17 May 2017
Speech at the Social Development Conference: Defining the Terrain, Exploring Pathways
College of Social Work and Community Development, UP Diliman
Maraming salamat po, maupo po tayong lahat.
Dr. Fidel Nemenzo, Vice Chancellor for Research and Development, Professor Jocelyn Caragay, Dean, UP College of Social Work and Community Development, Dr. Emmanuel Luna, Director, Doctor of Social Development Program, distinguished speakers, members of the academe, graduate students from different universities, honored guests, ladies and gentlemen, magandang umaga po muli sa inyong lahat.
I would like to begin by congratulating the College of Social Work and Community Development on your golden anniversary this year. Golden na pala, maam? In the face of problems that have long-plagued our nation—like that of poverty, hunger, gender inequality, human rights violations—the CSWCD has continued to be a center of excellence not only in the Philippines, but also in Asia. It has also kept up with new and emerging issues, like technology and how fast it is changing our society. Your professors, teachers, alumni, and students should be a great resource in finding creative and innovative ways to address the emerging challenges of our people and their communities.
In 2015, when I was being interviewed as a vice presidential candidate, I was asked, “How would you describe the Philippines today? What do you see and what do you see yourself doing?”
I noted then that our nation is very rich in human resources. Unfortunately, our potential is marred because many of our people act as spectators, instead of active development partners, in the work of building our nation. That mindset is not their own fault, but due perhaps to the lack of awareness that they can, in fact—and they must—demand accountability from our government, and how to go about it.
I wanted to change that dynamic of engagement. Filipinos, especially those in the margins, should have ownership over government projects if they are to succeed. An effective vision is one borne out of consultations with those who know the problems best. It is for and by the people, which is the same way we describe democracy.
A leadership that listens is a leadership that empowers. In this age, there seems to be a belief, that the louder you are, the more significant you are. Of course, speaking out is not bad per se. In a democracy, it is even necessary. But in scrambling to be heard, some people forget to be accountable for their words. And they forget that listening is just as important as speaking. This is especially true for discussions involving programs to help the poor.
This is why when I was still a member of the House of Represntatives, I pushed for bills that create more spaces for people participation. I authored the People Empowerment Bill, which unfortunately, did not pass during my term, but today we continue to support Rep. Bag-ao, who is advocating for the same in the 17th Congress.
I also filed a bill called People’s Participation in the Budget Deliberation Process, which institutionalizes the Bottom Up Budgeting System. This bill supports citizen participation in the Local Poverty Reduction Action Team at the local level and encourages civil society participation in the passage of the national budget.
The other bill I would like to mention institutionalizes the Conditional Cash Transfer program, through the National Household Targeting System, providing for periodic assessments thereof. It also aims to adjust, based on inflation, the cash grants given to families as CCT progresses.
Data now show that the BUB and the CCT programs have greatly helped reduce poverty. These programs should be institutionalized, insulated from politics, and continued, if we are to sustain the reduction of poverty we have seen in recent years. In the work of protecting the last, the least, and the lost, country should come above party and politics, and programs that are working should not be shelved. But this is not new. Our country’s history of economic boom and bust shows how continuity is not our strongest suit.
Nevertheless, we strive to do what we can within existing realities. As early as our first month in office, my staff and I hit the ground running. Or more appropriately, we trekked through mountains, traveled in small boats, and rode habal-habals to reach geographically isolated and disadvantaged areas.
Some communities have told us that it was the first time that they were being visited by a national government official. It is not surprising because it is really a challenge to get to these places. For example, to get to the town of Agutaya in Northern Palawan, you have to take a 10-hour boat ride from Coron.
But why is it so important for us to reach these localities? It is because a little empathy can go a long, long way in helping those who have been left in the margins.
But we did not go to these places bearing news of salvation. Our office, with its limited mandate and budget, could not promise that. Instead, we offered them what we could—ears that are ready to listen, and the assurance that their stories would be shared and acted upon.
So today is one of those chances to share their struggles. Where there are numbers, I want to give you names and faces. And hopefully, we can find ways to collaborate.
