung mga mukha ng ordinaryong Pilipino, yung kwento na nanggagaling mismo sa bibig ating gustong tulungin, hindi lang sa report ng aming mga staff. My experience is that I appreciate the problem more when I hear it directly when I hear it from those that suffer the most.

    Nakakatulong iyong urgency ng problema. That’s why our conversations with them, more often thannot proceed smoothly. Other times, we are confronted with communities long-neglected, where families have grown angry or cynical. Since I was appointed Housing head, marami kaming nakakausap na very engaging. Pero madami din kaming nakakausap na very cynical. Pag kinakausap namin sila sinasabi, “Iyong mga pina-promise mo sa amin pinromise na din iyan sa amin dati, wala naman nangyari. Kaya ano ang dahilan namin para maniwala sa iyo?”

    We cannot blame them, they who bear, generation after generation, the dehumanizing burden of poverty. You have seen this firsthand, and you have experienced working with families like these. You know, too, that it can be hard to draw them into a dialogue of faith when they have long felt abandoned. But we must carry on.

    Hindi po tayong puwedeng mag-give up. In serving the poor, we must always come from a place of authentic love and understanding, as Christ did. Pa minsan po may kausap tayong napakahirap na kausap pero kakausapin natin yung ating sarili, na we are in a much better place than they are. So ang ating pasenya, papahabaan parati.

    In pursuing such a mission, one thing is undeniable: no single group can do this by themselves. The Philippine government, for example, cannot succeed in its antipoverty efforts without the support of civil society, development partners, and the Filipino public. No matter how well-intentioned our campaign isagainst poverty, we will achieve little if we do not work together.

    That’s why I’m so happy to join you today. This event represents a welcome opening for us to enter into a discourse that puts our poor at the front and center of our drive against poverty.

    From our end, I would like to share with you our five-point anti-poverty framework, which is a result of participative consultations. Alam niyo po nung nanalo ako bilang Pangalawang Pangulo, tinitingnan ko po yung ating trabaho, ang nakalagay po dun, ako yung support ng ating Pangulo. Tiningnan ko yung budget ng Office of the Vice President, halos lahat administrative lang.

    Halos lahat, ceremonial lamang. And I gathered my staff and I told them, we cannot spend 6 years doing nothing. Our office has to be relevant.

    And because I have been an NGO worker for a long time, I have been a human rights lawyer for a long time, this is really my comfort zone. So sabi ko let’s devote most of our efforts in an anti-poverty drive. And we decided na gagawin namin, gagawing relevant ang aming opisina.

    We want to give proper recognition to the problems that our marginalized countrymen meet at various points in the course of their lives.

    We begin where life springs from: Filipino mothers, specifically those who are at a disadvantage. Maternal mortality rates have not decreased here in the Philippines, and there is much work to be done to ensure that even our poorest mothers receive the medical attention they need.

    We’re not just talking about health care. We’re also looking at its necessary twin: proper nutrition. Healthy mothers mean healthy babies, and what we would like to see are infants who are amply nurtured.

    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 impairments to their mental and physical well-being.

    Alam ninyo po, medyo nakaka-alarm. Yung figures po natin ng stunting, ito yung local term, ito yung “batang bansot.” Pero iyong bansot, height lang. Pero actually when we talk of stunting, it means a lot of things. Pag tinawag nating stunting, hindi lang bansot sa katawan, per bansot din sa ibang klaseng developments, lalo na sa mental development, ang pag laki ng kanyang utak, ng kanyang brain, bansot din.

    And right now our figures show that we have 3.5 million Filipino children who are stunted. At eto po, naalarm tayo and we’ve looked at government programs at meron naman tayo for feeding, yung mga local government units, meron silang feeding programs. Pero pag tiningnan po natin, halimbawa ng DSWD, yung feeding program na day-care age yung children. Masyado na siyang huli.

