Office of the Vice President
19 July 2017
Message at the Leadership Training, Theme: Suit Up: Be Brave and Take Action
St. Paul Activity Center for Excellence, St. Paul College, Pasig City, 19 July 2017
Good afternoon. Thank you very much.
Sister Dedicacion Rosario, School Directress, and other St. Paul College – Pasig sisters, good afternoon. Mrs. Maricel Lacap, High School Assistant Principal for Homeroom; Ms. Julianna Mae Navarro, Student Coordinating Team (SCT) President; Ms. Mika Francesca Baquiran, Project Head and SCT Secretary; middle administrators and non-teaching staff; guests from the Fr. Louis Chauvet Foundation School; our dear teachers, parents and students, alumnae, ladies and gentlemen: Magandang hapon sa inyong lahat.
It is nice to be back. I was telling the Sisters that this is not the first time I came over. A few years ago when my husband was still alive, you invited him also to speak before your students, and I was his driver then.
When I was a member of Congress, I was also invited in an Education Summit, but I think the audience were not students. So, it is an honor to be here. I did not realize that this would be a big crowd. But thank you, it is my honor and privilege to have been invited to be with you this afternoon.
Congratulations to all the members of the Student Coordinating Team, for bringing together all your schoolmates to an event such as this. Alam ko na hindi madali na mag-organize ng activity na gaya nito. Kaya siguro, kailangan nating palakpakan ang mga organizers natin ngayon.
I have a daughter—my youngest daughter—maybe as old as some of you are. She is in Senior High. She will be entering Grade 12 in August. Whenever I talk to her, I realize that today’s world is vastly different compared to, let’s say, two decades ago, perhaps at a time when your parents were probably just starting to get to know each other.
Twenty years ago, it was unthinkable for each one of us to carry a phone everywhere we go. Siguro naaalala ito ng mga kaedad ko. Because during that time, phones looked like this. While the phones that you know now look like this. Masyadong malayo.
During that time, when we send mails, we hold them in our hands and we go to the post office. Nagpapasalamat tayo kung a day after, nakarating na. Ang alam ko parang mas mahal ang bayad kung one day delivery, di ba? Pero now, your mail looks like this. Masyadong iba na talaga.
Back then, when you want to connect to the Internet, you had to use a modem connected to a phone line and wait for your computer that looks like this, to connect. Today, you just have to click on a button to connect to LTE and wifi.
The world has changed tremendously in the last 20 years. And by the time you finish college, you will probably see even more changes happening. Perhaps by then, you will be hailing driverless cars, and cameras will be no thicker than your hair strand.
But in a world of new technologies and global power shifts, the old values that make great leaders remain important. Empathy, excellence, and integrity—they never go out of style.
Let me share with you something very personal about empathy. I was very, very shy when I was young. When there are school plays, my younger sister would always land one of the main roles, pero ako, either scriptwriter or tagahawak ng kurtina, kasi parati akong nahihiya. And although I was a class officer, I never imagined myself running for the Student Council because I never saw myself doing campaign speeches before huge crowds. That was how shy I was.
But when I became a lawyer, I discovered what it was like to serve the poor—and perhaps because of that, I forgot my shyness.
I do not know if any of you here dreams of becoming a lawyer. Mayroon ba? Nako, marami. Maraming nangangarap maging abogado. Siguro after you graduate from St. Paul, and after you graduate from college, mag-aabogado na. What do you think lawyers do everyday? Dati, ang imagination ko, lawyers are always in their three-piece suits – ang gaganda ng mga damit – waiting for clients in their airconditioned offices.
But not all lawyers are like that. When I became a lawyer, I know what I wanted to be like. I joined an NGO called SALIGAN. The clients that we served were farmers and fisherfolk, indigenous people, urban poor, abused women and children, and laborers. And instead of us waiting for them in our offices, we were the ones who went to them. We traveled to far-flung barangays, trekked mountains, and went to seaside towns. We slept on roofless huts. We slept on a boats when there was no other place for us to stay.
It was difficult and challenging, and that was the work that I did for more than 10 years. But that was where I found myself. That was when I realized that it was not enough that I knew the law. What was crucial was that I learned to listen with empathy. How to put myself in other peoples’ shoes and look at the world through their eyes. How to unlearn what I knew about the world and reshape it based on what the person in front of me has experienced.
As young people, I know that you – sometimes or often – find it frustrating when you feel like no one can hear you, or no one can understand you, or when you are talking but no one is listening.
I believe that leaders who are infused with empathy, who put others’ “hugot” first, before your own hugots, can change our country and our world. We will be more people-oriented, rather than power-oriented. We will seek to serve, rather than be served.