According to the Department of Health, our country has one of the highest stunting growth rates in Southeast Asia at 33.4%. For most of our neighboring countries, it is at less than 20%. The reality behind that number is a girl named Rev-Rev, who we met when we went to Agutaya. She is in Grade 3, but is already two years delayed. Pero hindi po ninyo mapapansin. Kasi pareho lang yung height niya sa Grade 3. Not only that, in Barangay Diit where we went to, in Agutaya in Northern Palawan where the girl named Rev-Rev lives, yung mga sizes ng mga Grade 1 hindi nagkakalayo sa mga taas ng mga Grade 6. We asked one of the doctors who was with us, kung bakit ganoon. Ang sabi nya po, yun ay stunting. And the sad reality about it is that yung stunting hindi sya pareho ng wasting. Yung wasting halata mo agad, kasi payat na payat. Yung stunting pwedeng maayos yung build nung bata, pero masyadong maliit. Ang sa atin ang tawag lamang ay bansot—baka mana sa nanay o baka mana sa tatay. Hindi kaagad nabibigyan ng intervention. And the worst thing about it also is that after the age of five, stunting is irreversible.
They also struggle with their studies. Pag punta po namin doon, ang nag-iisang paaralan sa Bgy. Diit, sira. Ang sabi ng mga teachers ay nasira po yan nung Yolanda. Ilang taon na yung Yolanda. Sabi namin: “Bakit hindi pa naaayos?” “Baka po hindi pa nakakarating sa central office iyong report na sira pala ito.” And they had been suffering with destroyed classrooms since Yolanda. They lacked school materials and walang kuryente yung munisipyo dahil sa layo nya. Sabi po namin, “Makakahingi siguro kami ng a few sets of solar generators so that they can use it for important activities of the municipality.” Tuwang tuwa yung mga tao. Sabi po namin: “Pero hindi kami makaka-provide for everyone. Baka mag share-share na lang kayo.” Sabi po nila: “Ok na po yan. Kahit isang oras lang araw-araw yun pong kuryente.” Sabi namin: “Bakit isang oras?” “Gusto rin po namin makapanood ng “Ang Probinsyano.” Yun lang ang sadya nila sa kuryente. Ngayon po, napadala na namin a few sets of generators. Baka nakakapanood na sila.
As of January 2017, the unemployment rate is estimated at 6.6%. Part of that statistic is Rosalee, who finished her studies under DepEd’s ALS, (Alam nyo naman yung ALS ‘di ba? Alternative Learning System?) in 2016, but until now she is struggling to find work in her barangay in Surigao City. She wishes to continue learning under TESDA and help her husband earn money, but they can’t afford the fare going to the center.
The national poverty incidence level in 2015 was at 21.6%, a decrease from 25.2% five years ago, but still a problem for members of the Mamanwa tribe in Surigao del Norte. Datu Demetrio says they do not have a permanent source of livelihood so each day is a day of uncertainty. That is poverty. Because they do not have a steady income, they cannot always eat full, healthy meals. That is poverty. Poor nutrition increases their chances of getting sick but the shortage in medical supply is a problem for their health centers. That is also poverty. Most families cannot afford to send their children to school and the tribe’s simple request is an elementary school in their area. That is also poverty.
But poverty doesn’t have to be their story. Not if we have anything to say—or rather, do—about it.
After our first 100 days in office, we launched Angat Buhay on October 10 last year, the flagship program of the Office of the Vice President. Its foundation is our anti-poverty framework which addresses six key advocacy areas: food security and nutrition, rural development, public education, women empowerment, universal healthcare, and housing and resettlement.
Our Partnerships Against Poverty Summit was a gathering of officials from our 50 pilot LGUs, and development partners. Pinili po naming yung pinakamahihirap na mga LGUs para i-pilot. We practiced what we preached: Before the summit we asked local leaders to identify the needs of their communities. We also helped them develop presentations for prospective partners.
On the day of the summit, representatives of private organizations and companies, NGOs, CSOs, and international organizations pledged to build classrooms, libraries, health centers, donate fishing boats, conduct feeding programs, and link farmers to markets, among other things. After less than two hours, there were more than 700 pledges for our pilot LGUs. And even after that, more organizations approached us to offer support. For the past months, our office has been busy ensuring that pledges become realities.
