Office of the Vice President
30 July 2017
Message at the Brotherhood of Christian Businessmen & Professionals (BCBP) Naga City Chapter – Bicol Grand Regional Breakfast, 29 July 2017
Mr. Joffe Almoro, Board of Trustees and BCBP National Service Coordinator Formation; Mr. Bobby Hababag, Area Managing Director, BCBP Bicol Area; Mr. Tisoy Rosales, Regional Council Director, North BCBP Bicol Area; Mr. Roger Moit, Regional Council Director, South BCBP Bicol Area; Vice Governor Ato Pena; Vice Mayor Ramon Escudero, Casiguran, Sorsogon; BCBP Bicol Area Public Servants; honored guests; mga namumuotan ko pong mga kababayan, marhay na aga sa indong gabos!
I think it was last year that I was also invited to a similar gathering in Manila. Kung hindi po ako nagkakamali, sa SMX pa iyon. When I entered the room, I was overwhelmed by the enormity of the crowd. Napaka-raming tao. Noong sinabi sa akin na may Breakfast with BCBP, I thought for a moment that it was an intimate gathering.
So pagpasok ko sa hall, gulat na gulat ako na napakaraming tao. And when I received the invitation from Doc Tisoy, nakalagay Bicol. Ah sabi ko, much smaller na ito. Nagulat pa rin ako pagpasok. I was expecting it would be much smaller than this one.
Nagpaalam po ako sa dalawa nating bisita na mag-bi-Bikol ako ngayon. Sabi ko sa kanila, this is one opportunity to speak in Bikol. I am always talking to people from Manila. Now, I have a chance to talk in Bicol, so I said I will speak in Bicol. They said they will just catch up. Please raise your hands if you cannot understand.
I was actually asking myself what I would tell you this morning, what I would share. Who among you here were at the SMX event last year? It doesn’t look like majority of you were there.
I was looking at the transcript, and I asked my staff, “patingin nga kung ano iyong mga pinagsasasabi ko doon.“ And I realized napakahaba ng speech ko – seven pages, single-spaced. Sabi ko, “ang dami ko palang sinabi. That is the effect when I do extemporaneous speaking, napapakuwento. When you have a written speech, you are limited to what you will read.
I remember that last year, I recounted my journey to where I am now. For those who were not present last year, I told everyone my story. Those who know me, and a lot of you here are from Naga, could never have predicted that I would become Vice President.
Lalo na siguro si Mommy. My mother is here. Mommy, stand up Mommy. Mas maganda sa akin ang nanay ko. My mom is turning 81 in September, but she still drives herself. She still drives, and she still teaches. You know, even my mother will attest that when we were still small, I was the most shy among the three of us, kahit ako ang panganay. I did well in school, pero if there was a choice between being on stage and being in the background, I was the one who was always in the background.
I remember that I was a member of a theater arts guild in school. My younger sister, parating bida. Lahat ng plays, parati siyang bida. Ako, ako iyong nasa curtain. I was the type who would go where I would not attract attention. I was always very shy. My younger sister would join declamation and extemporaneous speaking contests. Ako, essay writing—kasi walang audience. I was like that. I have always been like that.
Even until college. You know, I did well in school but I never assumed leadership roles. I never ran for student council because I cannot imagine talking before a big crowd. I never imagined campaigning for myself. So never in my wildest imagination did I dream of entering politics.
Pero you know, my dad was a lawyer. Many of you know my dad. I was the eldest in the family. I was the one assigned to become a lawyer, so it was like a death sentence already: “When you graduate from college, you will become a lawyer.“ Pero since I was very shy, I just followed instructions.
But when I was in college, that was my political awakening. When Ninoy was assassinated, I became very active in campus demonstrations. I became very involved in all the activities leading to the EDSA Revolution.
After the EDSA Revolution happened, that was also the year I was graduating from college. Economics ako sa UP. They know back home that I would take up Law after college. Pero, after I graduated from college, I thought it would be a great disservice not to help because we had a new administration, there was so much hope in the air, etcetera, etcetera.
So I asked my dad if I can work in government first. In my mind, I thought I would work in Manila, and then go to law school after. Pero sabi ni Mommy at ni Daddy, if you are going to work, look for a job here in Naga.
There are few jobs here in Naga for an Economics graduate. When I went home after graduation, it was the summer break. My classmates who graduated from UPLB, Economics also, told me they got a job from the Bicol River Basin Development Program Office. It was still looking for economists, they said. So, I applied.