Nothing else would make me more happy than to see that those of you who grow up to become leaders of our society, have become leaders full of empathy for the people who need help the most.
Excellence is very much connected to empathy. When you understand that your actions may mean that someone lives or dies, eats or goes hungry, loses their livelihood or keeps their job, then you want to give your best in everything that you do. That is excellence.
At the Office of the Vice President, we go to the farthest and the poorest municipalities to serve the poor and the marginalized. For instance, we went Agutaya, a small island municipality in Northern Palawan. I do not know if any of you has ever been to Coron. May nakapunta na ba sa Coron? Mayroon nang iba.
From Coron, you can reach Agutaya after a 10-hour boat ride. Napakalayo. Can you imagine how difficult it must be if the nearest hospital is a 10-hour boat ride away from where you live?
Pumunta po kami roon. And then when we went there, most of the people who met us were crying. Akala namin kung anong nangyari. Iyon pala, they felt so touched that someone from here would visit them. Pero ito iyong nakakalungkot: we saw that their Grade 6 students were as small as their Grade 1 pupils. We learned that they suffer from a condition called stunting, where their minds and not just their bodies were affected by lack of food. Can you imagine not being able to eat enough food to allow you to learn and to grow?
I discovered that as we walked where they walked, as we listened to their stories, we were even more committed to come back with help. We have returned several times since then with boats, solar equipment, and toys for the children’s playschool, through the help of our donors and partners. Empathy truly brings excellence.
When I was visiting another remote barangay in my home province, Camarines Sur, I visited a school one Saturday. And when I entered one of the classrooms, I saw that there were five Manila papers posted on the walls of the classroom where a schedule of some sort was written. The words Monday to Friday were on those five papers and some names of children were written under there. For Monday, nine names; for Tuesday, nine names; for Wednesday, nine names; until Friday, nine names. When I asked the teacher what it was for, she explained to me that there were 38 students in that class, but only 9 chairs. So that everyone gets a chance to sit on those chairs, they had to follow a schedule.
Iyon pala ang nakita kong nasa Manila paper ay schedule ng kung sino ang puwedeng umupo ng Lunes, sino ang puwedeng umupo ng Martes hanggang Biyernes. Para during the week, all of the kids would get to have a chance to sit on that chair.
Here, we worry about traffic, slow internet and other inconveniences. In other places, they worry about who gets to eat and who gets to wait for the next meal. Or even who gets to sit on a chair this week. But if we all strive to be excellent in our studies, our leadership roles, and in the way we use our knowledge, hopefully the time will come when no one will have to go hungry and no child will ever have to sit on the floor while studying in school.
My last point is about integrity. Remember what Dumbledore told Harry Potter, and I quote: “It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”
Math, Science, History, grammar — they are difficult, I know. Studying them can feel like an endless task. But in the end, it is what you do with that knowledge that defines your abilities as a leader and your character as a person.
My husband, Jesse, who died in a plane crash five years ago, always said: Hindi sapat na tayo ay matino lamang. Hindi rin sapat na tayo ay mahusay lamang. Hindi lahat ng matino ay mahusay, at lalo namang hindi lahat ng mahusay ay matino. Ang dapat ay matino at mahusay upang tayo ay pagkatiwalaan ng pera ng bayan.
Your integrity counts a lot. What we do when no one is watching, the paths that we choose when there is no applause waiting—these are the things that make great leaders.
I am glad that you are learning all of these principles in your classrooms and in the work that you do, while you are very young. That is because I believe that leadership claims us; we never plan for it. And when it does claim us, we can only hope that there is empathy, excellence, and integrity in ample supply within our hearts and within our minds.
Throughout my life, I was content to be a mother to my three daughters, to be the wife of a politician, and to be a lawyer for the poor. I never planned to run for public office. But when I did, I realize that everything that happened in my life prepared me for this crucial moment.
When I say “everything”, it means all the good experiences and all the difficult times. Each difficult trek to a mountain or each criticism that I ever received. Each time we lost a case in court because those who had money and connections won. But it also means each life we touched and each moment that told us that service and excellence, listening with empathy, and protecting our empathy were difficult, but they were always worth it.
No one is born a leader. It is always nurture over nature, not the other way around. This means we need not listen to the little voices of defeat in our minds that say: you are too shy or too fat or too short or too unpopular to be a leader. Because if we know why we must lead, especially for those who need our help, then nothing should stop us. We can learn, we can train, we can stand up, and speak our minds. There is no limit to excellence and empathy if we are willing to do our part.
So this early, my prayer is for all of you to tread the paths that would turn you into great leaders of our country in the future.
Thank you very much again for having me this afternoon. Magandang hapon sa inyong lahat!