24 April 2017
Message at the Angat Buhay Partnership Launch, Assumption College, San Lorenzo, 24 April 2017
It is not every day that I get to speak before an audience of strong, young women who will be our future leaders. Assumption is one of the few all-women colleges left in our country.
While exclusive schools are no longer as popular, I was also a graduate of an exclusive school for girls back in Naga, there is still a much-needed place for them in our school system, where training and education is tailored for the progressive Filipina. Here, you are taught how to respond to the challenges of modern Philippine history.
That’s important because outside these halls, you will confront not only the difficulties of a fast-changing, complex, and uncertain world. You will also have to deal with the way women are treated.
By all appearances, Filipinas are lucky. Most Filipinas enjoy the same social and economic opportunities that men do, while women in other countries are not so fortunate.
In some places, girls are condemned if they do not marry the men chosen for them, or if they wear clothes outside their tradition. In other countries, going to school is a privilege enjoyed only by boys, and girls are raised to be dependent on men.
Can you imagine living such a life of constraint and inequality? I think that would repulse you, because Assumptionistas are raised to be strong, independent, smart, fearless, and elegant women who are not afraid to voice their opinions.
As proof, Assumption College is home to some of the strongest women in our country—women who are fearless, women who are at the forefront of innovation, women who light up our country’s path to greater progress. The best one that comes to mind at this moment is former President Cory Aquino, who faced the US Congress when she first assumed office, and made the whole world admire women from this country.
Also Marixi Prieto, whose newspaper, the Philippine Daily Inquirer, was one of those publications that fearlessly spoke against the Marcos dictatorship. There’s SM’s Tessie Sy-Coson, whose strong leadership is figurative in the massive growth of the family’s businesses. I believe they all graduated from Assumption, San Lorenzo. And I think that deserves a warm round of applause.
These Filipinas are empowered, despite every difficulty. And I have found one thing in common among all of them: they are empowered because they help empower others. It is a lesson that we all have to learn.
If we want to aspire for a better Philippines—a Philippines where every woman can feel safe, secure, and powerful—then we must work together to help our poorest and most vulnerable.
Poverty is the most disempowering force in our country. This is why our office created the Angat Buhay initiative, where we have partnered with 50 of the poorest communities around the country, with the private sector, development groups, and civil society. Every week, my team and I personally visit them so we could listen to their stories.
There is Agutaya in Northern Palawa. A place you can only reach after a 10-hour boat ride from Coron. When we visited, we saw that the children of Agutaya were stunted, and their Grade 5 students had the same size and built as their Grade 1 students. The doctor who was with us then said this indicates that these children were stunted, a condition that can no longer be reversed after they the first 1,000 days of their lives. When children are stunted, they are not just small physically. Their minds and their learning ability are also affected, and all because they did not have enough food to eat.
We also saw that the school in Agutaya that was devastated by Yolanda four years ago was still in the same state, and their only patrol boat, which was the only source of protection for their livelihood lay unrepaired for many years now. When we went there, people were crying, and then we wondered, they said it was because it was the first time they were visited by a national government official.
We left with much sadness, but with so much hope in our hearts, our staff returned with a solar generator, because the entire island did not have electricity. The people said they were so grateful for electricity—sabi nga nila, kahit isang oras lang daw sila magkaroon ng kuryente, so that they could watch “Ang Probinsyano.” We plan to do much more over the next six years, despite the challenges that arise from its very remote location.
There’s Siayan in Zamboanga del Norte, which was found to have the most severe type and magnitude of poverty, based on a study funded by the World Bank in 2003. Its poverty incidence was, believe it or not, 97.5%. The people in Siayan could hardly eat three meals a day and didn’t know what a “snack” was. But when the local government unit led by a very new mayor, Mayor Flora Villarosa drew a plan a few years ago after much consultation with residents, gradually the picture changed. Roads and bridges were already being constructed, there were already livelihood and entrepreneurial programs, and health initiatives.
When we visited Siayan last December, they just finished a Buntis Congress to educate women about maternal health. During the launch of Angat Buhay in October, Siayan got seven pledges from development partners to provide micro-loans to small businesses, toy libraries to keep children in school, feeding programs to prevent stunting, and financial literacy trainings to teach them how to save for the future.
And then there’s Kauswagan in Lanao del Norte, in fact I met some of the sisters here when we went to Kausawagan. We met Hadjir Nur Muto, once called Commander Aguila when he was still in the MILF.
Commander Aguila became an organic farmer under the government’s Arms To Farms program. Commander Aguila was telling me when I visited: “Gusto namin na makita mo ang farm namin. Ngayon po, marunong na akong magtanim at hindi na baril ang hawak namin. Kahit po isang taon hindi pumunta sa market, mabubuhay kami.” And he was very proud.
In Kauswagan, Jollibee Foundation pledged a Busog-Lusog program. There’s also technical assistance from Peace and Equity Foundation to improve farming, and an organic farming assistance from Chim Ho Village Association. Our staff, in fact, went there just recently to deliver materials for their vermi-compost facilities.
One of the things that surprised me when we went to Lanao del Sur and Bgy. Tangcal was that most farmers were women. They take care of planting, harvesting, and sourcing seedlings and other farm equipments. The men, traditionally, take up arms to be part of the armed conflict.
When I visited, they told me that every time an “encounter” happens, they lose everything that they have and have to start all over again. So can you imagine the kind of strength and resilience that these women have, to take care of their children, their husbands, and their livelihood, despite the most trying difficulties? Tayo, traffic pa lang, suko na.
And I am so happy and honored that you, the women and some men of Assumption College, are now our partners in Angat Buhay. I hope you are excited about witnessing all of these stories unfold before your very eyes. I am tremendously grateful for your commitment to help empower one of the most o three of the most disadvantaged communities in the country.
We are partnering with Barangay Poblacion in Tuba, Benguet also in, I forgot the name of the learning center in Mandaluyong, Jubillee. Jubillee Learning Center in Mandaluyong, and Cataingan National High School in Masbate. Not just because of the poverty incidence in this community, but also because most of the local governments of these communities are honest and progressive. You see, we want to encourage better leadership among our LGUs. That’s why our LGU partners in Angat Buhay are champions of good governance, where elected officials can be trusted to be transparent, accountable, and open to engagement.
There are endless possibilities for helping the people of these commnities. Hand-in-hand, we can help bring better education facilities to the local schools. We can introduce long-term livelihood opportunities that can improve the local economy. We can also start a feeding program for the hungriest and most undernourished children of these cases. And while I am no longer the head of the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council, there is no stopping us from providing housing aid for those who need homes and better shelter.
In times like these, it is hope that must overpower the discord that has grown among our people. Filipinos are, at heart, a compassionate people, a people with empathy for the poor, a people with a genuine regard for family and fellowmen, a people of unwavering faith. Let’s not lose that.
My dear Assumptionistas, remember that the empowerment of our people is in the empowerment of young Filipinas—Filipinas who can lead and innovate, Filipinas who stand strong.
You have the opportunity to make the Philippines great by inspiring Filipinos with your talent, generosity, and courage.
The fight for our country’s future—and the fight for the welfare of our people—is always, always worth it.
So thank you very much for pledging to partner with us in the next five years.
We look forward to having you in our communities, in the days, in the months, and in the years to come.
Maraming salamat po, magandang hapon muli sa inyong lahat.