Everyone knew Jess was my boss. He was the one who interviewed me. I remember that the position I applied for was already filled up, the one for economists, but Jess said there was an available position but it required writing skills. He said: “If you are interested, we will see if you are right for the job. Write an essay.”
So, of course since I wanted to work for the government, I said I was interested. I decided to write an essay. I asked him what topic I should write about. He said: “Anything under the sun.” I said: “Anything under the sun is kind of difficult.” But anyway, because I wanted the job, I wrote an essay entitled, “The Role of Cory Aquino in the EDSA Revolution.“ It seems like that essay was the one that caught his attention. I was hired. In less than a year, we were married.
When I was about to get married, Daddy was already worried that I would no longer take up law. But it was Jess himself who told Daddy that he would make sure I would take up law. So even if we were married already, I enrolled in UNC’s law school. But I taught during the day. I resigned from the Bicol River Basin because it was unethical that both of us would be working there.
Nag-apply akong teaching job sa USI. I taught Economics during the day. So, teacher ako during the day, tapos law student ako at night. It became difficult after one year, because we had our first child. It became difficult because a year after the marriage, we already had Aika. I was a teacher during the day, a law student at night and I was also a young mother. To make matters worse, Jesse also ran for the mayorship of Naga and he won. So I was not just an ordinary wife. I also had an obligation to fulfill. I was also the Mayor’s wife.
But the good thing about it is that my husband understood that I cannot be a full-time first lady. The Mayor’s wife before me was very active in the affairs of City Hall. She had committees in City Hall. She was leading projects, etcetera. But I cannot do that. Because I was a full-time teacher, I was a full-time student, I was a full-time mother. And my husband understood.
My participation in his being a Mayor was limited to ribbon cutting, ninang sa kasal, ninang sa binyag – they were very, very limited. I was more concentrated on my work, my being a mother, and being a law student. You know, it became difficult. And I wanted to quit law school because it was very difficult to pursue. But my husband did not allow it. Sabi niya, “Daddy will kill me if you don’t take up law. It is better if you do things little by little.”
So I became a part-time student. I was going to evening school classes at 8:30, so I made sure that I was home by 7:30, so I decided not to get the classes that were already late. That is why, it took me a while to finish law school.
But even though it was hard, pag naalala ko pag may eleksyon, I would take a leave of absence for one semester, because I would help in the campaign. When I would give birth, I would take a leave for one semester. My kids were still small, so I needed to take care of them. I already had two kids. While it was difficult to balance all these things, parang I felt it was working – nagtatrabaho ka, estudyante ka, you help your husband and tutok akong ina. I was a full-time mother even if I was busy with other things.
But in 1992, that was the time that Jesse was seeking re-election. I think that was my baptism in politics. Jesse’s opponent for mayor was a female. And you know, sa politika, you are at a disadvantage if you are running against a woman. It’s easy for her to get the women votes. So I became very active in 1992. I organized Lakas ng Kababaihan. In fact, last night we celebrated our 25th anniversary already.
Nag-organize ako ng Lakas ng Kababaihan and my husband said I was a natural. I enjoyed what I was doing. Nag-iikot ako every night. I brought Aika with me all the time. I think Aika was five years old at that time. Nag-iikot ako every night. I organized Lakas ng Kabaihan in all the barangays I went to. Aika went with me everywhere I went. When she would get cranky, I had toys in the car. I brought things to help her sleep too. She would sleep in the car while waiting for me.
Even if it was difficult, it was something I loved doing. I loved being with people. It was a revelation for me because I thought I didn’t enjoy being with people. But when I organized Lakas ng Kababaihan, that was a tipping point.
First of all, I discovered that I loved being with people. Second, I learned it was possible to be more active in Jesse’s work and not neglect my other obligations. And eventually, I became a lawyer.
When I became a lawyer, it was already apparent to me what kind of lawyer I would like to become and that was public service lawyering. And the only public service lawyering I knew of was the Public Attorney’s Office, sa PAO. So, right after passing the bar, I applied already sa PAO. And I was taken in. I was a PAO lawyer.
I entered PAO at a time when there were very few lawyers, so the work was very heavy. I think I was assigned two RPCs, one NPC in Naga, several other NPCs sa Camaligan, sa Bumbon, sa Magarao. All of those assignments were given to me. Every Saturday, I would visit the jail. All my clients were in jail. When I would get there, I would remember the scene, as I was on my way in, the inmates—my clients—would already be very happy. They would make noise by hitting their windows because they were happy that their lawyer was already there. Every time I arrive, it felt like we were celebrating a fiesta inside BJMP.
