Speech at 2019 Halyao Awards
Villa Caceres Hotel, Naga City
Thank you very much. Kindly take your seats.
Mayor Nelson and Atty. Marion Legacion; Vice Mayor Nene de Asis; Councilor Joe Perez; our MNCCI president, Ferdinand Sia; our PCCI regional governor and incoming vice president for Luzon, Clarine Tobias; the chairperson for the Halyao Awards 2019, Mr. Abet Bercasio; our keynote speaker, Mr. Ronald Mascariñas, president of Bounty Agro Ventures, Inc.; the presidents of the different chambers of commerce in the Bicol Region who are here tonight; the board of advisers of MNCCI and the past presidents; the board of directors of MNCCI, of course with special mention to our birthday girl, Ms. Leann Montemayor; guests; ladies and gentlemen: Marhay na banggi saindo gabos!
It is always a pleasure to be invited to this yearly celebration of Bicol’s best businesses. The luminaries that will be recognized tonight serve as inspiration to every Bicolano venturing into business, and you are proof that hard work and passion can turn aspirations into reality. Responsible and excellent entrepreneurship is what our nation needs at this critical time in our nation’s journey, so that we can create jobs, create value, and uplift the lives of our people.
For 15 years now, through the leadership of Metro Naga Chamber of Commerce and Industry and its partners, we have been able to show the world the best of what Bicol has to offer. Bicol has been considered by NEDA as one of the fastest growing regions in the country in the last four years, and is on the path to sustaining the momentum in the years to come. In 2018, our gross regional domestic product was at 8.9 percent, higher than the national average of 6.2 percent.
However, these numbers do not necessarily mean that we have erased poverty and the suffering of our people. Farmers and fishermen still have a hard time making a living, children still go to school with empty stomachs, and mothers are still hard-pressed to put food on their table amid their meager budgets.
And as we sit on the brink of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, we find ourselves at the center of so many moving parts—some exciting, some worrisome. Ideas we once considered to be science fiction are now realities: driverless cars, robots, and artificial intelligence. We are faced with loss of jobs as machines do things better and faster. This creates a boiling cauldron of frustration all around the world that results in social and economic unrest. These are glaring signs that our world is indeed at the cusp of a tectonic economic shift.
You and I are living through an epochal time in the history of mankind. And I say this not with fear, but with a great sense of hope. We, the Bicolanos—who live through the biggest storms every year and rise up despite them—have a massive opportunity to show the world what kind of leadership will work in these trying times. We will show the world what empathy can do. We will show the world what can happen when leaders listen. We will show the world that industries and businesses can have heart.
This, I believe, is how we can bridge today’s challenges and tomorrow’s solutions. Our people—not profit, not even technology—need to be at the center: their welfare, their future, their dreams and aspirations. No matter how excellent our industries are performing, if we fail to make this growth inclusive, we will fail.
We, at the Office of the Vice President, have seen how the public and private sector can work together to make our region’s growth and development more inclusive. Three years ago, it was clear to me and my staff that we cannot sit idly by, performing only the ceremonial roles required of our office. Our mandate, as stated in the Constitution, does not say much, except that we should be ready in case the president is unable to fulfill his duties. Because of this very limited mandate, our resources also remained limited—barely enough to implement projects.
And so, we transformed the Office of the Vice President into an advocacy-centric office, and launched our flagship anti-poverty program, which we call Angat Buhay. It aims to do exactly as it says: to uplift the lives of the “pamilya sa laylayan ng lipunan.” What we lacked in resources, we made up for by earning the trust of private and development organizations. In fact, one of these organizations is MNCCI.
MNCCI has spearheaded efforts to link our local farmers to bigger markets, allowing farmers under our Omasenso sa Kabuhayan program to start enjoying higher earnings because they are linked directly to institutional buyers. This opportunity excites me no end, because for decades, farmers remain the poorest in a country that relies heavily on agriculture. Can you believe the irony of that? They do not have the access to capital, equipment, and skills required to expand their operations, and yet they are expected to feed the nation.
Robert from Libmanan is one of the more successful farmers in our Omasenso sa Kabuhayan program, and he shared with us that many farmers go into debt to plant crops, not knowing if they would have buyers come harvest season. When there are none, all their produce go to waste.
