16 February 2017
Message at the PHINMA Forum, Tower Club, Philam Life Tower, Makati City
Before I proceed with my speech I would like to apologize for coming in 15 minutes late. I was coming in from, I was telling Mr. del Rosario that I was just across at the Bonifacio Global City at the offices of the World Food Program.
We entered into a MOU with WFP hoping to put an end to the protracted efforts of so many agencies of government and the LGUs as far as trying to address our problems with food security and nutrition.
So this morning we signed a memorandum of agreement where WFP committed to fund a program that will look into creating an inter-agency commission for food security and nutrition. I left the office before 11:30, I thought I will be here a few minutes early, but it turns out I was 15 minutes late so pasensya na po kayo.
Last Monday, I visited Bgy. San Francisco in Luna, Apayao, a very small farming village up North, to talk to farmers first-hand and find out how our office can be of help. It was a very quick, small meeting—all of us fit in a small ‘kubo’. We wanted it to be done quietly without fanfare, without media presence, while everybody was in the capital celebrating the province’s founding anniversary.
We learned that almost 30 years after the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law was signed, majority of our farmers are still waiting for their land, struggling with meeting daily needs, unable to survive without paying high interest to get the cash that they need for their livelihood.
In one planting cycle, their net income—at least those I talked to—ranges from P10,000 to P20,000. Imagine: That is the amount they earn after six months of difficult labor, using outdated equipment, and no storage facility. To start planting again, they borrow cash from community lenders at 5% every month.
If you do the Math, what they are doing is not even survival. It is being enslaved to poverty. Although they work from sunup to sundown in back-breaking work, all they can do is pay off the interest on their loans, and hope that their children will not become farmers like themselves. Ito ang nakakalungkot.
That’s alarming, because farmers are critical to our nation’s survival. They provide our country’s food. And our country is battling with a silent crisis—that of hunger—especially among our children.
Two months ago, we visited a very remote place called Agutaya, I don’t know if you’ve heard of it. It’s a small town in northern Palawan. You have to take a 10-hour grueling boat ride just to get there.
Malapit siya sa Amanpulo, but there’s no other way of going other that 10-hour boat ride from Coron. When we visited the only public elementary school there na nasira noong typhoon Yolanda, hindi pa din naaayos ngayon, we noticed that Grade 5 students were as small as Grade 1 students.
The doctors with us explained they were stunted, a condition that is irreversible and affects children not just physically but also mentally and emotionally.
In a study released just last year, Save The Children warned that the number of children affected by hunger, malnutrition, and stunting in the Philippines has been rising at alarming levels, this despite all our feeding programs.
If we don’t do anything about hunger now, we stand to lose the economic potential that our country is expected to derive from our demographic strength.
Imagine this: 10-15 years from now, finding smart, reliable employees will be doubly hard because many of them were stunted when they were children back in 2017. One in three children, to be exact.
We see these again and again, in what we call our weekly “laylayan” visits since we assumed office last July. In the remotest, poorest communities across the country, each visit brings hope to people who tell us these were the first times they were visited by a national official. But while hope is the first step to meaningful change, we need solutions right after.
A thought-provoking piece on The Guardian penned by a fellow at the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation, said that our development efforts are not working because we’re so obsessed with ending poverty. Instead of merely focusing on the mere alleviation of poverty, he said we should spend our strength on active creation of prosperity. He argues that filling resource gaps isn’t enough. We have to pay attention to how resources are being used by the poor.
This insight isn’t just fitting to our theme today; it is also tremendously relevant to the Philippine situation. The country’s economy has performed exceptionally well in the last six years, thanks to the introduction of good governance reforms and the stability of our macroeconomic base.
Once upon a time, we were written off as the Sick Man of Asia. Now, we have risen to become the fastest-growing economy of Asia—faster even than China. We’ve become the darling of investors, economists, and market analysts.
Yet once we look past the praise, we find that this growth has yet to translate to equitable prosperity. True, we are seeing some encouraging signs: poverty levels fell from 26.6 percent in 2006 to just 21.6 percent in 2015. But 21.6 percent is still one Filipino too many.
And this figure is hardly an abstract notion. We are witnesses to this 21.6 percent in our ordinary lives. We see them from our cars when we pass by crowded slums in the metro. We see it on the news, in the faces of disaster victims who have lost all their possessions.
We see that 21.6 percent in the eyes of a child peddling Sampaguita in the streets of Manila, in the labored gait of a homeless man pushing his cart. Our people need more than promises for this country to get better. If we want the Philippines to achieve genuine progress, we need to work harder, faster, and smarter.
What I find very interesting about Phinma is how you have uniquely positioned yourself to address societal needs through the use of productive enterprise.
