Office of the Vice President
29 September 2017
SYNERGEIA FOUNDATION, 11th NATIONAL EDUCATION SUMMIT, 29 September 2017
Dr. Nene Guevara, President of Synergeia, and the members of the Synergeia Board of Trustees; Mr. Lawrence Hardy II, USAID Philippines Mission Director; our local chief executives and partners of Synergeia; our principals, teachers, educators; my fellow workers in government; honored guests; ladies and gentlemen: Magandang umaga po sa inyong lahat!
Every time I get invited to a Synergeia event, I feel like my husband is right beside me. Lalo na kasi ipinakita niyo iyong video presentation kanina, which is a compilation of many of his pictures. I do not know if you observed what I observed. It was a collection of pictures which spanned from 2002 to 2012. Pero parang lilima lang yata iyong damit niya. At pinapagpalit-palit. At napansin ko, iyong runaway winner doon, iyong yellow polo. Sabi ko kay Ma’am Nene, “Ma’am, ‘di ba regalo mo iyan sa kanya?” Sabi niya, “Oo.” Ganoon po iyong asawa ko. My husband was really a very simple man. Kung kilala niyo siya, talagang wala iyong pakialam sa mga materyal na bagay.
This feels like home. This feels like family. So thank you very much for having me again this morning, and thank you for the warm welcome and the wonderful opportunity for us to learn together.
This is also a moment of pride for us in Synergeia and to all those who know Ma’am Nene. The Ozanam Award, which Ateneo gave Ma’am Nene a few days ago, affirms what we all know: that her passion and her patience and her love for education reform has transformed so many communities around the country. The Ateneo could not have chosen anyone better suited for this award. So palakpakan po natin si Ma’am Nene.
Yesterday, through Ma’am Nene’s creativity and inspiration, you were able to share your deepest thoughts about education reform and governance with each other. I wish I was here to listen to all your insights about your highest points in creating a learning community, what you think are the gaps in your programs, the bold steps you plan to make, the things you would do differently given the chance to do it all again, the values you wish to foster in your communities, and the biggest question of all: the greatest enemies of education governance.
I can imagine how interesting the conversations were, considering the huge diversity in the personalities involved and the LGUs represented in this room. Synergeia is truly a convenor of those who feel most passionately about education reform and care most deeply about the children and the parents who sacrifice everyday so that our nation’s children can have the best education in our public schools.
But globally, there seems to be universal agreement that most countries’ education systems are broken. What an irony, considering the advancement of human thought, innovation, and technology in our world today. In each of our communities, we struggle with lack of classrooms, teachers and training for teachers, chairs, tables, books, source of clean water, and many other things. I know this, because I personally visit the farthest and poorest barangays in our country once a week. Kaya wala po ako kahapon. Dalawang araw akong nasa probinsiya. And in my district in Camarines Sur, I still work until now on my commitment to a zero-backlog in classrooms.
I find hope in the fact that what we don’t lack—at least among the local chief executives who are here, the school administrators and educators, and many others out there—is commitment, inspiration, and grit. And the more you share best practices with each other, the more you share your stories, those three things increase.
This collaboration is especially important for local leaders, and therefore, for our education system. Governance is critical to the improvement of the way we teach our public school students and the way we provide for their needs. That is because everything that seems impossible, becomes possible when local leaders are determined to make them happen. You are the key to making things happen.
For example, I think most of us know that with as little as 350,000 pesos, we can already construct an average-size public school classroom. If—through transparency, accountability, and good governance—corporations and foundations are willing to partner with us, a 2-million peso grant can already be stretched to build a lot of classrooms in the most difficult areas of our country.
Doing an effective inventory of classrooms that matches the assessment of DepEd government is also a huge challenge. Nadiskubre ko po ito noong ako ay nasa Kongreso.
There are so many classrooms that are already condemnable—napuno na ng anay, binagyo na, sira-sira na, etcetera—but they are still listed among classrooms that are still usable. When I was still in Congress, it came to a point where I had to take a picture of these classrooms with me in it. Kailangan ko pong ipakita na ako mismo iyong nag-inspect. It’s a never-ending process that can only be solved if officials are hands-on and very makulit.
