Message Norfil Foundation, Inc.’s 35th Anniversary
Theme: “Celebrating 35 Years of Giving!”
Luxent Hotel, Timog Avenue, Quezon City
Thank you very much. Kindly take your seats. Thank you, [Carmencita Abella], for the very generous introduction.
Ms. Angela Maria Pangan, the Founder and President of Norfil Foundation Inc.; DSWD (Department of Social Welfare and Development) Undersecretary Flor Villar; NORFIL Executive Director Maria Teresa Nuqui and the members of the board of trustees; NORFIL parents and staff and partners and children; honored guests; ladies and gentlemen, magandang umaga po sa inyong lahat. [Audience: “Magandang umaga po!”]
It is an honor to join you today as NORFIL Foundation celebrates its 35th year anniversary. For many years, your organization has been a driving force in transforming the lives of millions of Filipinos—most especially in creating nurturing spaces for the abandoned, neglected, and abused children. So, on behalf of a grateful nation, thank you very much for your unparalleled commitment, passion, and dedication in the last 35 years!
Experts say that the youth is a major social and economic force in our country in the next 45 years. Their earning potential is expected to turn us into a Singapore or a South Korea or Japan. And yet, sadly, access to quality healthcare and nutrition especially for children and youth remains one of the biggest challenges in our country, especially in the provinces. If we are to fully harness the potential of the next generation, then we cannot allow our demographic growth story to turn into a crisis. If we want to rise up and be at par with our first-world Asian neighbors, then we must turn to one another and generate ideas to fully equip the next set of leaders and game-changers of this nation.
The World Food Programme describes the Philippines as a fast-growing country that clocked in an average of 6.2% [gross] domestic product annually since 2010. But despite this achievement, hunger has remained high, especially among the poorest Filipinos, and malnutrition has worsened in recent years. In fact, we have missed our Millennium Development Goal target of halving childhood malnutrition by 2015. 
According to an SWS (Social Weather Stations) survey, around 3.1 million Filipino families suffered from hunger in the last quarter of 2016. This is higher than the 2.4 million recorded during the quarter prior to that period. In 2015, more than 3.7 million out of 11.2 million children aged 5 years old and below—or 33 percent—are stunted.According to the 2018 Global Hunger Index (GHI), the Philippines had the highest degree of child stunting, wasting, and undernourishment among its Southeast Asian neighbors. We need to act now and solve this problem head on, if we are to fully realize the full benefits of our demographic growth story.
This is why, under the Angat Buhay program of the Office of the Vice President, we have decided to focus on malnutrition and hunger as one of our key advocacies. But because we have one of the smallest budgets in the entire bureaucracy and a limited mandate, we positioned ourselves to be a conduit between communities needing help and individuals and organizations wanting to help. As of July of 2019, we have touched the lives of thousands of beneficiaries in over 193 cities and municipalities nationwide. This includes Agutaya and Lambunao.
Under Angat Buhay, with the guidance of experts in the field and in coordination with the communities we are trying to help, we approached the problem of hunger and malnutrition as a multi-faceted challenge, not one that should be solved with a one-time feeding program. So, when we assumed office three years ago, we spent two to three days every week visiting far-flung and remote barangays in our country. These trips opened our eyes to the everyday struggles of the ordinary Filipinos.
One of the most memorable places we visited is Agutaya – a fifth class municipality in Northern Palawan made of several small island barangays. Getting there is quite a challenge already. Depending on weather conditions, you have to take 10- to 16-hour boat ride from Coron to reach its shores. Dalawang beses na po akong nakapunta doon.
When I first stepped foot in Agutaya in 2016, the people there met us with tears of joy. We were told that it was the first time that a national government official was visiting them because of its distance and inaccessibility.
The entire island also did not have electricity and potable water. If you are coming from one of the farthest barangays in Agutaya—Barangay Algeciras—the nearest hospital is six hours away in the island of Cuyo.
When we visited the only elementary school in Barangay Diit, we met Rev-Rev, a Grade 3 student. Based on her age, she could have been in Grade 5, but she had the weight and height of a Grade 1 student. I could not believe my eyes when I held her hand and looked into her eyes. Here was a very sweet child, with a clouded future. The doctor who accompanied us told us that most of the kids on the island were stunted. As you all know, stunting is an irreversible condition after the age of five and it affects not just the physical faculties, but most especially a child’s mental potential.