I had a client who was an illegal recruiter, and she knew how to cook very well. They would allow her to cook whenever I visit her. Sometimes, I would even bring Aika. There was one Christmas that Jesse and I and the kids spent in jail because one of my clients gave birth exactly on the night of December 24th. We quickly went there to bring milk, diapers, etcetera, etcetera.
The reason I’m telling you this is everything that I did was part of God’s plan for me. The way situations unfolded, they were unexplainable at first. Parang you don’t know the significance why was I brought here, what was I doing there, etc. You never know. But looking back, all the dots were connected already. It was actually a preparation for the things to come.
Jess’ term ended in 1998 after three terms. Some of his partymates were asking me to run. And Jesse was telling me, “they want you to replace me.” Ang sabi ko, “over my dead body.“ Jess knew that I really did not want to run. So, there was never any further discussion on that.
And then Jess decided to go to Harvard. I resigned from PAO. I do not know if you recall at that time that jueteng was a big problem. Drugs, too. Maraming pinapahuli si Jess na mga kuryador. The problem is, PAO would assign them to me. So nakakantsyawan kami na, “pinapahuli ng mayor, pinapalabas naman ng asawa.”
Naalala ko, the security people assigned to Jess, ginawa niyang task force on drugs, because there were many trust issues. So they would catch people, and I felt so bad that I would be the one to cross examine them. So, I knew it was time to leave. Although Jess at that time understood that it was part of my work, I knew that it was time to leave. The timing was good; we were leaving so he could study overseas.
When we got back, Jesse was in fact I think encouraging me to just go into private practice. Pero you know the call was too intense. I still wanted public service lawyering and it fell right on my lap. Somebody told me about SALIGAN in passing.
SALIGAN is a legal resource NGO that help marginalized sectors – farmers and fisherfolk, urban poor, laborers, women and children, indigenous peoples. At that time, si Miles Raquid was part of that before. And Miles ran for councilor. So they were looking for a lady lawyer who will replace her and that was me.
So I became part of SALIGAN. And I think that was where I found myself. It was the kind of lawyering that I liked. We weren’t the type of lawyers who would wear power clothes or receive clients in their offices. Instead, we would go to the communities ourselves, organize the sectors who are unorganized because the objective was to teach them of their rights under the law with the belief that if they know their rights under the law, they would be in a better position to fight for their rights. So we would organize them, translate laws into the Bikol dialect, we would teach them so that even if there is no lawyer they would know how to defend themselves. So it was something that I did for ten years. That was my life. And Jesse was very cooperative, kasi it would require me to go to far places in Bicol.
I would be assigned in Masbate every month for two years. One week a month I would go to Masbate for two years. Si Jess ang nanay at tatay habang wala ako. Even though the weather was bad and waves were high, I would ride a fast-craft, bring along big computers and a projector. We did not have any assistants. We had to live in the most inconvenient of places. I have already slept in a small boat, in a hut that farmers use for eating lunch, the ones that did not have walls. If they cannot accommodate us in their homes, that’s where we would eat and sleep. I did that for a long time and as I said, that was where I found myself. I knew that that was what I wanted to do.
And then the turning point was in 2010 when Jesse was appointed DILG Secretary. Kasi I thought I would I would be doing alternative lawyering for the rest of my life because I was happy. Pero when Jesse was appointed DILG Secretary, suddenly, things changed. My two other kids were in Manila studying with their dad. Jillian, my youngest, was the one who was left here in Naga. Since she was still in grade school, we didn’t want to transfer her. I couldn’t travel anymore because there would be no one to take care of Jillian.
So nag-resign ako sa SALIGAN, I just did volunteer work for them and I went to private practice already. That was when I started thinking of applying in the judiciary. I thought that because of our situation, baka mag-apply na lang ako sa judiciary kahit si Jess politiko. At least, sa judiciary, stable. I applied, but the application process took time. And then the plane crash happened.
I think that was when my faith was really tested, kasi it was the most devastating thing to happen to anyone.
