Message of Vice President Leni Robredo at the U.P. Kappa Epsilon 50th Anniversary Gala Dinner
delivered on 22 February 2018
Mr. Vicente Romano III, chairman of the gala dinner and member of the 2017 Board of Trustees; and his wife, Mrs. Marissa Romano; Mr. Ross Maghirang, President and member of the 2018 Board of Trustees; Mr. Nelson Marquez, Past President and member of the 2017 Board of Trustees; Gen. Jojo Acosta, President of UE Kappa Epsilon Alumni Association; Mr. Ed Arguelles, President of Kappa Epsilon Alumni Association of North America; Mr. Teng Juanson, Vice President and member of the 2018 Board of Trustees; the founders of Kappa Epsilon Fratenity; members and alumni present; honored guests; ladies and gentlemen: Magandang gabi po sa inyong lahat.
First of all, thank you very much for inviting me this evening. Let me first congratulate the UP Kappa Epsilon for 50 years of service, not only to the UP community, but most especially, to our fellow Filipinos. Serving the people, I would like to believe, has always been the DNA of UP and being here with you today makes me feel that I belong and I’m really back home.
Throughout the years, your organization has shown us what real brotherhood means. That it is not about the exclusivity and the perks that go with a closed organization; but about the inclusivity of servant-leadership. That it is not about using brute force to cement brotherhood; rather it is about sharing knowledge, achieving enlightenment, and acts of service.
Yet, when we look at our world, we see a different picture now. Societies everywhere seem to be drowning in hate, anger, violence, and divisiveness. When you open your newspaper in the morning or scroll down your newsfeed, discord, anger and unrest dominate global headlines. Social media, which can be a potent tool for connectivity, positivity, and world-changing innovations, could become an outrage machine. Research suggests that the world is certainly a less peaceful place than it was eight years ago, [according to the] 2015 Global Peace Index, and recent events are a sober reminder of that fact.
But we cannot stand idly by and tolerate this kind of culture, while the real problem remains beneath the surface, especially here in our country. Poverty is the real problem, but we are often distracted by political agenda and division. We cannot allow this to be our legacy to the next generation.
I am pleased to know that at a time when fraternities are struggling to stay relevant in the midst of recent controversies, the UP Kappa Epsilon serves as an example of the kind of brotherhood that is deeply rooted on principles – knowledge, equality, enlightenment, and selfless service – that are greatly needed in our world today. If we wish to continue the legacy of selfless service, we need to keep coming back to our roots and nurture these values because these are what can drive us forward.
This is also something that we at the Office of the Vice President prioritize in our work. Perhaps, many of you are not aware that before I joined politics, I worked as a Human Rights lawyer and was involved in an NGO called SALIGAN. The clients we served were farmers and fisher folk, indigenous people, urban poor, abused women and children, and laborers. We would travel to far-flung communities and provide assistance to those who did not have access even to the most basic government services. We would translate laws and ordinances into the local dialect, and explain them in detail – with the belief that they will be in a better position to fight for their rights if they are aware of them. Often, we would end up spending some nights in fishing boats and makeshift huts in coastal communities and in the middle of rice paddies because we did not have any place to stay.
Our work was not easy, but it allowed us to see the world through their eyes and witness how lives can be transformed when you do something for them, no matter how small.
My experience taught me that real transformation only happens when we listen to people with empathy. Empathy, as we all know, is different from sympathy. Sympathy is a response to what you hear; empathy finds a way to listen and to understand. It is a lost art, in our society preoccupied with emotions expressed in no more than 140 character tweets and approved friend requests that never go deeper than a “like.“ Empathy moves us into action for and in behalf of others.
I cannot claim to have perfect empathy, but it is something that I have learned and continue to learn in my work.
That is why, since day one, the vision of the Office of the Vice President for the country is clear: to serve those at the fringes of society, the pamilya sa laylayan ng lipunan. As some of you might know, our office does not have the mandate nor the resources for programs, but we could not sit comfortably for six years and just do ceremonial duties while so many of our people remain poor and marginalized.
So with our very limited resources, we decided to put up Angat Buhay—a program dedicated to fight the war against poverty. We devote at least two to three days every week to visit some of the most remote and poorest of our communities. Under Angat Buhay, we targeted six areas of intervention: universal healthcare, food security and nutrition, rural development, education, women empowerment, and housing. Although our office lacked the mandate and resources, as of December 31, 2017, we were able to mobilize P181-million worth of resources for a total of 99,198 families in 176 areas in the country through our various partners from the private and development sector. All are done in the spirit of collaboration, centered on the belief that results are much more effective through partnerships.
Allow me to share with you some of the faces of Angat Buhay.
In Sitio Bugtong Lubi, deep in the mountains of Hinoba-an, Negros Occidental, school children of Magsaysay Elementary School study in makeshift classrooms built by their parents and teachers. Getting there takes three to four hours on top of a habal-habal. Passengers have to pay P600 each way to ride through unpaved roads that cross mountain ranges.