    That’s why we’re supporting the first 1,000 days nutrition program na pag buntis pa lang yung nanay, aalagana na ng gobyerno yung nanay. Because malnourished mothers give birth to malnourished children. Sisiguraduhin natin na properly nourished na yung nanay para pag nanganak siya properly nourished yung bata, hanggang siya ay naging 5 years old.

    The effects of stunting, I will repeat: the effects of stunting after the first three years of life is irreversible. Hindi na po mapapagaling. Imagine the quality of life that impoverished children are fated to. All they can look forward to are years of limited potential, of limited opportunity to rise above their poverty.

    By championing better maternal health care and infant development, we’re able to support sectoral growth for universal health care and food and nutrition. Sabi po ng DOH may mga bata na tawag na mahihina sa eskwela. Sabi ng iba, bobo. Pero actually product ito ng stunting.

    Very limited ang kanyang growth potential dahil stunted na siya. And for three years, pag nakalampas na yung three years na stunted na siya, hindi na yan gagaling, kaya kailangan maagapan.

    What about quality education? That’s another thing we want to enhance in our public school system. Now that the K-12 system is in place, we need to put greater emphasis on preparing young Filipinos for career development.

    And so one of our advocacies concentrates on skill-building and technical or vocational training for senior high school students. If we assist them this way, they have a much fairer chance at pursuing fulfilling careers in adulthood. They can compete with their contemporaries who may have led more comfortable childhoods.

    By supporting better education for all, we can help level the playing field for all Filipinos, so that a disadvantaged childhood won’t necessarily lead to adulthood that’s similarly disadvantaged.

    But what about Filipino adults already constrained by poverty? We believe we can reach out to them, too. We intend to promote rural development and economic self-sufficiency—especially in remote communities—ito po ang ginagawa namin ngayon, half of the time hinahanap namin yung pinaka malalayo, at pinaka mahihirap na communities, kasi itong mga pinakamalalayo at pinakamahihirap halos hindi na naabutan ng national government. So we really seek them out.

    Gusto po nating tulungan na maikabit sila sa value chain. Alam niyo po, yung iba, nagsasaka sila pero yung sinasaka nila hanggang doon lang sa lugar nila. They don’t really have a chance at expanding economically, so ngayon hinahanap namin sila at ikakabit namin sila sa supply chain and sa demand chain.

    At the moment, our farmers and fisherfolk lose out tremendously in the face of competition from large-scale businesses and multinationals. Yung mga problema ng mga nagsasaka ay yumayaman yung middle men. Kaya tinutulungan natin, paano sila makakakabit na sa malalaking market. Imbis na yayaman ang middle men, sila na ang yayaman.

    These are tremendous ambitions for sure. But to achieve great things for our country, we must be unafraid to pursue even the loftiest dreams. We must nurture the aspirations borne by our poor for a brighter future.

    The Catholic Church is a valuable partner in realizing these ambitions. Alam niyo po nung naging Mayor yung asawa ko, my husband first became mayor in 1998, he was only 29 years old. Nung nanalo yung asawa ko, hindi niya kakampi yung kanyang mga konsehal.

    Lahat ng gusto niya gawin, hinaharang ng kanyang mga konsehal. Naghanap yung asawa ko ng kakampi at yung nahanap niyang kakampi ay yung Archdiocese of Caceres. Lumapit siya sa Archbishop, humingi nang tulong, at inassign ng Archbishop yung Social Action Center head para tulungan ang asawa ko. Yung Social Action Center Head si Archbishop Fr. Joe Cortez who passed away last year. Si Fr. Joe Cortez, tinulungan yung asawa ko, at nagbuo sila ng People’s Council.

    Kasi iyong City Council parating kontra sa asawa ko. Iyong Social Action Center, sila yung nag spearhead, binuo nila, pinagsama yung ibang mga sektor sa amin. What the Social Actor Center did for my husband spelled a great difference for the governance of my husband. Dahil may People’s Council sa amin, government looked at people differently already.

    Kasi ang tradisyonal na tingin ng government sa mga tao, beneficiary ng government project. But when the Social Action Center formed the people’s council, there was a change in mindset. The people were not just beneficiaries but they are already partners in development, they are stakeholders, they have ownership of the programs of the city.