Those who knew me and my husband are aware that we were always together. I was his super-assistant. Pag may lakad siya, ako iyong driver. Ako nagsusundo, ako gumagawa ng lahat. During his political campaigns, I would man the headquarters. In fact, si Vice Governor Ato during his first run, kami magkasama ni Vice Gov. Ato. Hindi pa siya noon politiko. Kaming dalawa ang naiiwan sa headquarters. Ako, buntis ako kay Aika. Basta every time, ang gagawin lang ni Jess, mag-kampanya. But all the dirty work, pag sinabi kong dirty work, organizing, taking care of all the things needed – mga sound system, mga tarpaulin, etc. Ako iyan lahat. Of course, his staff would help, pero ako ang nagoorganize ng lahat.
So when the plane crash happened, parang napilayan kami to a very large extent in the sense that our lives were focused on Jess. He was really the center of our lives. Parang nag-a-adjust kami sa kailangan niya.
And then nawala siya. Kaya ko sinasabi na I think that’s when my faith was tested, dahil looking back, hindi ko alam kung papaano ako nag-survive, kasi it was something so unexpected. It was something that we never prepared for. All our plans, depende sa plano niya. Tapos all of a sudden, it seemed like we lost our foundation. Hindi ko sasabihin na madali sa amin, pero parang may nag-gaguide sa lahat ng gagawin namin.
I remember my initial thought when I got the call that the plane he was riding on crashed in the seas of Masbate. Ang naisip ko kaagad, I have to be strong for the children, because my daughters will gather their strength from me. Siyempre kung mahina ang loob ko, mahina ang loob nila, so I needed to be strong. I created a facade that I showed even to my children. And I think it worked. It worked because when my children saw that ang pinaplano ko na agad ano na ang gagawin namin, not dwelling on what happened, it was easier for the children to accept the loss of their dad.
After Jess passed away, that was when the approval for my application in the Judiciary came out. Actually, I was being nominated to three salas – Calabanga, Pili, and Ligao. I was being asked which was my choice. I chose Calabanga.
Pero after the plane crash, naisip ko dapat siguro kaming apat magkakasama na. My two children in Manila no longer had a parent to take care of them because that used to be Jess. I wanted all of us to be together. So sinabi ko after the school year, ililipat ko na si bunso. I wrote the Supreme Court, asking if I can be considered instead in a sala in Quezon City. That was it. Ang sagot ng Supreme Court, “as of now, there is no opening, but you can wait for a bit.” I decided to wait. Kasi I was thinking that if I took the Calabanga offer, it would be difficult to transfer. I said, I would wait.
And then there was a problem with our party. Jesse died August 18 of 2012; it is almost his 5th year anniversary. It seems not so long so ago, pero he died August 18 of 2012. October 5 was the last day of filing for certificates of candidacy for the 2013 elections. Before Jess died, the party had already agreed who would run as congressman, mayor, and all of the positions. But all of a sudden, some members of the party changed their minds, particularly for Congress. Medyo nagulo. Medyo nagulo ang usapan. I told Congressman Gabby, “Sige, even if Jesse was gone, I will still help you campaign.“ So that was an assurance.
All of a sudden, in the morning of the last day for filing for certificates of candidacy, nagpress conference si Gabby that he didn’t want to run. There was a scheduled press conference morning of October 5, pero sa press conference, dapat i-eendorse ko sila – si Gabby, si Mayor Bongat, the entire line up. The plan was that I would go with them to Comelec.
I was in Manila October 4 kasi De La Salle University named their school of government after Jesse – Jesse Robredo School of Government. The School of Government was named after Jesse on October 4, so I was in Manila October 4. I took the bus home, but the bus was delayed. The press conference was supposed to be at 8 o’clock in the morning but I arrived almost 10, because nasira ang bus. But apparently they went ahead with the press conference, but the tone was different. Cong. Gabby was saying that he will no longer run and that they would ask me instead.
So when I arrived, nag-pi-People Power na yung mga supporters asking me to run. That was one thing that I would never have done at all. Kung buhay pa si Jesse, I would say “over my dead body.“
Pero that time when they were urging me to run, parang I felt it was my duty to run and without much thinking, I said yes. When I said yes, deretso na kami sa Comelec upon the protests of my children. It was a leap of faith sa pagkandidato.
You know it was very difficult because I was running against a political dynasty who was in power since 1978. I had no money, no preparation, nothing at all, pero I persevered. From the first day that I filed my certificate of candidacy, nag–ikot ako. Masipag po ako mag–ikot. Hanggang ngayon because it’s something I enjoy doing. It worked.
We won in Congress. At noong nasa Congress na ako, everything became easy. Parang it was a natural thing to do. The bills that I passed were really the advocacies of Jesse – good governance, transparency, accountability, people participation, etc. etc.
