Message at the 2018 Annual Conference of the Asian Group of Public Administration
UP NCPAG, University of the Philippines, Quezon City
Thank you very much. Kindly take your seats.
Dr. Maria Fe Villamejor-Mendoza, Professor and Dean of the UP National College of Public Administration and Governance; Dr. Jiang Wu, President of the Asian Group for Public Administration; Dr. Sofiane Sahroui, Director General, International Institute of Administrative Sciences; Dr. Alex [Brillantes Jr.], Commissioner of the Commission on Higher Education; the other plenary speakers present; delegates to the 2018 annual conference of AGPA [Asian Group for Public Administration]; honored guests; ladies and gentlemen; good morning to everyone.
A few weeks from now, the year 2018 will come to a close: a year fraught with uncertainties, volatility, and turmoil, as well as scientific and technological milestones. From the looks of it, 2019 will see the world embattled with even more disruptions—for good or bad. To handle the intricacies of all of those stresses and shocks, our job and our responsibility is to take stock of what we are up against so that we can protect the most vulnerable of our people.
For instance, next year, nationwide elections will be held in countries where a major chunk or one-third of the world’s population live, including India, Indonesia, and Nigeria.Hopefully, that will arrest the global trend of declining freedoms, but as we all know, elections are just the beginning. Public administration and governance is the real test of a regime’s sincerity when it comes to campaign promises.
By next year, the US will have gone through its longest period of economic growth in history, but it also figures in a trade war with China in what seems to be a locking of horns of two of the biggest economies in the world. The rest of the world is waiting with bated breath how the trade war is going to affect their own countries. All these are happening as borrowing costs get higher, debt levels soar, and cash leaves the shores of emerging markets to go back to America. In a period of rising economic risks, how can our governments protect the most vulnerable? In a country where 21.6 percent of the population is officially said to be living below the poverty line, any economic shock brings with it much suffering to our people.
We also have the big buzzwords of tech: artificial intelligence, self-driving cars, predictive policing, facial recognition, and space travel, among many others. They are all very exciting, but governments in every country are faced with heavy administrative questions: do we regulate artificial intelligence? How do you change educational systems so that our people are more prepared for the future of work? What are the administrative responses to growing fears of killer robots or massive encroachments to data privacy?
So many questions, so many answers needed, in so little time. And yet, what are we most preoccupied with at the moment? The senseless debate whether human rights is a good cause or not. The script of a popular television show gets discussed by government leaders on national television, a news crew gets bullied as it discharges its duties as the fourth estate, and there is constant talk of lawless violence. We can distract our people from the real problems but they remain urgent—the rising prices of rice and other basic goods, persistent poverty, the weakening of institutions, among other things. I believe it is high time we refocus our efforts on the real dangers to our people. As I pointed out earlier, they are massive and they are waiting just outside the fringes of 2018 to pounce on our people.
To protect our nation from emerging disruptions, risks and shocks, it is critical that the government does not keep the act of governance to itself. It must first trust the people and give power back to the people. It must create bigger spaces for inclusion and collaboration, in planning interventions, build systems that provide for transparency and accountability in monitoring the impact of interventions, and involve development partners more actively in nation-building. The twin principles of transparency and accountability are increasingly critical to nations of the world as we approach the age of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, a transition marked with disruptions, stresses, and shocks. The job sounds almost impossible, but it can be done. At the Office of the Vice President, we have been doing some of this work in the last two years.
Unlike in other countries, the Vice President in the Philippines has been relegated to being just a spare tire by our Constitution. Our office does not have the mandate nor the resources to create and implement programs. We also have one of the smallest budgets in the entire bureaucracy. So when we assumed office more than two years ago, I told my staff that we could not sit idly by and spend the next six years merely doing just ceremonial functions. We needed to reinvent our office and find ways of doing more with whatever little resources we have.
To be very candid with you, our job has not been easy. The gruelling campaign was nothing compared to the many difficulties I face everyday now that I am Vice President. A lot of effort has been poured into keeping me in the margins —the struggle to improve cooperation, coordination, and unity is real. But I always tell my staff that if we truly are passionate about serving our people, we cannot allow these to hinder us from from doing our share in the enormous task of nation-building, and that we should not allow ourselves to be distracted by politics or propaganda.
So for more than two years, we have been focusing our efforts through our anti-poverty program called Angat Buhay, which literally means to “uplift lives.” We positioned ourselves as a bridge between communities needing help and organizations wanting to help. To me, the name of our program stresses two important conditions: “Angat,” which means to raise Filipino families from abject poverty, and “Buhay,” to promote the value of life, as opposed to the culture of violence that results in senseless deaths. Through collaboration and partnerships with various sectors, we responded to the most urgent needs of the poor and the marginalized, in ways that can be sustained and be measurable rather than cosmetic one-time, big-time assistance.
Since our launch in October of 2016, Angat Buhay has partnered with more than 250 private organizations, mobilizing about 271 million pesos worth of resources for more than 338,426 individuals in 176 cities and municipalities all over the country — all of these because of partnerships!