Now, their story is slowly changing. Through the program, we organized farmer groups in nine local government units, and with the help of regional agencies from the Department of Trade and Industry, the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Agrarian Reform, and the Department of Science and Technology, we have been able to equip our farmers with the necessary skills and knowledge that improve the quality of their produce. Through MNCCI, the Metro Naga Development Council, and the Rural Bank of Guinobatan in Albay, our farmers directly interact with institutional buyers through events like the Bicol Business Month and others. They have also been able to participate in larger trade fairs, like the Bishop Gainza Trade Fair and ASPIRE, reaching a wider consumer base.
Local businesses in Camarines Sur have taken notice. They have agreed to source their ingredients and supplies from our local farmer groups. In fact, Omasenso farmers have already started supplying calamansi, gabi, ginger, lettuce, and sili to big commercial establishments like Bigg’s Diner and Carmen Hotel; hospitals like the USI Mother Seton Hospital, NICC (Naga Imaging Center Cooperative) Doctors Hospital; and institutions like BJMP. We hope to deepen and expand our collaboration with big malls like LCC, supplying the needs of its 80 branches around the region, and tapping hotels everywhere, where our farmers can display their produce. Farm inputs and necessary equipment for eight out of nine LGUs under Omasenso—we have completed that already; we distributed the ones for Naga this afternoon—which include the towns of Pamplona, Tigaon, Libmanan, Magarao, Ocampo, Tinambac, Pili, and Naga—improve their processes to efficiently supply the huge demand of their buyers. Whenever I see each farmer and his family eating better, sending their children to school, and enjoying a better life, I am reminded of why I ran for office. This is what public service is all about.
This November, through Angat Buhay, Pilipinas Shell Foundation will enter a partnership with our Omasenso sa Kabuhayan LGUs to implement its Integrated Farming and Bio-Systems training program. Pilipinas Shell has brought this program to help our partner-farming communities in Sumilao in Bukidnon, Tampakan in South Cotabato, and also in Tinambac, Camarines Sur. Through this program, we are hopeful that our partners can adopt modern techniques and diversify their crops, increasing earnings just as Sumilao farmers did. Farmers in Sumilao have told us that from P2,000 per crop, they are now—cropping season—they are now earning as much as P6,000 for their produce. We hope to achieve the same outcome once our farmers undergo the IFBS program.
There is more. Together with MNCCI, and with funding from DTI, we will be constructing a Shared Service Facility that our farmers can use to process their produce, and ensure proper labelling and quality control before sale. As businessmen, you all know how critical this is to their operations. Actually, ngonian ko lang aldaw naaraman ta approved na ini, kaya mabalos na maray sa MNCCI. (Actually, I just found out today that this is already approved, so thank you very much to MNCCI.)
We also reached out to several of our fisherfolk communities, especially in coastal towns like Calabanga in Camarines Sur; Mercedes in Camarines Norte; and Tabaco, Bacacay, and Rapu Rapu in Albay. Ka Dodoy, one of our most inspiring Istorya ng Pag-Asa champions, known for his work in transforming his hometown in Kabasalan, Zamboanga Sibugay into a prosperous, sustainable, and environment-friendly community, is teaching them how to do the same thing in their own barangays. Pigdara mi po si Ka Dodoy digdiyo last month, para i-training si satuyang mga parasira. (We brought Ka Dodoy here last month, so he could train our fishermen.)
In all of these endeavors, trust became our most valued currency. Our office, despite our limited mandate and limited resources, was able to make all of these possible, because partners like MNCCI and MNDC, regional agencies, and private corporations believed in our cause.
We Filipinos have a name for this: bayanihan. In bringing this spirit of bayanihan to life, we remain committed to our promise to selflessly serve and allow our people to reach his greatest potential. Together, we can transform not just the present, but also the story of how tomorrow begins.
So from the bottom of our hearts, thank you for trusting us and for working with us. We can, and we will do more in the coming years, with your help. Together, we will make the impossible, possible.
Mabuhay po kamo gabos! Mabalos! [applause]