Message at the Career Executive Service Leadership Conclave Theme: “Resilience: Steering through adversity, Bouncing back bravely”
EDSA Shangri-la Manila, Ortigas Center, Mandaluyong City
Maraming salamat po. Maupo po tayong lahat.
Atty. Anthonette Velasco-Allones—my kababayan, my schoolmate, napakahusay, so proud of you—the Executive Director of the Career Executive Service Board (CESB); Usec. Rose Bistoyong—nakasama ko po si Usec sa isang biyahe na nagtrabaho kami nang husto—the National President of the National Union of Career Executive Service Board; other officers present; members of the Career Executive Service; my fellow workers in government; honored guests; mga minamahal kong mga kababayan: magandang umaga sa inyong lahat.
First of all, thank you very much for inviting me to speak before you today. I am so humbled. Alam ko, napakahuhusay ninyo. Public servants are critical to our growth as a nation. Day in and day out, they toil to make sure that the bureaucracy provides services that are essential to our people’s daily lives. Please know that you and those who work for you in government are important to all of us. I know of your struggles and difficulties, but I also know of the great opportunities that await those who are committed to giving excellent service while in government—public servants like you.
Now, more than ever, we need organizations like yours and people like you that nurture public servants who embody excellence, and an unshakeable commitment to nation building. Here and abroad, governments are being restructured to fit the needs of growing or shrinking populations depending on which country you are talking about, emerging security threats, intractable poverty that causes deep social and economic inequality, and a human family whose lives are now lived on two spheres—physically and virtually.
As a result, nations are experiencing massive shifts in the way societies are managed. Advances in technology, especially in the areas of artificial intelligence and deep learning, will soon change the way we all live. These are all happening so fast; governments must keep up.
For the longest time, government has been viewed by many as slow, inefficient, unresponsive, uninspired, and corrupt. Some movements call for minimalist governments, where the barest bureaucratic structure is preserved and the private sector is considered “unrestrained” in its ability to create and innovate. But what we oftentimes mistake as loopholes in the system can also be viewed as being characteristic of the kind of culture we nurture within the bureaucracy.
When I assumed office in 2016, we discovered that our office does not have the mandate nor the resources to create and implement programs. But my team and I decided that we could not sit idly by, and spend the next six years just doing ceremonial functions.
So before the inauguration, I told my staff, we have to conceptualize a program where we can be of best help to the poor. As a result, our flagship program, Angat Buhay, was born.
Angat Buhay focuses on six key advocacy areas, namely: hunger and food security, universal healthcare, public education, rural development, women empowerment, and housing. Zeroing in on the most basic needs of the pamilya sa laylayan ng lipunan, we sought the help of private partners and individuals to fill in the gaps.
We have built school buildings, playgrounds, libraries, and play gardens. We have turned over fishing boats, school books, farming equipment, water pumps, multicabs, solar kits, and carabaos. We have organized job fairs, provided free medical check-up and legal services, initiated feeding programs, and distributed relief goods.
We have also set aside at least two days of every week to visit the smallest, farthest, and poorest communities across the country. These weekly trips give us an idea of the amount of work that still needs to be done in the coming years.
One of those places we visited is Siayan in Zamboanga del Norte. Nandoon lang po kami noong Huwebes. Siayan is just a two-hour drive from the capital city of Dipolog. Its strong story paints a very unique picture of progress.
In 2009, Siayan was found to have the most severe type and magnitude of poverty. Its poverty incidence was a staggering 97.5%. The people of Siayan could hardly eat three meals a day and did even know what a “snack” was.
But a mayor named Flora Villarosa changed the town’s future. Na-elect po siya noong 2010. Hoping to improve the lives of her constituents, Mayor Flora visited the poorest barangays and held magabets or dialogues with farmers and women’s groups. She invigorated the whole munisipyo with passion and excellence. As a result of their collective efforts, bridges and roads were built and livelihood trainings and entrepreneurship programs were started in almost all of the 22 barangays of the town.
When we launched Angat Buhay in October of 2016, Siayan was one of the first 50 pilot areas, which were handpicked both on the basis of poverty incidence and their track record for progressive governance.