Through the generosity of our Angat Buhay partners, Agutaya is now slowly being transformed into a healthier and livelier community. For instance, more than 400 households have already been provided with electricity, thanks to our Angat Buhay partners, Team Energy, and ASA Philippines. It was amazing to see the light in people’s eyes when they experience electricity for the first time in their lives.
Another Angat Buhay partner, the Andres Soriano Foundation, built a water system and spearheaded health caravans that provided families with free medical services, physical examinations, and clinical tests. Other partners have initiated feeding programs, gave away boats to fishermen to improve their earning potential, installed WASH facilities in schools, put up a toy library, and started livelihood programs. This is what we mean by a holistic approach. Truly, hunger and malnutrition requires intervention on many sides, and these intervention need to be sustained and measured. As a result, every time we visit, we see improvements in the children’s wellbeing, and Rev-Rev and other children like her are living better and happier lives!
Stunting is also one of the biggest challenges faced by the local government in Lambunao, Iloilo. In 2015, the municipality had one of the highest incidences of stunting and wasted children in the Western Visayas. When our team visited Lambunao in April of 2012—2017, I mean—we met Jun-Jun. Jun-Jun was two and a half years old, and weighed only 7.5 kilograms. He was three kilograms short of the normal weight for children his age and just looking at him brought tears to our eyes. He couldn’t stand or walk on his own because his bones were not strong enough.
Through the generosity of our partner, the Negrense Volunteers for Change (NVC), we started a feeding program in Lambunao. Jun-Jun was one of the beneficiaries, and weeks after the program was launched, his mother, Lilibeth, observed a gradual increase in Jun-Jun’s weight. Now, Jun-Jun can stand and walk short distances on his own. It was a really beautiful sight!
With the help of Angat Buhay partners Hapag-Asa, the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce Phils. Inc. (FICCI) and Gawad Kalinga, we have also facilitated feeding programs in other partner communities, such as Siayan in Zamboanga del Norte, Hinoba-an in Negros Occidental, Salcedo in Eastern Samar, San Remigio in Cebu, Dipolog in Zamboanga del Norte, Panglao in Bohol, Muntinlupa and Parañaque.
To fight hunger and malnutrition is no simple feat because it is a silent crisis that needs to be addressed on all fronts. Hunger and malnutrition incapacitates those who are afflicted by it, leaving them impoverished and helpless. It hinders our children from achieving their fullest potential.
This is why we need to bring together both the public and the private sector in providing the most responsive solutions. Aside from health professionals, we need to tap local government units, private organizations and NGOs to create more innovative programsthat will serve the needs of [the] poor. And I was told just yesterday, our team met with the NORFIL team already and I am glad that Dra. Firmalo is here this morning because we talked about adopting Odiongan in Romblon where her daughter is the mayor, to start a holistic program for the PWDs of Odiongan. Kaya masaya po tayo. Looking forward to our—[applause]—our projects in Odiongan.
NORFIL has been a beacon of hope in transformative nation-building, especially when it comes to the wellbeing of Filipino children.
This is where your years of experience and expertise come into play. You have a big, indispensable role in shaping the early years of many poor Filipino children. When a child is nurtured, cared for, and brought up in a loving home — a whole new world of opportunities opens up for him. And it is through our concerted effort that we can further push our agenda to ensure the health, wellness, and development of every Filipino child.
Stories like those of Rev-Rev and Jun-Jun represent but a fraction of the many health-related problems that poor Filipino children face on a daily basis. And we, at the Office of the Vice President, believe that overnight remedies are not enough to address these problems. We need to plan ahead, if we want to unlock a brighter future for our children.
We hope we can invite you to join us in more of our advocacies. We, at the Office of the Vice President, believe that we can accomplish so much more if we set aside differences, and direct our energies towards effective collaboration. Just like Rev-Rev and Jun-Jun, and millions of Filipino children are counting on us.
So may today’s gathering inspire you to create and explore more platforms for effective collaboration. Government cannot do it alone. I cannot do it alone. Together, let us [find more] sustainable solutions that will help our communities raise healthier and happier children.
As your duly elected Vice President, I am here to support all of your meaningful endeavors. Together, let us create a better Philippines for the next generation. Together, let us make the impossible possible.
Once again, happy 35th anniversary to all of you! Maraming salamat, at mabuhay po kayong lahat! [applause]