I was so grateful when I called for an educational forum in the district. Alam niyo po, my target when I was still in Congress was to have a zero-backlog in classrooms. Sa listahan ng DepEd, wala na akong backlog. Pero kapag pumupunta ako ang dami pa. Hindi nagtutugma. I don’t know if you experienced that already in your respective localities. Para sa DepEd, walang backlog. Kapag pinuntahan natin, ang daming wala. So when I called for an educational forum, I invited then DepEd Sec. Armin Luistro – na napakadali ring ma-invite. So he came, and at that time, listened to the formula that we were suggesting for doing classroom inventory. We thought that there formula was defective. So we suggested a formula of our own because their existing one at that time was not working for us.
These classroom inventories are crucial and it is also where we begin to appreciate that, as Mr. Hardy was saying a while ago, it truly takes a village to raise a child.
Just to give you another example. I was travelling to Mt. Isarog, in my district, one day to visit an indigenous peoples community there. And on my way up, may nadaanan po akong grupo ng mga, tingin ko, mga magulang. It was an isolated place and it was not usual for people to conglomerate. So I stopped the car, asked them what they were doing, and they said, “We are building a school.”
I looked around. I didn’t see any school being built. It was already a Thursday, and school opens the following Monday. So I asked them, “Nasaan po iyong school na bini-build niyo?” Sabi nila, “Ayun po, ma’am.” And the only thing I saw were a few posts, wooden posts. Sabi ko, “Iyan ang paaralan?” But they were still very happy about it. They were telling me, “Opo, ma’am, hinihintay lang namin iyong aming principal,” because the principal went to the town center to buy materials. So I left them and let them be. I told them I would just go up and visit the IP community. “Baba ulit ako. Dadaanan ko kayo.”
When I went down, the principal was already there. So I talke to the principal, “Ma’am, may mga binili raw kayo na mga materials. And the principal showed me a small heap of coco lumber, nipa shingles, a few other materials.” Sabi niya, “Opo, ma’am, iyan ang binili ko.” So I was asking her, “Ma’am, pasukan na sa Monday, papaano niyo mabi-build iyong school?” Sabi niya, “Okay na iyan, ma’am, pagsisimulan because I received a pledge of 10,000 pesos. The money is not yet with me, pero in-advance ko muna galing sa ATM ko.”
Awang-awa ako. Iyon palang mga tao roon, mga magulang – nagtutulong-tulong mag-build noong school. I opened my wallet. I checked how much money I had. Naaalala ko po, mayroong 12,000 iyong wallet ko. Sabi ko, “Ma’am, ibibigay ko na po sa inyo iyong 10,000. Titirahan ko lang ang sarili ko ng 2,000. Puwede bang dagdagan mo iyong materials?”
Tuwang-tuwa siya. The principal was very happy. The teachers were very happy. The parents were very happy – with the measly amount that I left them with. Alam niyo after one day, the principal sent me a picture. Parang nagre-report siya, “This was where your 10,000 went.” Medyo buo na, pero wala pa ring mga dingding, wala pang kahit ano. I remember when I went back to Manila for my session. I posted the picture she sent on my Facebook account, told the story of the principal and the parents who were nagpapakabayani, and in a week’s time, I was about able to collect about 300,000 pesos. I bank transferred the 300,000 pesos, ipinadala ko sa principal. And you know, I was back the following week, and there was a four-classroom building already. It was made of light materials. Kalahati lang iyong dingding, but there were four classrooms.
So I went to DepEd. I was able to lure Usec. Mario Deriquito to go back with me to check what was the problem why the school did not have any funds. It turned out that it was an extension school and they didn’t have a school ID yet. So DepEd processed it in a matter of months. You know, I think three or four months after, we went back and there were concrete school buildings already for the children.
Pero iniisip ko lang, papaano kung hindi ko iyong nadaanan? Nadaanan ko siya aksidente lang. Pero papaano kung hindi ko nadaanan? They would have been suffering for so long still because no one knew about it. Talagang nakakaawa. Gaya ng sabi ko, nakapag-aral iyong mga bata. Ngayon, buong-buo na iyong paaralan.