What is truly laudable is that despite their many achievements, Mayor Flora and her staff remain open to convergence and collaboration. So last year, we partnered with the Philippine Toy Library and opened a beautiful playspace for the children of Siayan. We also brought our Angat Buhay partner CARD-MRI when we visited in 2016 to implement micro- finance programs for local women entrepreneurs. Three weeks ago, we also started a feeding program in partnership with Hapag-Asa.
Last week, we returned to Siayan to inaugurate a dormitory for boys at the Siayan National High School. The dormitory is in partnership with our Angat Buhay partner, Yellow Boat of Hope Foundation.
Hindi ko po alam kung narinig niyo na sila, pero sila iyong NGO na, kaya “Yellow Boat of Hope,” kasi doon sa mga lugar na coastal communities na iyong mga bata, lumalangoy para makaabot sa kanilang mga schools, doon nagsimula ang Yellow Boat of Hope. It was started by Dr. Anton [Lim] of Zamboanga. Ang ginawa nila, nagbigay sila ng mga boats, na iyong boats, ginagawa siyang parang school bus. Siya iyong nagsusundo ng mga estudyante so hindi na lumalangoy.
Twenty-five boys, from Grades 7-10, are now occupying the dormitory for free. We had the chance to sit down with them and listen to their stories. All of them come from very poor families, live at least 6 to 8 kilometers away from school, and walk about two hours each way just to get to school and go back home.
One of them is Rain-Rain. Iyon talaga ang pangalan niya, Rain-Rain. As in rain, R-A-I-N. [laughter] He is 17 years old and is in Grade 10. To get to school, he needs to walk about two hours, traversing dusty and muddy mountainous paths. He crosses two rivers, papunta saka pabalik. He wakes up before dawn. Sabi nila, lahat silang mga dormitory boys, gumigising sila ng mga between 3 and 4 in the morning. But sometimes, he would still miss his classes. During rainy days, the rivers would overflow, making it difficult and dangerous to cross so he would not be able to go to school.
As a result – ito, ikinikuwento niya – he would receive multiple warnings, filling up an entire bond paper’s worth of violations. He told us that he is happy being in the dorm because he won’t miss the daily flag ceremony anymore and wouldn’t have to walk very far.
We also met Junrey Marinog. Ito medyo nakakaawa ito. Junrey is already 22 years old but is just in Grade 10. He had to stop going to school several times when both of his parents got sick. Iyong tatay niya, ang sakit, capillariasis; tapos iyong nanay niya, na-operahan. He is the eldest of eight children. He worked as a construction worker for three years and a part-time habal- habal driver. At a young age, Junrey became the sole breadwinner of the family. Ngayong medyo okay na iyong parents niya, he decided to go back to school this year and hopefully be able to finish high school.
The local government of Siayan has been working very hard to address the very high drop out rate in high school. One of the underlying reasons for this is that many students have to travel very far just to attend school. Hindi tumatagal iyong iba; walang resilience. We pitched the idea to our Angat Buhay partner, iyon nga, the Yellow Boat of Hope Foundation, and thankfully, they have agreed to put up this dormitory so that students like Rain-Rain and Junrey have a place to stay for free, and be able to focus on their studies. This dormitory will give them a fair chance of reaching their dreams.
These are just some of the heartwarming stories we gathered on the ground. For the past 16 months, we have witnessed the beauty of collaborative work. As most of you know, our office has one of the smallest budgets in the bureaucracy, but the overflowing display of generosity from friends and strangers have more than made up for our financial limitations.
In fact, as of last month, Angat Buhay has already reached out to more than 99,198 families, mobilizing P182 -million worth of projects in 176 local government units nationwide. This proves that we can do many impossible things despite every limitation. Government can be a seat of innovation and collaboration too, if we are up to the challenge.
Aside from Angat Buhay, our office continues to reinvent and improve itself.
Last December, we finally got an ISO Certification after weeks and months of intense preparation. [applause] Those of you who went through this process in your own departments and agencies know how challenging this is for everybody. People resist change, especially those who simply wait for the 15th and 30th of each month, and depend on their security of tenure to maintain their position, rather than on their performance.