So these were the things I did and I told Gabby, “when I go around, you have to come with me because one term lang ako.” So Congressman Gabby would come with me. I was very set na one term lang ako. And then this offer for the Vice Presidency came.
At first, it was very preposterous. When they first told me about the offer, I would just laugh it off. I treated it as a big joke, but then it became serious and it started a lot of struggles within our family. In fact, we consulted a Jesuit priest. We were seeing him to help us process it. My children cried a lot before we agreed for me to run. But one thing, and this is a trivia, October 5 was a memorable day. I agreed to be a candidate October 5 of 2012 for Congress. I also agreed to be a candidate for the vice presidency, October 5 of 2015.
And then the campaign. It was an 8-month grueling campaign. No one knew me when I started the campaign. I only looked familiar to them. Pareho ng congressional run. Ano din, sipag sa pag-ikot. At first, it was so difficult for us to raise funds. And the turning point also, hindi ako umaakyat sa survey. The turning point also was the debate.
When the debates began, that was when I soared in the surveys. I started number six of six, then rose to four of six, then three of six, then nag third ako. After that hindi na ako umagkyat. Pero nung nag-debate, naging number two ako. After the second debate, I was number one already in the survey.
So nung inaalok ako, sabi ko anong gagawin ko sa pagka-bise? Ang sinasabi nila, ang VP is the easiest job kasi wala namang gagawin. Mas mahirap pa nga ang barangay captain kaysa sa VP. So, naisip ko, oo nga ano? So pumayag ako. I never thought it would be like this. If I knew, I would never have said yes. Pero andito na tayo. And all of you who are praying for me know that this is not an easy place to be in, the viciousness. These are extraordinary times. The vileness. They would say anything to bring me down. The latest is calling me a basurera. I dont know if you are in social media pero the attacks are really vile. Pero you know, I dont get affected eh. Lahat nagsasabi, papano mo ginagawa, papano mo nalalagpasan? Mas affected pa si Mommy.
I would often chide Mommy because she is always on Facebook. I tell her not to go on Facebook anymore because she would answer the propaganda against me.
Nababasa ko ang mga tira but I dont get affected. Because kung hindi totoo, I just laught it off. Lahat nang pwede nilang punahin, pupunahin. But if it’s not true, why get affected?
When I assumed the Vice Presidency, I was already set in what I wanted to do. When our office launched Angat Buhay, we chose to adopt the farthest and poorest of our communities. We started with 50 communities, now we are in 132. But this was what I have been doing most of my working life: going to the communities.
When you see the suffering, you see the need in poor communities, suddenly all of this vileness is not important anymore. If you go to the communities, you see that there is so much to be done. Will you still focus on your detractors? You don’t have time for them anymore.
So we launched a program in our office called Istorya ng Pag-Asa, which is our attempt to change the conversation. We are now going into communities looking for inspiring stories of ordinary people who have done extraordinary things, and we want to propagate these stories. In Manila, we are in shopping malls already, we are in photo galleries. We are in the preparation stage of putting these on social media. Ano lang, we will just try it.
It’s an attempt to change the negativity around us. It’s an attempt to change the conversation. It’s an attempt to set aside all the vileness with inspiring stories. And I hope you can support us in this project because I think this is our obligation to change the bad that is around us. We cannot just sit down and watch people doing bad things. Even though we want to ignore the bad things around us, I think it is also our obligation to change them with good ones. It is our obligation to change the negativity with things that are positive. And I think to a certain extent, it is my own journey of faith. Kasi iniisip ko, siguro, kung hindi matatag ang paniniwala, pumatol ka na rin. Kung hindi matatag ang paniniwala, ang gagawin mo yung ginagawa din nila to defend yourself.
But you know, at the end of the day, we trust that what is good will always triumph in the end. Di ba? We have a saying that God will not allow the bad things to suceed. Pero while He will not allow it, it is also our duty to make sure the good will prevail.
So, I end this talk by asking all of you to join us in our crusade to change the conversation in whatever way you think you can. Pwede kami mag launch ng programa to drive away the vileness, to drive away the anger. Kasi we are an angry people now. A lot of people are fighting with each other. We cannot let this pass as if we are a detached audience.
So, this is an honor for me to talk before you today, for giving me the chance to ask you to join us. For giving me the chance to invite you to join us in changing the darkness that has overcome us in the last few months of the year.
So marhay na aga giraray saindo gabos, saka Diyos mabalos!