In San Remigio, Cebu, for instance, we have been working with both the local government and our other partners to address the mental health needs of the community. The truth is it wasn’t our initial plan. We first went there almost almost two years ago to visit a fishing community and with our partner, Physicians for Peace, turned over wheelchairs and assistive devices for Persons with Disabilities. But while we were there, we discovered that there is a large number of mentally ill residents locked up in cages and chained by their families because they already had violent episodes.
So we partnered with the Philippine Mental Health Association to do a mapping of the community to have a clear baseline that will guide the creation of the most effective strategy and intervention for the community. Since then, barangay health workers have already been trained on the intricacies of dealing with mental illness and regular medicines are already being provided to the patients.
Now, a bigger mental health facility is being constructed and funded by our office, and is expected to be operational by January of 2019. We inspected the facility last November 17 and met some of the patients whose conditions are so much better because of initial interventions. We are hopeful that more people who suffer from mental illness will have access to proper treatment and healthcare once the Center opens. We are just so fortunate that the local officials of San Remigio are very proactive. The Mayor has been actively participating in our Bridging Leadership Program for our Angat Buhay partners. When we started working with them, they already began—as advised—to do a community mental health rehabilitation program and it has been reaping a lot of rewards. We are positive that our vision to create a mentally healthy community will be turned into reality, not only in San Remigio, but in the entire Cebu province.
Down south, in Kauswagan, Lanao del Norte, years of armed conflict between troops—government troops—and the Moro rebels have forced many families into poverty. There we met Commander Agila, a former Moro Islamic Liberation Front commander. He and his men hid deep in the mountains and were greatly involved in the armed struggle of the Muslim separatist movement. Fearing for the safety of his family, he laid down his arms and surrendered to the government. But he had no skills to help him earn a living and no means to provide for his family, but he resisted the urge to take up arms again and availed of the Arms to Farms program initiated by the local government of Kauswagan in partnership with the private sector, the Department of Agriculture, TESDA and the Armed Forces of the Philippines. He told us, and I quote: “Before, we used to only carry guns.” Now, because of their mayor, Rommel Arnado, MILF commanders were taught to do farming instead.
I remember when we went to Kauswagan, Commander Agila was so excited to take us to his farm. He told us, “Even if we don’t go to the market for one month, we won’t get hungry.” How inspiring it was to witness an entire community transformed just because one person took the initiative to do something good.
We wanted to be of help too. So with our partner, Jollibee Foundation, we are working on a program called Busog, Lusog, Talino Kitchen, which aims to improve the health of the children in Kauswagan by ensuring that they are given the proper diet and nutritional value that they require. Not only that, with the help of [our] various [partners], our office is also livelihood assistance for the farmers, hoping that it will empower them to rebuild their lives slowly back.
In Siayan, Zamboanga del Norte, poverty incidence was a staggering 97.5 percent from 2003 to 2009. And Siayan has one the highest school dropout rates. When we first went there to check on how we can be of help, particularly in decreasing the school dropout rate, we found out that one of the reasons why was the distance that the students have to traverse just to be able to go to school. Some students have to walk up to 10 kilometers each way every day just to be able to go to attend school. Some even need to swim across rivers every day just to attend their classes.
Our partner, the Yellow Boat of Hope Foundation, has been providing “school boats” that pick up students from some remote islands and bring them to school every day. In Siayan, we partnered with them, and they helped us build a dormitory, so that students who lived very far from school will not have to swim and walk long distances every day.
Last February, we went there to inaugurate the Yellow Dorm of Hope inside the Siayan National High School, with the help of funding from the Metrobank Foundation, another Angat Buhay partner. Now, the students have a place to stay in school during school days— for free.
What is good is that Siayan’s mayor—Mayor Flora Villarosa—and the rest of her team have been working very hard to address the high dropout rate in the municipality, and she has been very proactive in creating concrete reforms in Siayan by opening up spaces for collaboration and participation among her constituents.
Local leadership is critical in creating and sustaining reforms. From my experience in government, local officials are most knowledgeable in the nitty gritty business of everyday governance. But the work is not theirs alone. [Governance] is not just about the government, it is about how people interact with government. We must create spaces for our people to propose policy and monitor whether they are being enforced or not. We must bring together development partners, non-government organizations, and the private sector in nation-building as well.
Angat Buhay is not just our program, but it is our brave response during these difficult times. It is our way of building a strong legacy for the Filipino people by serving one family, one community at a time. So as we come up with concrete institutional reforms, we never forget the face of the Filipino family that does all it can every week to earn a living, working in factories or call centers or farms or fish pens, and yet come home with nothing to show for it because life is getting harder and harder. We seek to provide hope for them not by offering quick-fix solutions, but by bringing them to the table in a partnership for the betterment of our nation.
So today, as we move forward with our conversations, I hope that skilled and respected professionals like you will continue to find ways to making the best better. Disrupt, innovate, and study more ways to thrive in this era of uncertainty. Our love for our country and for our people will be the greatest and strongest legacy that we can ever leave.
Thank you very much and may you have a fruitful discussion today! [applause]