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    Rehumanizing the Poor: The Essential Campaign Against Poverty

    10 October 2016

    Mr. Rafael C. Lopa, Senior Adviser for Anti-Poverty Programs

    There’s such a wonderful energy in this hall. And I must say that I’m not surprised. After all, many of you here are dear and familiar to me, and I know firsthand how big your hearts are, how ready you are to commit yourselves to the cause of the Filipino people. I’m also seeing many new faces around. We’re very pleased to have you here, and we welcome you wholly and the promise of your friendship.

    This is indeed an exciting time. Under the leadership of Vice President Leni Robredo—and also, through your previous efforts—we find fellowship in our movement to reduce poverty among millions of Filipino families. And I’d like us to consider the word “fellowship” very carefully. That’s because experience has shown us that without it, there is only so much that we can achieve.

    I’m sure you will agree with me: poverty is not a single phenomenon brought about by loosely connected causes. Instead, it stands at the center of a tight web of interrelated factors.

    These include deficiencies in governance, public health, social protection, and education, among several others. Poverty is a perfect storm of unfortunate conditions, if you’d like. So if we’re going to combat it effectively, our approach must be comprehensive, one that goes into the furthest and deepest reaches of our socio-economic and political environment.

    All of this was foremost in VP Leni’s mind, especially after consulting you and the communities she visited. And this here is the product of our conversations: the Antipoverty Framework of the Office of the Vice President. It’s a framework that is at once holistic and responsive, one that recognizes and respects the complexity of the poverty problem.

    Now, when I say “holistic,” I mean to say that our strategy treats the major dimensions of poverty exactly as they are: complex and closely interwoven. But what is noteworthy about VP Leni’s Antipoverty Framework is that it finds cohesion in the most basic unit of society: the ordinary Filipino family, specifically those who have long remained in the fringes of society. Sila po ‘yung, ‘ika nga, mga pamilyang nasa laylayan. Here, finally, is an antipoverty campaign that reveals the true face of Filipino families in need, one that frees them from the anonymity of statistics.

    That’s why this framework is best discussed according to the narrative of the poor Filipino family. And where better to start than where life originates: our mothers? Maternal health is thus one of our priority areas under our banner for universal health care.

    You see, despite the growth of our economy and several public health care reforms, we haven’t been able to reduce maternal mortality rates. Just three years ago, estimates by the WHO, UNICEF, UNFPA, and World Bank put maternal deaths in the Philippines at 3,000 per 2.4 million deliveries.

    That’s 3,000 needless tragedies. That’s 3,000 mothers whose deaths were utterly and completely preventable.

    That’s what we want to emphasize. In the realm of public health, preventive care is the only true solution. So if we are to ensure the well-being of an emerging generation of Filipinos, we ought to give adequate natal care to our pregnant women. That way, they can weather the challenges of pregnancy and childbirth, and—even better—give birth to healthy, beautiful babies.

    I mentioned “sufficient nutrition” among our mothers, because that’s actually the toehold in our food security and nutrition campaign. The 2013 National Nutrition Survey found that in the Philippines, 1 in 4 pregnant women is anemic and nutritionally at risk. An infant born in these conditions is likely to suffer from wasting—where a child weighs less than the average for their height—as well as stunting, where a child is short for their age.

    Stunting is an urgent health care issue that we want to address head-on. One of the ways that VP Leni is doing this is by giving strong support to programs such as the Department of Health’s First 1,000 Days Program. See, the first 1,000 days of life—from conception to a child’s second year—are actually the most crucial in shaping a child’s future. If an infant is undernourished as early as the womb, stunting may well be on the horizon.

    And what a grim horizon that is. The physical and mental impairments typical of stunting are irreversible and impossible to undo. According to the UNICEF, stunted children are bound to have an IQ lower by 5 to 11 points, and their educational attainment and adult productivity are also lower than average.

    That’s millions of Filipino children who cannot perform as well in school, and who, in adulthood, may not be able to earn their way out of poverty. So grievous is the effect of under nutrition that it is actually associated with a GDP loss of 3 percent! That’s devastating for a country that is only getting to its feet, much like the Philippines is.

    So it’s clear: what we want is better maternal and child health care, and what we want to see are Filipino children with access to proper nutrition. Of course, it’s not enough for us to ensure that our kids are in the pink of health.

    They need to be armed with the necessary skills for securing meaningful employment in the future. That’s why VP Leni wants to highlight secondary education and skills training.

    Through this, we can link our youth to livelihood opportunities, specifically within fast-growing or emerging industries. These industries would, for the most part, be low-hanging fruit: local tourism, the expanding services sector, agri-business, and fishery development, among others.

    “Agri-fisheries” is actually key here. The archipelagic nature of our country means that we are, in many places, surrounded by bountiful water. Our poorest communities also live in areas where agriculture is the primary source of income.