Last March, in time for the celebration of World Water Day, we went to Barangay Bakod Bayan in Cabanatuan City with our partner, Solanaland, to install water pumps for 208 families Badjao families of the Sama-Bajau community. Yun po ay nakakagulat. Pumunta kami sa Cabanatuan, napakaraming Badjao. Tinanong ko po: “Di po ba ang Badjao sa tubig nakatira?” Tinanong namin sila kung bakit sila nasa Cabanatuan. Tinanong namin kung saan sila galing: ang sabi nila sa Sulu. Ang sabi namin: “Paano kayo nakarating sa Cabanatuan?” Ang kuwento po nila, may a few of them, they tried their luck, nagbenta ng kung ano-ano. Nakahanap ng medyo maayos-ayos na opportunities in Cabanatuan. Marami nang sumunod. Right now there are already 208 families there. And the good thing about it is that the city government accommodated them. Pinagawan po sila ng housing community na sama-sama sila, pero dati for the 208 families meron silang 16 water pumps. Ang kwento po nila, alas tres ng umaga, pumipila na sila, para yung mga anak nila, hindi ma-late sa paaralan. Nagdagdag kami, kaunti lang naman, I think 10 or a little bit more. Sobrang tuwa na nila.
The reason why I am telling you this is that help doesn’t have to be grandiose. Kahit kaunting tulong, it already means the world to some of our kababayans.
Just in time for the new school year, the construction of a new building with two classrooms in Hinoba-an, Negros Occidental is almost finished, this is also thanks to one of our partners, the Negrense Volunteers for Change and Negros Women for Tomorrow Foundation.
Earlier this month, 25 motorized fiber glass boats were given by our Angat Buhay partners to the fisherfolk in Bulan, Sorsogon.
Now, theirs are stories of hope. Small ones, perhaps, compared to the billions of dollars other organizations spend, but meaningful, because of the level of participation of the people themselves.
Wala naman pong pondo yung aming opisina to implement projects. So we just act as a conduit between our adopted communities and our partners. Nakakagulat kasi ang dami-dami palang tao na gustong tumulong. We were expecting big companies to help, but we did not expect na pati yung mga group of friends na nalalaman yung programa, nagpipitch in. I remember one time I went to a community in Marawi, I was in one area, one of the members of our staff nakagala sa isang community. May nakausap syang mga farmers. Pag-uwi namin sa Maynila, hindi ko alam, she was so moved by the stories that she got from one of the farmers, nalaman nya kailangan pala ng magsasaka doon ng kalabaw. Wala siyang mahingian ng kalabaw. So she raised money among friends. In less than a month, she was able to raise money for three carabaos. Nandun na yung kalabaw ngayon. Nakita na lang namin yung pictures nung pagdala ng kalabaw. But you know, we only need to inspire others to help. Even my classmates here in UP at the UP School of Economics, have also pitched in, they are giving classrooms to some of our adopted communities. Nakaka-inspire.
We are now expanding Angat Buhay in 77 additional cities and municipalities. There are a hundred moving pledges and counting, and it has only been seven months. I’m sure we can do a lot more in the next five years.
But my office is but one group that can only do so much. Which is why we have also started to engage youth groups through Angat Buhay Youth, and the academe through Angat Buhay in Schools. Meron na po kaming partner-schools. We partnered with delivering basic services to their adopted communities.
The involvement of the academe is paramount in the fight for social development. The academe has evolved from being an institution that provides learning within the four walls of the classroom. Nowadays, there is a recognition—even a celebration—that the role of the student is intertwined with the role of the citizen. It is inspiring that this college strives to produce members who are “not only competent in theory but passionate advocates and workers for social change.”
Your desire to contribute to a cause bigger than yourselves transforms the work that you do into a calling. Theodore Roosevelt said, and I quote: “Far and away the best prize that life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.” Close quote.
So I thank all of you for your service to our country and our people. And I hope that you never waver, because the work we do is indeed life’s prize. So let us continue to work hard at work worth doing.