You must have come across these types of government workers, those who are simply waiting for their retirement. And I know what you are thinking: if we are to transform our bureaucracy into something that can rival the Unilevers or the Citibanks of the world, then our people must embrace excellence in every step, rather than sink into mediocrity just because they cannot be easily fired.
So we came up with a Junior Leadership Development Program, through which we have tapped emerging leaders from among our rank-and-file, enabling them to step up and take a more active role in the office. They undergo several phases of trainings and workshops, and meet once a week for two months with their coaches and undergo intensive mentoring. We are also providing them with brown bag trainings, where we invite experts in every field to have a one-hour intimate talk with anyone in the office who want to attend, as well as trainings outside the office for further enrichment.
For their culminating activity, graduates are asked to design programs that would improve our existing systems and increase productivity. One group, for example, developed a tool to provide timely updates to end-users on procurement matters. There was also a suggestion to come up with a Positivitree, where employees can write and post gratitude notes to recognize small acts of kindness made by co- workers. Another group designed a tool that will allow us to check how we respond to requests sent to our office.
We understand also that work-life balance can sometimes feel like an impossibility when you are in government, so we bring in fitness and wellness programs and make them our after-office activities. Na-troll pa nga ako rito, kasi nagdala kami ng yoga instructor. Hindi nila alam na alas-siyete na iyon ng gabi. We do health checkups, facials, and foot massages.
We understand how difficult it is for anyone to focus on being excellent in his job when he is worried about how to pay off debt and where to find money when someone in the family is sick. So, we invite experts also to provide financial literacy trainings.
These are just some of the examples of the things we have done to support our staff and officers at the Office of the Vice President.
I believe that we must put more thought and resources into ensuring that those who work in government are well taken cared of, given every chance of gaining skills and achieving all their ethical aspirations, so they can be at par, if not even sharper, than their private counterparts.
Our government workers are the backbone of our huge bureaucracy. Those at the top come and go every time the administration changes hands; but you are the ones who toil day and night to keep government services working for every Filipino. You take care of everyone; so it is just right that government also takes care of you.
So, ladies and gentlemen, if we want to achieve great things for our country, then we must start looking within our own agencies and institutions. We need to ask ourselves: Are we willing to challenge the system and break away from tradition to achieve nothing less but excellence in all that we do? Are we brave enough to give way to more transparency, accountability, and citizen participation, in the spirit of shunning mediocrity within government ranks? What kind of legacy do we want to leave behind?
We will be more successful, if we do things together. Let us find ways to engage and empower our people. Let us give them a seat at the decision-making table. Together, let us work in finding the best solutions to our country’s problems.
I know some of us may feel discouraged at times. I understand if some of you may feel ignored and unappreciated. Especially now, when social media has made it easier for many to misinterpret and invalidate work that we do publicly. It is much easier for people to criticize government than for them to actually do the work that we do.
I have said this before, and I will say it again: sa trabaho natin sa gobyerno, dapat wala tayong ego. Ako lang po, I think you all know, that I have been left out in so many official functions. Ilang beses na rin akong na-disinvite. But I always tell my staff: kung magmumukmok tayo sa isang tabi, sayang ang oras. Kung hindi puwede, maghanap tayo ng ibang paraan. Kung may harang ang ating daan, sigurado makakahanap tayo ng ibang mas mabuting dadaanan.
Yes, there will always be frustrations and challenges. Yes, there will always be many bad days. There will always be rejection. But we should not allow these things to distract us from the work that we do.
Sinasabi ko rin po parati sa aking staff, na in the midst of all the distractions, parating eyes on the goal lang tayo. Dapat hindi lilingon nang lilingon sa mga hindi nakakabuti.
As you face more hurdles and reach for greater heights, may you never lose heart. Keep fighting the good fight.
During these extraordinary times, we need public servants who will continue the fight for good governance and uphold the principles of democracy. We need public servants who stand for truth, honesty, and integrity.
We are counting on you. So, go forth and be beacons of light and hope for our country.
Maraming, maraming salamat po.