Speech at the 14th Triennial Conference of the Indo-Pacific Federation
Microtel Wyndham Hotel, Ayala Technohub, Quezon City
Thank you very much. Kindly take your seats.
Mr. Tim Boyd, President of the Theosophical Society; Mr. Charlton Jules Romero, National President of the Theosophical Society of the Philippines; Mr. Gerard Brennan, President of the Indo-Pacific Federation of the Theosophical Society; Mr. Vic Hao Chin, former president; delegates of the 14th Indo-Pacific Conference of the Theosophical Society; honored guests; ladies and gentlemen: Magandang umaga po sa inyong lahat!
Thank you very much for inviting me to be with you this morning. I was told that it has been 12 years since the last time the Philippines was given the honor of hosting this convention. As we gather in this room to discuss the world’s spiritual state, we recognize the fact that the human family is, on a daily basis, facing crossroads and making decisions that will massively change the lives of future generations. From technology and the use of it, to how the lives of thousands of unborn children hang in the balance every hour, to mental illnesses that could not be measured or seen through a microscope, the human family has never before been confronted by such a magnitude of threats on personal peace, justice, and meaning. May this conference give us the discernment and clarity of thought that will allow everybody’s light to shine, and by doing so, help us to understand what we must to do to make our world a little better, a little brighter.
For decades, your organization has inspired so many individuals to strive for truth, for unity, promoting the value of humanity—things we truly need in a world that is becoming too dark and too cruel. Here in our country, we are weighed down by teenage pregnancy that is fast approaching crisis levels, a generation of young people who have grown up disconnected from parents who work and live overseas, and a growing number of families whose loved ones have been torn away from them in the most excruciating manner by a raging campaign against illegal drugs.
Darkness, as they say, is the absence of light. And even as we try our very best to fight the darkness faced by so many of our people, we believe that flooding our country with light is, ultimately, the best solution.
This is why, since we assumed office, we spend at least two days every week, visiting the farthest, the poorest, the most unheard-of barangays, just as I promised on the very day I took my oath as Vice President of the Philippines. These weekly trips opened our office’s eyes to some of the harshest realities taking place in our communities. But the great thing is that it has also led us to some of the most inspiring individuals, the most touching experiences, and the most powerful defining moments that make us realize the greatness of every Filipino.
But in our drive to bring the government to the most remote and the most poverty-stricken areas of our country, we are constrained by a huge challenge. The Office of the Vice President in our country is very different from those in other countries. Our Constitution itself limits our purpose. We have neither the mandate nor the resources to implement meaningful programs, as if we are simply expected to wait for our term to end or to assume the role of the Presidency if and when necessary. But I had been a human rights lawyer for decades before I assumed the Vice Presidency, working among the poor and marginalized in both remote communities and among the urban poor. I had no plans to spend a six-year term just doing ceremonial work, and I knew that we needed to do something—and we needed to do it in a way that would transform lives and bring light to our people.
So I gathered my very young staff and listened to their ideas. With our meager resources, we decided to put up Angat Buhay, a program dedicated to fighting what I felt was the most crucial battle our people was truly facing: the war against poverty.
The past three years have been very challenging. Every day, we have been bombarded by lies, fake news, and other propaganda. And they have not stopped. At first, we tried to ignore the lies, but even as we watched, horrified, lies quickly became facts for most people because those are all that they hear or read.
I know people are tired to fight for truth when lies are always at our doorstep and most are predisposed to accepting them. But shall we accept this kind of world?
In these extraordinary times, we need to put our foot down and say, “Enough is enough.” We need to stand our ground and redeem truth-telling in our conversations. We cannot let this kind of culture continue.
So we launched another program in 2017, and we decided to call it Istorya ng Pag-Asa. By doing so, we turned to real stories of real Filipinos to heal our nation from this kind of divisiveness and hopelessness. Within the seeming simplicity of these stories of hope lie the power, inspiration, and the kind of strength that we believe can defy a nation’s desperation and frustration. We went from province to province, city to city—even overseas where our overseas Filipino workers wove new lives—in search of extraordinary feats of ordinary people.
One of them is Ka Dodoy, a fisherfolk chairman, whose leadership, empathy, and sense of duty helped [save] his barangay’s fish stock by rehabilitating the mangrove forests of his town. He struggled in the beginning, because only a few people believed that change was possible—just as we are struggling now. But Ka Dodoy was determined. He rallied the people in this coastal community, convincing them that if they didn’t do something today, there would be no fish left by the time their youngest children start raising their own families.
So he organized a small army of volunteers who planted mangroves to entice the fish back into their barangay. They had no money, no resources, but Ka Dodoy stuck to his hope of a better life. His small team kept planting, and eventually some organizations saw his tenacity and provided funding. That allowed them to start livelihood programs and getting even more recognition from other organizations. Ka Dodoy has also been educating other coastal municipalities of Zamboanga Sibugay, down south of Metro Manila.
We have asked Ka Dodoy to share his organization’s best practices in our coastal communities that are also struggling with low fish catch. And we are in talks on how the Office of the Vice President can further support his projects in his community.
Ka Dodoy’s hope for the next generation is our hope for our country. That we must look at our people with kindness, instead of harsh judgments. That we must recognize the light in every life, the light in every dream, the light in every bright future. Instead of cutting our people off when they make a mistake, we must reconnect with society and by doing so, empower them to build a better life for themselves. It sounds like a backbreaking and tiring kind of strategy, building our nation one individual at a time, but a nation is simply a collection of its people. The value of one human life can never be measured, and we must believe that there is inherent goodness in each one of them.
So you see, Istorya ng Pag-Asa is not just our fight against these dark times. It is our fight for empathy in a time of apathy, our fight for hope in a time of hopelessness, and our fight for life in a time of suffering and violence.
The brutal killing of innocent lives due to the war on drugs has affected so many Filipino families, especially those at the margins of society. I have always been vocal against the government’s senseless killings and the violence that accompanied the anti-drug operations for the past three years. And I strongly believe that it is incumbent upon us to assess if we had been effectively transforming the lives of our people, especially those who need help the most.
Last Wednesday, I accepted the challenge to lead the government’s efforts against illegal drugs. Despite overwhelming advice not to take the position, and even if they say this offer is plain politics, and that agencies will not follow me and they will do everything to make me fail, I am ready to take on this new responsibility, if it means we can save innocent lives. [applause]
I accepted this position because it is what my principles and my heart are telling me to do. It also tells me that we can win this fight, not by brute force or bloodshed, but with courage, empathy, and dedication. These are qualities that the Filipino is known for: his compassion and his heart. And I believe that together, we can uplift the lives of our people and bring back the dignity each one is due.
Amid all the chaos and politics around us, I find comfort in knowing that we can become a country where people are united around our common values: hope, perseverance, and a deep faith in the goodness of humanity. We should become a country where people pull each other up rather than tear each other apart, where conversations demand truth and reject lies.
We can be more than who we are now by being the messengers of hope our world needs—not the kind of hope that is passive or superficial, but the kind that is brave, defiant, and willing to face all odds.
Hope is the only powerful thing that will carry us through these challenging times, so I encourage everyone to continue shining your light one person at a time, one community at a time. Because light shines bright even in the darkest corners of society.
Thank you very much! Mabuhay kayong lahat! [applause]