    This fits right into our fourth thematic area: rural development. We want local smallholder farmers to be further involved in rewarding supply chains. We’ like to see them nurture an entrepreneurial spirit. This will help them do business with corporations, social enterprises, and even the local or national government.

    Based on our consultations with you, we’ve put some areas high up on our priorities for rural development: Bukidnon, for one, as well as Sultan Kudarat and Maguindanao. We’re also considering other areas, including Zamboanga del Norte, Agusan del Sur, Sarangani, North Cotabato and Lanao del Norte, Leyte, and Mountain Province.

    Some ideas for rural development even tie up well with other thematic areas in our framework! We can expand the farm-to-feeding proof of concept, so that small-scale farmers can be tapped as suppliers in government feeding programs. That’s hitting two birds with one stone just by developing the countryside!

    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.

    One of the ways that VP Leni wants to strengthen the role of Filipinas in this country is by building socio-political and economic mechanisms that will emancipate women. There are many ways of accomplishing that.

    For example: we can influence public spending for Gender and Development (GAD) in government offices, so that these funds are actually used to further the interests of women in the country. In the past, GAD funds have been used to bankroll initiatives with no impact on or connection to women’s rights: the construction of basketball courts, t-shirt printing, Christmas parties, you name it.

    We want to put a stop to that. We’d like these funds to be used for their actual purpose: to protect and uphold the rights of every Filipina.

    Now, when women are emancipated to the fullness of their potential, our communities benefit from their participation, and the cultural fabric of our society is further strengthened.

    In the end, that’s what we’d like to see as well: Filipino communities where everyone has equal access to opportunities for growth.

    The narrative of our five-point antipoverty framework is actually the expression of VP Leni’s aspirations for the Filipino people. In envisioning this framework, we found a natural fit between it and her work as head of the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council.

    HUDCC, after all, will be the policy-making hub of VP Leni’s urban poor initiatives; if we want to build stronger communities in the countryside, we also want stronger communities in our busiest urban centers.

    By orienting housing policies in favor of the poor and marginalized—and by protecting in-need Filipinos through the Antipoverty Framework—we can build safe, secure, and healthy communities. This is especially important in the context of the times, when calamities aggravated by climate change render the poor homeless year after year.

    And really, we’ve found that sustainable housing is more than just putting a roof over people’s heads. Effective housing solutions must also account for potential disasters, so we can move at-risk communities to safer ground.

    For VP Leni, what is most important in community-building—and ultimately, in nation-building—is preserving and nurturing these values that are distinctly Filipino: love of God, family, and neighbor. Perseverance. Integrity. Compassion. And here’s a thought: when a community is made up of stable, loving families who have ample access to social protection, education, and employment, we can actually expect fewer cases of drug dependency and addiction.

    And while drug addiction is indeed a public safety problem, it is more fundamentally a public health problem— and so must be treated as such. The Office of the Vice President will thus provide support towards community based drug rehabilitation programs, especially in view of this Administration’s campaign against illegal drugs.

    In doing all of this, your committed participation and engagement will allow us to make meaningful gains in our fight against poverty. The Office of the Vice President, over the next six years, will take a defining role as convenor of insights and talent, as conduit of skills and resources.

    Not only will we continue these multi-sectoral conversations; we also intend to put together a high-level Secretariat to coordinate specific courses of action and partnerships. At the same time, we want to develop a common results framework, with shared metrics so we can measure the impact of our collaboration.

    The way VP Leni sees it, the next six years are also a prime opportunity for our local governments to shine. We think it’s time for their technical and operational capacities to be expanded, and for them to remain our partners in reform. That’s why we’re piloting the implementation of the Antipoverty Framework to a select number of LGUs, whom we have chosen according to specific criteria. Choosing these 60 LGUs was based not just on poverty incidence.

    Other crucial factors were also paramount: a history of progressive governance, as well as a willingness to leverage transparent, accountable, and participative leadership for the benefit of their constituents. Our LGU partners are actually here to join us in launching VP Leni’s antipoverty campaign. Let’s give them a round of applause!

    You know, it’s no coincidence that we’re holding a gathering like this to jumpstart our antipoverty framework. Already, this summit proves one thing: fighting poverty is not an abstract exercise that takes place behind the forbidding doors of a bureaucracy. Instead, it is a deeply human exercise.

    Sometimes, antipoverty plans forget that the lives of our poor cannot be reduced to numbers and metrics. We’re changing that. It’s time we recognize the face of the poor Filipino family. It’s time that we put their humanity at the axis of our efforts. And what better way to begin than by being here together, where we can see each other face-to-face, where our minds and hearts can meet? Nothing, after all, is as profoundly human as conversation. Let’s keep this conversation going, let’s keep it as alive and as meaningful as ever. Thank you very much, and I wish you all a wonderful day!

    Posted in Speeches on Oct 10, 2016