Your business model creates prosperity for your shareholders as well as address the basic needs of those who need help the most. Your businesses in education, energy, hospitality services, and of course housing and property development, are in themselves innovative approaches to reducing poverty among our people. Please inspire both the private and the public sector to be more enterprising; to be as fearless in finding solutions to traditional problems.
Our flagship program, the Angat Buhay, is the product of a lot of teamwork from different sectors of society: the poor and marginalized, local and international aid organizations, major corporations, and members of civil society. Translated roughly, “Angat Buhay” means “uplifting lives.” It’s a program that reveals not just our purpose of combating poverty and empowering the people; it is also reflective of the dream of ordinary Filipinos, those whose lives have yet to be uplifted.
But what truly makes Angat Buhay special is the fact that it was designed strategically. Under this program, we go beyond filling resource gaps. We are also changing the way that resources are being used, so that the poorest communities can work towards prosperity.
These are the focus areas of Angat Buhay: maternal and child healthcare, food security and nutrition, quality secondary education, rural development, and women empowerment. You’ll notice that they correspond with the major life stages of the average Filipino: from taking care of mothers and infants, to feeding young children and honing the vocational skills of our young adults, all the way to strengthening the values and economic potential of our communities. This is not an accident. We designed Angat Buhay this way, because we choose to fight the war for life, not the war that result in senseless and unexplained deaths.
After my resignation from HUDCC, I have decided to retain housing as a major advocacy of the OVP. Housing is our country’s second silent crisis. The backlog is so huge, I’m sure you are fully aware of it. We will have to construct 2,600 homes a day just to catch up with the growing population.
There are a couple of urgent housing issues that we can work together on. First is accessibility. Many of our relocated settlers abandon their new homes, because the resettlement areas are often too far away from the city.
This is why during the recent LEDAC meeting in Malacanang, we pushed for four bills that will help reduce the massive housing backlog in the country: the comprehensive Land Use Bill, the On-Site, In-City, or Near-City Bill, the Department of Housing Bill, and the Urban and Housing Development Act amendments on eviction.
Second is the lack of facilities. Many relocated families are moved to housing developments that don’t have potable water, electricity, or sanitation facilities. Finally, we have to look into the vulnerability of the poor to natural disasters—especially as the effects of climate change have become more destructive.
As you can see, we shouldn’t be satisfied with just putting a roof over the people’s heads. Again, our challenge is not to fill gaps, but to create a process for prosperity. For public housing to be responsive, our communities should be close enough to where the jobs and schools are.
These homes should be equipped with the proper facilities, and they must be built soundly on safe ground. In the end, what we want is this: for our informal settlers to live with dignity, for them to raise their families in a safe and peaceful environment, and for our communities to be strong and productive.
We have already partnered with a number of organizations to make this happen, and we are ready to partner with more. Of course Phinma is on top of our list as far as housing is concerned. And may I take this opportunity to thank Phinma. We have just been informed that you are looking at four of our Angat Buhay sites. Baybay, Leyte for housing; Lupang, Occidental Mindoro, I heard that you are exploring a partnership for the construction of classrooms and a state college; Panglao, Bohol to discuss also socialized housing; and Tampakan, South Cotabato for the provision of 1000 housing units.
And to top it all, I heard that Phinma already visited, San Jose Del Monte in Bulacan, also Dona Remedios, it is a relocation town. So many informal settlers in Manila have been relocated there. And I heard that Phinma has identified it as a site where you can build, so maraming maraming sa Phinma.
But Phinma’s model is one of the things we are seriously looking at. Most of your strategies are replicable in other communities across the country and we hope that you may be able to encourage many others to follow your lead.
The Office of the Vice President cannot execute its own projects, nor do we have the funds for our own initiatives. So I have taken the role of being a conduit for resources and a convenor of change.
We try to link organizations with the right communities, so that the necessary aid arrives quickly. We create bridges of possibility, through which our dreams for the country can be transformed into reality. This requires not just collaboration and skill, but also bravery. At a time when there’s fixation on drugs and criminality, threats to life bandied around casually, when our very liberties and very way of life is under attack, standing up and speaking out can be difficult.
But now, more than ever, we must act with audacity and move forward without fear. Now, more than ever, we must learn to harness inclusivity, despite the polarization that’s sweeping across our country and even the world.
We cannot let ourselves be held down by frustration, nor allow our day to be ruined by someone else’s vicious attack.
Let’s stay on the side of light, instead of the darkness.
Choose love over hate; life over death!
But always on the side of what is right and what is true.
I have found that many of us have the same desire for our country: to see the Philippines achieve real and inclusive progress, so that poverty no longer cripples us.
We do not want bloodshed or brutality.
We want a Philippines where every individual can dream freely, where justice is not beyond reach, and where equality holds sway.
Thank you very much, and a good day to you all!