November 10, 2016
Message at the Growth in Perspective: A Forum on Economics and Governance, Ateneo de Manila University
It’s great to be with so many young people like you, and to be in the presence of your academic mentors. As you know, the last couple of days have been fairly sobering.
Two days ago, I returned to Tacloban to commemorate the anniversary of Super Typhoon Yolanda, during which we remembered those who perished, as well as those who risked or sacrificed their lives to help their fellowmen.
On that same day, we received news that rocked the nation: the Supreme Court voted 9 to 5 in favor of giving the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos a hero’s burial. Disappointing, heartbreaking news.
In all of these, however, there was a silver lining: on Facebook, I saw that hundreds of Ateneans made a stand for what is right.
I congratulate you for the sureness of your moral courage and I thank you for the strength of your conviction.
The issue of the Marcos burial is quite relevant to this afternoon’s discussion. We cannot talk seriously about the Philippines’ growth prospects without considering as well the depth and scope of our country’s history.
To truly move forward, we must hold a deep reverence for the past, and the truth of its sorrows and victories. We must honor the memory of those who fought for the country, and demand justice from those who betrayed it.
And really, it is the lessons of the past—along with the knowledge and insight—that will lead us to future action. This is true of every aspect of our live. Halimbawa, sa inyong mga estudyante noong nakaraang semester, baka muntikan ka nang ma-overcut. Kaya ngayong sem, pinagpasya mong mag-antay hanggang finals week bago lubos-lubosin ang cuts mo. So parating connected ang lahat.
Many—if not all—of you here are PolSci majors, and a good number of you are considering a career in law: your family tree might have a lawyer or two in it, or perhaps you’re going to be the first.
Or maybe you realized that the law could be an instrument for good, that it could be a tool for positive social change and governance reform.
In other words, reflection and discernment must always precede action. When I was your age, many, many years ago, I also thought hard about what I wanted to do and what I wanted to become.
My father was a long time judge who always sought to honor the spirit of the law, and his work inspired me to pursue the same career.
It took me a while, before I proceeded to Law School. By the time I studied law, I was already raising my three daughters and holding down a full-time job.
It wasn’t easy, and I’ve wrestled with some tremendous disappointments. What helped me overcome each setback was this conviction: that the law should be on the side of those who are vulnerable to its maneuverings.
And the most vulnerable are always the poorest, those who occupy the fringes of society. After working at the Public Attorney’s Office, I joined SALIGAN, a non-profit group composed of lawyers. Together, we gave free advice to farmers and fisherfolk involved in legal disputes, so that no one could use their poverty and lack of education against them.
While working with these communities, I remember that my colleagues and I would sleep in makeshift huts, sometimes in boats when the fishermen would take a break. It was rough work and we lost our own share of cases, but every win was true and fulfilling, and every win meant the world to people we helped.
I wanted to tell you all of this, because I think there is much kinship between my advocacy and the Ignatian mission of service espoused by the Ateneo.
This is the brand of governance that I stand up for. For me and my team, it is important that we don’t forget the humanity of the people we serve.
The Filipino poor are not faceless facts.
Only by respecting the dignity of each person can we hope to empower them and transform them into our co-equals in reform.
In my first 100 days as your Vice President, my team and I visited many of the poorest communities in the country.
Most of the people we sat down with had never even spoken to a government official before—such was the remoteness of their dwellings.
At the same time, we discussed our antipoverty plans with various groups, ranging from those in the public and private sectors, all the way to the academe, the development and aid industry, civil society groups, and people’s organizations.
The result of our collaboration was a five-point antipoverty framework which we launched in October. The framework is a comprehensive blueprint for fighting poverty, focusing on key sectoral issues, including health, education, and livelihood development, putting the Filipino family at the front and center of all our initiatives.
Because the narrative of our antipoverty vision cleaves to the narrative of the Filipino family, I think it’s best to begin exactly where life does: our mothers.
We want to improve maternal and child health care in the country, consistent with our larger agenda to promote universal health care. We want to give proper natal care to our poorest mothers around the country.
Our second focus is on nutrition and food self-sufficiency. When mothers are in good health, their babies are likely to be as strong and healthy.
This is the reason why we support the Department of Health’s 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 mental and physical impairments.
That’s right: stunting is irreversible. So imagine the quality of life that poor children are fated to. Ahead of them are years of limited potential, as well as fewer chances to get out of poverty. We want to change this providing enough nutrition to the poorest Filipino kids so they’re strong enough to meet the future.
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’re seeing a greater emphasis on preparing young Filipinos for career development. To support this, we’re advocating for better technical or vocational training for senior high school students. If we help them this way, they have a much better chance at finding meaningful work in adulthood.
But what about Filipino adults already constrained by poverty? We believe we can reach out to them, too. We plan to jumpstart rural development and economic self-sufficiency—especially in remote communities—by making supply chains more rewarding for our poor farmers and fishermen. We plan to give them the necessary training they need so they can grow their livelihood into proper enterprises.
Along the way, these small-scale farmers and fisherfolk can get proper training, which will allow them to engage in business with more clients. These new clients could include nonprofit groups, small to medium enterprises, or even the local and national government.
Ultimately, what we have in mind is a countryside of budding entrepreneurs who can help drive the economy from the ground up.
Finally, we are also looking at empowering Filipinas all over the country. On the surface, it appears that Filipinas have it better than most: we place 7th globally in the Gender Equality Index, and many Filipinas enjoy as many socio-economic opportunities as their male peers.
Yet everywhere, we bear witness to the many ways that women are undermined: catcalling, sexual abuse and harassment, even glass ceilings in the workplace. Often, we are reduced to our bodies. This is unacceptable. Tasteless remarks and inappropriate advances against women should have no place in our society.
We will therefore team up with the right partners to influence the conversation on gender awareness and equality. When the Filipina is liberated from the constraints of sexism and bigotry, she can flourish into her fullest self and be in the best position to make a difference to the community.
When our women are permitted to be as strong and talented as they can be, their children learn how to respect women. The fight for women’s rights is the fight for everyone’s rights.
Since we’re talking about communities, let’s go into what my team and I plan to do at HUDCC.
We don’t want to just build houses and relocate the poor. We aim to build communities where informal settlers have access to work and livelihood opportunities. Communities where they have running water and a reliable power supply. Communities that are safe for families, where a school isn’t too far-off, where everyone has a chance to fulfill their dreams.
You might wonder how I’m going to do it. Unlike agencies like the DepEd, DOH, DPWH, the Office of the Vice President and HUDCC cannot implement programs and projects. Instead, we are just mandated to craft policies and see to their implementation.
We are not discouraged by this; we see this as a wonderful opportunity. It is a chance for us to be the policy backbone of the government’s antipoverty efforts, ensuring that the reforms we put in place will endure beyond this administration.
It is the endurance of reform that I hope to bring to this country, so that the fruits of good governance are never beyond the reach of our people. In a political environment such as ours, the welfare of the ordinary Filipino is often shelved in the most terrible name of greed, in the name of greater wealth and power. In our history, this manifested most brutally in a dictatorship where rights were disposed of as swiftly as bodies were.
We must not let this happen again.
We must not allow our people—especially the poor—to be rendered disposable, to be degraded as mere numbers in a game of blood and bullets.
No, the Filipino people must always be the fulcrum of our endeavors. Only then can we aspire for real solutions that actually work.
Only then can we truly say that we hope to serve well, and that we hope to make a difference, however small.
Thank you very much, at mabuhay kayong lahat!