Speech at the 12th National Empowerment Conference, National Federation of Filipino American Associations, Valley Forge Casino and Resort, King of Prussia, Pennsylvania
Thank you for coming over to see me today. This is my first chance to show my gratitude to you for believing in our fight. A fight that in the beginning was fuelled by nothing but a sense of duty and very little ray of hope.
A fight that took faith, determination, commitment and dedication. A fight that defined for us the meaning of true love for the homeland.
Certainly, in the beginning, we never thought in our wildest dreams that we would win. But look where we are now. The mandate to lead as Vice-President came from 14.4 million Filipinos, and that count includes you.
Did you know that we got 40.91% of the votes for Vice-President in North and Latin America, while our closest rival got 25.9%? Again, I want you to know that our victory is your victory.
And as long as we don’t lose sight of why we do what we do—and for whom—we will make every day of the next six years count. This victory, then, would be sweetest on the last day of our six years in office, when we would have made a difference in the lives of the marginalized sectors left behind by progress.
Here in the United States, perhaps at times you also feel left behind. Some of you may feel like you are part of the marginalized community, and just suffer in silence. Some of you feel that the Philippine government has not taken care of you.
You feel frustrated by the airports back home, or the state of bathrooms—taking these as very personal slights after you collectively send home the equivalent of a small country’s gross international reserves.
You are looked upon by many back home as someone who leads a perfect life in the land of snow and autumn leaves.
But in the quiet of the night, you are homesick and tired of working long hours. Just like the rest of the population, you are thinking of how to pay for college education of the children, health care, mortgage and other things.
I know how you feel. When Jesse and I lived in Boston for a while, it would be a treat when someone would send us a pack of goodies from back home.
We would eat it sparingly. We knew it might take some time before we receive another pack. Since I was the one who took care of the budget, we would rejoice at every opportunity to be invited for dinner at another person’s home.
Our budget then for the whole family was only $100 for the entire week!
So you see, I understand the cost of thriving away from home. All of your efforts on a day-to-day basis, especially when you were just starting life here, is one heroic act. What’s more than amazing is that despite the fact that you are miles away from the home of your childhood; your sense of civic duty is still very strong.
You’ve created Filipino communities here that care, just like in the barangays and villages at home. In fact, you’ve gone beyond caring. You are determined to make a difference.
Most of you have already made a difference, as you transform the lives of those you touch through trainings and advocacy. You are empowered and empowering.
Filipinos truly are citizens of the world, but always rooted in our homegrown values of bayanihan. Walang iwanan. Tulungan. Simplicity and courtesy.
Most of all: faith. I see this in the way our people live.
As I promised during my inauguration, I visit marginalized communities in far-flung barangays every week. I have visited farming and fishing communities; gone to mountaintops and to beachfronts.
I have traveled by boat, by padyak, or on foot for many hours each way. Always, the people who would see us would join our trek.
We have been doing this mainly to listen, not to talk. We will soon be in the final stretch of listening to understand once again the plight of those we wish to serve. We aim to be true public servants, instead of those who must be served.
The other half of the week, we meet with organizations and individuals who have told us they want to be part of our expressed mission to lift the poor out of poverty. There are so many of them, excited to do what they do best to help!
But they are all looking for someone they can trust; someone who can see the whole forest and find out the most glaring gaps; someone who can make every unit of assistance count, be it money or skill or time.
This schedule redefines the word grueling—but don’t get me wrong, I am not complaining. Done this way, we are able to talk to both the supply and demand side of empowerment for the poor. We need to have a complete view of our situation because we aim to be the clearinghouse of all organizations that want to help. Our role is to try to inspire everyone by our example of going out of our comfort zones to help.
By the sheer number of those who have started coming forward, we know that so many people have both the intent and the ability to help. We saw how microfinance organizations like CARD-MRI empower women in rural areas to start their own businesses.
We saw how Jollibee Foundation, and IRRI pave the foundation for inclusive agriculture business. Zuellig’s approach to enhancing public healthcare by working with LGUs is a great innovation. Philippine Business for Education bridges senior high school graduates for employment, while Echostore and Great Women brands make sure that women are empowered.
We decided to focus the core of our work on five different areas: hunger and food security, public health, education, rural development, and women empowerment.
These five areas may seem to be different areas of intervention, but they are in fact very much connected. In targeting zero hunger, for instance. We don’t just aim to do public feedings in public elementary schools to target hunger.
We want to tap the farmers who are having a hard time accessing the market, to sell their goods and to provide the food for public feedings. See, you work on hunger, public health, education, and rural development all at the same time.
If you can get a Nanay to cook the food for you, and we have made a difference in all five aspects of our work.
Our victory is your victory. I hope you will also consider our work to be your work. The best thing you can do to make this work successful is to watch out for your own economy.
Don’t spend beyond your income. Use debt wisely. Work hard and let the world know of the Filipino’s sincerity and world-class service. As you save for the future, you are able to help others as well.
The next thing you can do is to spread the word. Social media makes sharing so much easier. There are also group events. You can tell your colleagues, friends, and relatives.
Lastly, when you go home for a visit, share your skills and use them to serve the people in your community. You may not know this, but we have set up the Naga Migrant Resource Center, the first of its kind in our country, with three services.
One) pre-deployment involves training, skills matching, assessment of agencies to avoid victimization through illegal recruitment, two) post-deployment: legal services, communication with family; organization of family left in the Philippines, education on saving and training to help start small businesses, and 3) reintegration: contract for local employers to make available spaces for OFWs who wish to return.
Ito puwede po natin itong i-replicate all over the country. Kasi tingin natin kailangan inaasikaso natin ang ating mga OFWs. Kung ni-rerecognize natin silang mga bayani na nakakadagdag sa income ng ating bansa, kailangan lahat ng serbisyo na kinakailangan talaga nila ay maprovide natin.
We held a dialogue with almost 500 families of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in Brgy. Pulong Anahao in Mabini, Batangas. Before, houses in the community were made of nipa and there was no access road going to the area.
When many of the residents started working in Italy, the OFWs contributed for the construction of the access road without any help from the local government units. They also started building big houses where they can retire one day after years of working abroad.
There was no organized women’s group in the area so the residents promised us that they will start one immediately.
These are just examples of how you can join us in our journey to empower our countrymen. These will require you to go outside your comfort zone. To go beyond your busy schedules to find a way to serve. For sure, the opportunities to make a difference will not fall on your lap. But real public service becomes sweeter when you actively seek them out.
May you all find the path towards service for others. If you don’t, may you make your own trail so that others who follow will step forward with confidence, hope and a bigger chance at actualizing our dreams of a brighter, more inclusive, and empowered economy.
Thank you all for listening to me tonight.