Imagine how much good we can do in our communities, cities, and towns, if all of us were like those parents, teachers, and principal. If we had the determination to use resources honestly and accountably, with excellence and speed. Every year, millions of Filipino children enroll in our public schools. Every year, we need to do better, run faster, and move smarter. Every year, we need to collaborate with more power.
Sometimes, it may seem like the system is too big to change, and we have no control over what is happening. But let me tell you about two persons who prove that we do have control and that our constant, daily choices, as well as the most difficult ones, are the instruments that give us control.
We have a program which we launched at the Office of the Vice President. Ang tawag po namin, “Istorya ng Pag-asa” or stories of hope. We launched this program as an attempt to change the conversation, to push away all the negativity around us. So we said, why don’t we look for inspiring stories of hope, of ordinary people doing extraordinary things? And we have been going around the country. We have been to Palawan, Cebu, Naga, Baguio, Cagayan de Oro – in Xavier University, Dumaguete – in Silliman Univeristy; we also launched this at the Ateneo de Manila University. In all of those trips, we came across two very inspiring stories of teachers.
One of them is Windel Alvarez. Windel was a school head in one of the schools in Caramoan. He was a head teacher, but he decided to do volunteer work by being a mobile teacher for a far-flung barangay in Caramoan. Caramoan is a small coastal town in Camarines Sur. He taught kids, youth, adults, local folks—essentially anyone who wanted to learn—under DepEd’s Alternative Learning System (ALS).
He taught under trees, inside huts, anywhere he could find a student. I don’t know if you are familiar with the Yellow Boat of Hope Foundation. It is Zamboanga-based. Windel partnered with Yellow Boat of Hope Foundation. They have been going around in boats, teaching communities. He is a travelling classroom on his own. Windel came from a poor family, but he saw a lot more who were poorer than him. Since he didn’t have money to give, he said he decided to give service. Matagal na niya iyong ginagawa, and nadiskubre siya. In fact, this year, he was awarded with the Gawad Geny Lopez Bayaning Pilipino Award.
One other inspiring story that we came across with is the story of Sabrina Ongkiko. Sabrina is the daughter of an economist, Ateneo-educated, and about to submit her application paper to medical school, when a mentor told her she would make a good public school teacher. That moment of impact caused her to rethink her life. She ended up applying in DepEd for a post in Culiat Elementary School. She said in her Tedx talk that everyone tells her, “Sayang ka. Lumipat ka na lang sa private, or ituloy ang pagdu-doktor. Sabagay, ‘di ka rin tatagal kasi mahirap ang pinasok mo.” Iyon ang parati sa kanyang sinasabi.
But Sabrina made public school teaching her life, and while she says there are teachers who sell ice candy in class, or spank students, or fail at teaching well, she is an ambassador for those kinds of teacher who continue to teach even though their feet get very wet when the rains come, because they cause a mini-waterfall inside the classroom. She said if people thought that the public school system is not broken, people would not think her time teaching is a waste. But she chose to see public schools as hope, public teachers as “katuwang,” and public school students as excellent.
And so it is with all of us. Our constant, daily choices will determine our reality. And if there are many local chief executives, school administrators, congressmen, senators, governors, mayors, barangay captains, teachers, parents, and students who are determined to be prove that our education system can be fixed, it will become one of those in the world that will not be broken.
I really believe that. You know, the change truly begins with each one of us. But like all waterfalls, they cascade and create a massive moment of positive transformation. We cannot afford not to believe in it. What if one of our students in that little classroom is the next Jack Ma? Or the next Bill Gates? Or the next Washington SyCip? We need to give them that learning environment, and we need to do it fast.
So ang pag-asa talaga ng bayan, nasa inyong lahat – nasa ating lahat. Kaya paghusayan po natin. Let us continue pushing ourselves to the limit because the entire country is pinning their hopes on us.
Kaya maraming maraming salamat for everything that you do for our children. Magadang umaga, congratulations! Maraming salamat po sa inyong lahat!