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    Numbers And Heart: Standing For Truth In Nation-building

    23 February 2017 Keynote Speech at the South Manila Educational Consortium (SMEC)’s 2nd Research Congress and 3rd International Forum on Innovative Collaborative Research, Henry Sy, Sr. Hall, De La Salle University, Manila, 23 February 2017

    Whenever I speak before the academe, I am in awe of the obvious thirst for knowledge that I can sense from everyone. My mother started teaching when she was 18; she is now 81 and continues to teach at the Universidad de Santa Isabel. I know of professors’ and teachers’ commitment to truth and disdain for falsehood, drive for excellence over mediocrity, and demand for discipline.

    These are important values in today’s world of alternative facts, post truths, and fake news. Truth has become a very rare commodity, and our children are alarmingly exposed to lies. The academe has always been the bastion of learning in every society. Today, your role in standing for truth in relation to nation-building has become even more critical.

    I can imagine how perhaps half of the people in this room have spent years of their lives poring over academic journals and publishing your own in-depth research about issues that mankind face.

    Whether its connected to philosophy, literature, business and finance, engineering, law, or other branches of study, I wish that the results of your labor are given its place and time to shine under the sun and be used for the betterment of mankind—instead of simply becoming a body of excellent work that lines very smart rows of bookcases in the Dean’s office.

    The government definitely needs help and support in finding the most innovative and effective ways of easing the suffering of our people. The private sector and the rest of our society may perhaps be able to address the need for innovative products and services for the benefit of society with your help.

    You see, I have always been a firm believer that any course of action on the part of government should be based on thorough study, baseline research, and performance standards so that progress is measured. Isn’t it true that anything that cannot be measured is difficult to improve? We need the discipline and the foresight to put these things in place before we spend government body, because at the end of any public official’s time serving the people, we have to be accountable to the people we serve.

    Having said that, much of our effectivity and empathy in programs to help our people, also stem from first-hand experience. Figures and statistics are critical but will not suffice, if we want to transform lives.

    If we are to truly understand the needs and frustrations of our people, then we must be willing to expand the four corners of our classrooms and libraries to include their communities. In addressing the twin challenges of poverty and inclusive growth, we must look beyond numbers and turn to collaborative work on the ground.

    When I was an alternative lawyer with the group called SALIGAN, we would visit the farthest and most unheard of barangays.

    We would trek on mountainous trails, walk through muddied rice fields, and cross rivers– just to reach out to marginalized communities.

    There, we would eat and talk with farmers, fisherfolk, IP groups and rural women. We would listen to their stories – personal accounts of how some of our laws have become instruments of injustice. In response, we would hold seminars and encourage them to fight for their rights.

    When my husband Jesse was Mayor of Naga, he would always push for people participation as his main agenda. He would always remind us that the best solution to any problem comes from those who experience the problem firsthand.

    It was a very personal and hands-on approach and worked extremely well because he coupled it with scientific research and evidence-based planning, ensuring that any action on the part of the government is based on empirical data. Jesse did not just take out debris; he cleared the city of guesswork.

    For example, he and his team came up with the Naga City Disaster Mitigation Plan (NCDMP) based on a series of studies conducted in different areas of the city. That study found out that the poorest residents were most vulnerable to the effects of natural calamities because they lived in areas that are relatively near the center of economic activities, regardless of floods.

    It was for the same reason, when I was still serving as a Congresswoman, we made sure that local disaster plans were mapped out and adopted even at the barangay level. But the discouraging thing was that some plans were copy pasted from other plans.

    So I would always ask them what was your basis when you did this and they will always say, required kasi ma’am kaya gumawa na lang kami. Nagbase na lang kami sa disaster plans ng iba.

    Through this program, local officials were made aware of which areas were more prone to disaster. Nowadays, the role of the barangay captain goes beyond handing out relief goods after every typhoon. The barangay captain now is more deeply involved in informing his constituents about the effects of climate change, in gathering baseline data, and holding regular consultations with the people.

    One of the things that I tried to solve was that some of the towns have a high malnutrition rate.

    Most of the barangays have feeding programs and the government spends a lot of funds in feeding programs but when we dug deeper, they do not have baselines, they do not even know what the starting weights and heights of their children were. They just fed and fed and fed. And of course they would not know the results.

    When I became Vice President and was assigned as HUDCC Chair, I encouraged all six key shelter agencies under my office to revolutionize the way we measured and analyzed our accomplishments.

    I would tell my staff that the time to count houses was over. We had to adjust the metrics that determined our success. Because you know before when the key shelter agencies were presenting to us their accomplishment reports, you would think we would not have a backlog anymore because they would say that we have 97 percent accomplishment because we were able to build this number of houses but again if you dig deeper, yes there are many houses but many houses remain unoccupied because they were built in far away areas, not accessible to public transportation, not accessible to opportunities, no potable water, no electricity, etc.

    Instead of adding up how many structures have been built over the course of our term, I told them: why don’t we base the success of each project on how many families are now happily living in their own homes? Why don’t we base the success of any socialized housing project on how many lives and communities have been changed? Looking at housing in a more holistic and humane angle is what development is all about.

    Such is the driving philosophy behind our Angat Buhay program which is the flagship program of our office; Angat meaning lifting our poor from abject poverty, and Buhay to signal a respect for life – for every living Filipino, both rich and poor.

    Focusing on six key advocacies, namely: hunger and food security, health, education, rural development, women empowerment, and housing, Angat Buhay reflects our dreams for the poor Filipino family. It draws strength from bayanihan and pagkakaisa – traditional, Filipino values that have long guided our quest for equality, social justice, and democracy.

    I am happy to share with you that we are now piloting Angat Buhay in 50 partner LGUs across the country. We chose these local governments not just on the basis of poverty incidence, but also on their fidelity to good governance. We’re talking about LGUs that have shown a commitment to transparency, accountability, and citizen participation.

    Through Angat Buhay, these 50 LGUs will be linked with much-needed aid and resources from our various partners. We have already received more than 700 pledges from corporations big and small, as well as from development partners and non-profit groups.

    As researchers, you play a crucial role in giving the poor and marginalized a voice in the arena of public discourse. You have the power to identify and address urgent issues that need immediate attention.

    Being experts in your respective fields, you are in the best position to come up with studies and recommendations that will strengthen different government programs and strategies. Your studies can influence legislators in crafting better laws that will protect those who are weak and powerless. Through research, you can steer the course of academic discussion and turn it into transformative action.

    As you present your papers and widen the space for collaborative learning, may you use this opportunity not just to expand your network but also find partners willing to explore ways on how to implement them in real-life situations.

    Remember that you do not need to be in government to take part to nation building. Who knows, your work might be the solution we need.

    We have recently expanded the Angat Buhay program to include schools and universities as partners. Through this initiative, teachers and students will collaborate and exploring ways on how to best respond to the needs of people around them.

    In fact, Iast Monday, I was in Xavier University in Cagayan de Oro to launch Angat Buhay. We were very happy to know that one of the areas which XU has chosen to partner with is Miarayon, a mountainous IP barangay in Talakag, Bukidnon. I hope you can spread the word in your own institutions and consider partnering with us in the future.

    As you leave this room, I urge you not to bury the results of your work in dusty cabinets and library shelves.

    Do not just talk about them in conferences and forums.

    There is so much more than just being published or peer-reviewed in a highly esteemed journal.

    Use them to transform and touch lives. Use them to change how this country is being run.

    Thank you very much and have a meaningful Congress!

    Posted in Speeches on Feb 23, 2017