8 February 2017
Message at the Inspirar Launch, Exempli Gratia Foundation, Taguig, 7 February 2017
Tonight is a celebration of people with extraordinary stories, men and women who have faced and overcome the toughest hurdles. But this evening is also a celebration of people we think are ordinary, but who are, in their own ways, heroes of the most remarkable sort. This is a celebration of all of us.
I am proud of all of the six founders of Exempli Gratia. You took a germ of an idea, a call from Jesse Robredo who was then still a Mayor, to start a movement to help people help themselves.
And you turned it into this beautiful movement that has so much potential in improving health, education, livelihood, and preparedness in our communities. That’s already a lot of work, but you know what is even more potent? It’s the hope and inspiration you provide.
That belief in the inherent goodness of people. During these times of darkness and societal division, hope is our best weapon.
Have you noticed that the times we live in sometimes makes it difficult to find joy? When you open your newspaper in the morning, or scroll down your news feed, discord, anger, and unrest dominate global headlines. Here in the Philippines, we are not spared this negativity and polarity.
Last year, shortly before the elections, comedienne Ethel Booba tweeted this question: “Ilang araw na lang, botohan na. May kaibigan ka pa ba?” The elections are just days away; do you still have friends?
We laugh because to some extent, we experienced this in varying levels, but that laughter also belies a sad truth. In our country and elsewhere, public discourse has become increasingly divisive. It has made enemies of friends and relatives.
In this new world we live in, fake news competes fiercely with legitimate journalism. Lies are held in equal esteem with the truth. It is much harder now to tell the two apart.
In moments like these, many of us are trapped in a state of helplessness. Some of us might think that nothing can be done to heal our nation. But we must fight despair. We must rise in positive action, and believe in the power of the light to dispel darkness. This is the truth to which we must return.
The most important lesson I learned, not just in my long career as a public servant, but also as a wife and a mother, as a daughter and a Filipina, is this: When tragedy darkens your doorstep, when difficulties arise, you must go back to what truly matters to you, to what you are willing to fight for. You must always return to your truth and keep it close to your heart.
You see, adversity is one of life’s constants. Loss is a fact that we must make peace with. I remember the moment when I first heard the news about Jesse’s death. Losing him cast a terrible shadow not just on the world my daughters and I shared, but also on the nation he faithfully served.
Jesse devoted his life to public service. Was it worth it? In my darkest hours, I fought my way back to the truths I knew well, the same ones that Jesse and I defended—the truth of the love we shared as a family, and the truth of our love for service to our country.
Doing these helped me focus on the causes that Jesse and I had always championed: honest, accountable, and citizen-centric governance. Social and economic reforms for the poor.
The empowerment of Filipinas, especially those in the margins of society. By continuing our work, I found peace in the wake of loss. I found a way to honor and sustain Jesse’s legacy.
Now, as Vice President of our relatively young democracy, I can say that the difficulties are no less real, the challenges no less formidable. The Philippines, for all its beauty, continues to struggle with urgent development problems. Poverty persists in our shores, despite the economic gains we made in the last six years. Too many communities remain in the grip of inequality and injustice.
Our liberties and our very way of life is at risk. How can we blame our countrymen who have grown tired and jaded? And more important: how can we move beyond the cynicism? How can we make a difference in this country, so that no Filipino is left behind?
These were the questions my team and I wrestled with when I assumed office. To find the answers to those questions, we trekked to some of the most remote and impoverished areas in the Philippines. Our purpose? To hear their voices and listen to their stories.
We did not want to discuss endlessly in ad-hoc committees in search of solutions to suffering.
So we walked where they walked to find real and lasting solution to their plight, with them as partners, not as beneficiaries. For far too long, their voices remained lost in the noise of politics and the technical workflow of government planning committees. It’s time we did things differently. It’s clear in my mind that I was elected to this position to do my best so that those who have less in life, will have more.
However, we didn’t just work with these communities. We also opened our doors to anyone who could lend a hand. Help came from everywhere: from the private sector to the development industry, all the way to the academe and civil society. Together with them and our partners in government, we put together a strategy to guide our antipoverty efforts.
The fruit of all that labor is the Angat Buhay program, the flagship initiative under my office. The word Angat signifies lifting our people from abject poverty, and the word Buhay aims to emphasize the value of life. Angat Buhay is built around a framework with five major pillars: maternal and child health care, food security and nutrition, better public education, rural development, and women empowerment. At the heart of this whole movement is the Filipino family in the margins, ang pamilyang nasa laylayan.
That’s what makes Angat Buhay a unique antipoverty program. It shows the truest face of the Filipino family, revealing their dreams for themselves and their communities. The Angat Buhay program follows the ordinarily Filipino through the major stages of life. Maternal and child health care considers mothers and their infants, because when babies receive proper care, they have a good chance growing up into healthy kids. Food security and nutrition will go a long way for undernourished Filipino children, who number by the millions. Meanwhile, our projects for better public education will benefit senior high school students, so they develop the right skills for gainful employment.
Our focus on rural development is meant to aid the country’s poorest parents—many of whom are farmers and fisherfolk—so they can find sustainable livelihood. Finally, we want to advance women empowerment, because no country can achieve progress until its women are free from oppression.
In the end, Angat Buhay is a genuinely human movement, one that affirms the dignity of human life and restores power to the disempowered. Beyond the five pillars of our antipoverty strategy, we throw our full support towards other much-needed reforms. We call for a better response, for example, to the question of drug abuse. It is true that drug abuse must be effectively curbed, and by doing that we protect our children from harm. But we must understand that drug addiction is a public health issue rooted in poverty, and it must be treated as such. The solution is to rehabilitate, not destroy, the men and women who suffer from addiction. We must not allow the war on drugs to be a war against the poor.
Earlier, I spoke about how the times we live in do not call for joy. How these days, there always seems to be cause for strife and sorrow. But the truth is that, I have seen many times over, a reason to celebrate who we are as a people. I have seen it in the face of a farmer in Bulacan, ready to aid his community with the little he has. I have seen it in the eyes of our poorest mothers and fathers, who carry on with the deepest love for their families. I have seen it in the faces of so many Filpinos—in and outside government—who are working for a better future we deserve.
There are three people here today who also share their extraordinary stories. I have heard of Joy Mendoza, whose story epitomizes the triumph of light and faith over darkness.
You have chosen to showcase the story of Fr. Garix Abucejo whose travails to help those severely hit by Yolanda showcase how one man can do so much, and Xyza Bacani, who let her heart lead her to helping fellow domestic helpers through her photography. Here’s the thing: all that light requires is the absence of darkness.
Some people let the darkness bury them in despair. You have chosen to fight the darkness in these extraordinary times, and have thus brought light to the people who hear your stories.
Heartbreak may enter our lives, but it is hope that endures long after the pain. Let this collective hope you aim to curate through stories give rise to our people’s courage, so that we can stand together against injustice and brutality.
Let it help us find our voices, so that we can speak for the innocents killed as easy targets, so that we can fight bravely for what is right.
And in this hope, may we always find the truths we can return to: our capacity for strength and healing, our faith in all that is good in our people, and our dreams for the country we love so deeply.
Thank you, and a good evening to you all!