There we met Esteban Mangilan Jr., the PTA president of Magsaysay Elementary School. Esteban has three children; the school where his eldest son who is in Grade 7 goes to is very far because Magsaysay only offers classes until Grade 4. Esteban began to cry when he was telling us how financially difficult it is to send a child to a far school. Ang sabi niya, and I quote: “‘Yong pera namin, imbis na ipambili ng asin, ipapabaon na lang namin sa aming anak. Kaya gusto namin iyong mga anak namin, hindi sila sumunod sa mga nangyari sa amin. Ako kasi hindi ako nakatapos sa pag-aaral kasi napakalayo ng aming eskuwelahan noon.”
Now, Magsaysay Elementary School tells a different story. Just last June, our Angat Buhay partners, Negrense Volunteers for Change and Negros Women for Tomorrow Foundation, turned over new school buildings and school kits to the students. It was a challenging decision for them to get involved with this community because of its remote location, but it is a decision that is transforming lives. Through Angat Buhay and our partners, the parents of Sitio Bugtong Lubi can now dream and hope that one day, they will see their children living better lives than them because they were able to finish school.
We also met Mocrimah Abdulrahman Mohammad, a 26-year-old weaver and aspiring teacher from Barangay Dayawan in Marawi City. When we visited her community in March last year, two months before the siege happened, we discussed ways on how they can improve more landap and produce them—a traditional Maranao textile known for its vibrant and colorful design—and make it a profitable and sustainable livelihood activity. Plans of selling the cloth to bigger markets were already on the way but in less than two months, the Marawi siege took place. Mocrimah and her loved ones had to escape. Their home town as well as their dreams, turned to rubble.
As the Marawi siege raged, our hearts melted for Mocrimah and Dayawan’s weavers, transformed forever by listening to their life’s hopes and dreams in that single afternoon. We saw that these hopes and dreams were woven into their tapestries, and we knew we had to find a way to let the weavers continue their life’s work. So, we searched for partners who will put back meaning and purpose in their war-torn lives. Through the generosity of our partner, Metrobank Foundation and the Negros Volunteers for Change, our Marawi women weavers now have sewing equipment and capital to rebuild their future.
We are also about to begin an Angat Buhay Village in Marawi City, with at least 70 permanent residences in a one-hectare property for families whose houses were totally damaged during the siege. Aside from roofs over their heads, the village will also have a health center, a mosque, water and electric supply, livelihood opportunities, good access roads, and vegetable gardens for food security. This project is fully funded by our private partners, through the help of the ARMM government, who are assisting us with the land preparation.
There are many other stories like that of Esteban and Mocrimah which show that extraordinary results are possible even with limited resources because of collaboration. This is how we can transform our communities; and this is the kind of legacy I personally would like to leave behind.
There are an increasing number of organizations that are partnering with us and we would like to invite you to be part of our work, too. In fact, we have also been partnering with the academe through Angat Buhay in Schools, as well as the youth sector through Angat Buhay Youth. We are partnering with Xavier University in Cagayan de Oro City, Universidad de Sta. Isabel in Naga, and Assumption College in San Lorenzo, Makati to deliver basic services to their adopted communities. Through these initatives, students and teachers are given the opportunity to work with private organizations in finding better ways to solve issues at the local level.
For instance, our Angat Buhay partner, the Jesus V. Del Rosario Foundation has agreed to provide a seed grant to Xavier University to develop solar-powered machines that will help salt farmers from the municipality of Alubijid, Misamis Oriental increase their production capacity in a year.
It was a few months ago when we launched Angat Buhay Youth, which aims to provide leadership training to youth leaders actively involved in community development projects and link them to potential funding partners to scale up their own socially-oriented programs.
Last August, we gathered 50 of the most dynamic youth organizations for a two-day summit and we asked them to come up with innovative programs that help address specific needs in our communities. One of the organizations was Youth for Mental Health Coalition with its project, “SPROUT: Speak out, Reach out!“, which aims to provide psychological and mental health interventions in conflict-afflicted, geographically isolated, and marginalized areas in the country. We have already partnered with them and the project had its first run in Marawi, to help address the needs of the evacuees in the area.
This year, we are also planning to organize four regional Angat Buhay Youth Summits in Luzon, Visayas, ARMM, and the rest of Mindanao. And we hope we can invite you to partner with us and join us in these activities.
Many of you here today are already in significant positions in society, but I hope that you will always remember why you are where you are. In UP, we were taught that to serve our people is our greatest call. But that can only be done together. So may you continue to nurture your 50 years of selfless service through brotherhood. We are each other’s best hope in these extraordinary times.
I do not know if many of you have already watched Black Panther but let me end with what King T’Challa profoundly said: “Now, more than ever, the illusions of division threaten our very existence. We all know the truth: more connects us than separates us. But in times of crisis, the wise build bridges, while the foolish build barriers. We must find a way to look after one another, as if we were one single tribe.”
Congratulations once again, and mabuhay kayong lahat!