    Umuupo po ang people’s council sa lahat ng council sa city. Pati po ang Sangguniang Panglungsod, nakapasa ng empowerment ordinance allowing all the committees in the Sangguniang Panglungsod to take in members from the People’s Council. And the People’s Council became very very successful and to this day, siya po yung modelo ng ibang mga People’s Council sa Pilipinas.

    And that’s because of the partnership of the government with the Catholic Church. Our archbishop is here, he knows very well how powerful and how strong government and catholic church partnerships in our Archhioscese is. Kaya sa amin hindi masyadong nagaaway-away. Sabi ni Archbishop na mas masaya ang mga tao dito. Alam mo yung mga ordinaryong tao sa amin, hindi sila mareklamo. Hindi sila mareklamo kasi kabahagi sila sa ginagawa ng gobyerno. Pag kumukulang ang gobyerno, they are more understanding, because they understand kung bakit nagkakaroon ng pagkukulang.

    And I think that this model is very replicable in many parts of the Philippines. Until the day he died, iyong asawa ko really attributed his sucess to the contribution of the catholic Church. And when he was in Naga, my husband was appointed Secretary of the DILG, he tried to replicate that. I don’t know if you’ve heard of it na, but he was the one who founded UBAS, ang Ugnayan ng Barangay at Simbahan.

    What my husband did when he was DILG Secretary was he wrote all the bishops. He wrote all the bishops asking them to partner with government. Merong mga bishops that responded, mayroong hindi, pero ang mga nag-respond, they started with that.

    Nakapag-umpisa na ng UBAS. Unfortunately, my husband died before it was able to take off. When I was congresswoman, Bishop Tobias of the Dioscese of Novaliches, approched me and showed me the letter from my husband and he was asking me, “do you still want to help out? Do you want to continue UBAS?” And now that the government is very active in its drive against drugs, nakahanap na rin ng puwang yung UBAS in the larger scheme of things. Our partnership with UBAS is asikasuhin yung community rehabilitation program.

    We all know what is happening, we’re alarmed with what is happening, right now we have 700,000 drug surrenderees already, at ang report namin ng DOH out of the 700 drug surrenderees, only 10% are eligible for institutional rehabilitation, so 70,000 lang po yun. Sabi po namin, ano mangyayari sa 630,000? Wala pang programa.

    Last Monday we had a meeting with Bishop Soc and we discussed again how we can revive the partnership between government, the private sector, and the catholic church. Fortunately Bishop Soc representing the CBCP said the Catholic Church will be very glad to take on being a partner of the government in crafting a community rehabilitation program.

    So ito po, pinapakita lang na napakalaki ng puwang ng samahan. Hindi lang sa simbahan pero sa private sector, in all areas of governance. And your occasion this morning, the core of your occassion is to celebrate partnerships with the catholic church with government and civil society.

    Napakarami po, if you will just be creative in thinking of ways na saan ba tayong pwede mag partner, ano ba yung probelma ng ating society? If we become very active in this campaign, napakaraming puwang para sa ating lahat.

    Let’s continue to work together for the empowerment of the poor and marginalized, those who have languished for many years in the fringes of our society. Let’s continue to strengthen the spirit of social justice essential to Catholic doctrine, the mission of our faith, and the growth of our nation.

    The great Peruvian theologian, Fr. Gustavo Gutierrez, once wrote and I quote: “Poverty is not inevitable; collectively, the poor can organize and facilitate social change.” Our journey finds symbolism in the Palo Cathedral itself, which was rebuilt by many hands in the wake of a terrible disaster.

    Here, we are witness to a necessary transformation: from wreckage to gradual recovery, from despair to hope and empowerment.

    And so this is now our calling: to be a guiding force in liberating the poor so they can, in the end, become their own light, empowered and unwavering in their fidelity to God and country.

    Congratulations po sa inyong lahat, and maraming maraming salamat for everything you do for the Filipino people!

    Posted in Speeches on Sep 20, 2016