Message at the Rotary Club of Makati West Lunch Meeting
Tower Club, Philamlife Building, Paseo de Roxas, Makati City
Thank you very much. Thank you very much. Kindly take your seats. [applause]
Former Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert Del Rosario; Rotary Club of Makati West [RCMW] President Lou Del Rosario; PRID [Past Rotary International Director] Guiller Tumangan; the past RCMW Presidents; board members and directors; visiting Rotarians; honored guests; ladies and gentlemen; good afternoon to everyone. Happy 49th anniversary to you. [applause] I understand that today, you are celebrating your 49th year —just a year away from your golden anniversary.
It is always a great joy and honor to be invited to Rotary events. I grew up with Rotary. My Dad was a charter member of the Rotary Club of Naga East. And when my husband was asking for my hand in marriage, the first requirement asked of him by my Dad was for him to also become a member of Rotary Club of Naga East (laughter), which he complied with. [applause] So I grew up being a Rotary kid and a few years ago, I was inducted as an honorary member of the Rotary Club of San Lorenzo, who are [applause]—some of the members are here this afternoon.
Last Monday, we woke up to the sad news of the passing of Rotarian Jun Tambunting, a friend and a colleague to many of us here. In fact, I was told by my staff that they were coordinating with him initially for this event. So when we heard of the passing of PDG Jun, we were all shocked. I was really looking forward to seeing him with us today. But I am certain that you will agree with me that a large part of the success of Rotary Club of Makati West, we owe to PDG Jun. He truly lived a life of purpose and showed us what genuine service meant both as a businessman and as a Rotarian. But we all know that he is in a much better place now and we extend our heartfelt condolences to the Tambunting family and to all of you who have been with him in the Rotary. PDG Jun is really a big loss to all of us.
This strong sense of selfless service has always been interwoven in the DNA of the Rotary Club. While traditional businessmen keep wealth circulating within a small closed group, Rotarians include those at the fringes of society at the center of their business plans, not just as public relations or even CSR.
The values that you espouse are the values we greatly need in a world marred by hate, anger, division and apathy. These days, strength of character, concern for others and pakikipagkapwa seem to be less valuable. But we cannot stand idly by and ignore the real problems.
There are dark, storm clouds hanging over us today: lower-than-expected economic growth, the twin problems of the growing current account deficit and the fiscal deficit, gross international reserves that are a hairline away from six months of import cover, and foreign direct investments that are still very much lower than our competitors in the region. We see poverty as the most urgent, most significant problem of all.
That is why, since day one, after I assumed my office, the vision that we had put up for the Office of the Vice President is clear: to serve those at the fringes of the society—para sa mga pamilyang nasa laylayan ng lipunan. As some of you might know, our office does not have the mandate nor the resources for programs— we, in fact, have the smallest budget in the entire bureaucracy— but I told my staff that we cannot 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 more urgent war: the war against poverty. Since the beginning of our term, we have devoted at least two to three days of every week to visit some of the most remote and poorest communities in the country, traversing mountain roads, crossing rivers, riding small bancas.
Our work is not easy, but it allowed us to see the world through the eyes of those who are suffering. These activities are usually hidden from prime time television, but they are very much felt by the people whose lives are touched. They are transformed; and so are we.
In the course of our duties, what we have discovered is this: real transformation only happens when we listen to people with empathy in our hearts. Because we don’t just shake hands and deliver speeches, but rather, we ask deep questions and listen to their stories to find ways to ease their pain. We find that poverty has a real face and a real story. And as I move around, I keep in mind the face of every child I encounter. Maybe their numbers will not affect survey ratings but their future matters to us. Every time I visit a suffering community, I remember the mothers I meet, as well as the fathers worrying about the future of their family; the teachers with no classrooms for their students or each person with disability. Each of their lives matter. Sadly, theirs are an existence that continue to be a daily struggle, through no fault of their own.
Poverty is a big and complex issue that has been the bane not just of our country, but of the world. We need a new strategy, a new roadmap, and a far-reaching vision that must protect the welfare of the generations that will come after us. We need a strong force that compels us to move beyond working in silos and beyond politics. And we see a lot of this as we implement our programs.
Through Angat Buhay, we brought together local government units, development partners, and the private sector, and the academe to uplift the lives of the pamilya na nasa laylayan.In conceptualizing the program, we identified six key advocacy areas: food security and nutrition; universal health care; public education; housing and resettlement; rural development; and women empowerment. 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 our partnerships!
Let me just mention some of what we have been working on. In San Remigio, Cebu—I don’t know if you’ve heard of that place but it’s a small town in the northern part of Cebu province—we are working with both the local government and our other partners to address the mental health needs of the community. And we discovered that there is a large number of mentally ill residents and several of them were being locked up in cages and chained by their families because they had violent episodes. So when we discovered them, we learned that families would chain them inside cages because they had to go to work and they could not leave their mentally ill family members at home by themselves without being chained, because most of them have become very violent.
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 to train barangay health workers of the intricacies of dealing with mental illness and to provide regular medicines for patients.
A bigger mental health facility in the municipality is now being constructed and funded by our office, and is expected to be operational by January of . In fact, we just inspected the facility last Saturday and we are positive more people who suffer from mental illness will have access to proper treatment and healthcare. We are just so fortunate that the local officials of San Remigio are very proactive. When we started partnering with them, they already started—as advised—to do a community mental health rehabilitation program and it’s been reaping a lot of rewards in the sense that there are still many mental health cases which were not discovered before they went to the communities. Hopefully, this will be a huge step towards creating a mentally healthy community not just in San Remigio, but in the entire Cebu province.
In Marawi City, Lanao del Sur, the five-month siege that took place last year forced thousands to flee their homes and seek refuge in crowded evacuation centers. Of course, you have seen this on social media; you have seen this on television. One of them was Taralbe Ombus—siya si Taralbe Ombus—who was already 78 years old. Her home, including her mini-grocery and the harvest from their farm, were all destroyed because of the siege. She and her family ended up in an evacuation center in the nearby town of Saguiaran. She said staying there was like “being in hell,“ given the discomforts of living in a covered court, getting soaked by the rains, with smelly water rising from the canal, not receiving enough relief assistance, and having to share public restrooms with hundreds and hundreds of people.
We left Marawi with broken hearts and decided to come up with something more than just a one-time big-time effort. So we immediately sought the help of our partners by constructing an Angat Buhay transitory village— giving families, including that of Taralbe, a space to call their own. This is entirely funded by our private partners. Last July 2018, we formally opened the village in Barangay Sagonsongan and this project was implemented with the Xavier University in Cagayan de Oro as our local partner, in partnership also with the City Government of Marawi. But what made it truly possible was really the generosity of our various private partners. Because of them, we were able to initially construct 60 units and raised 7.4 million pesos. And we are planning to build even more houses in Marawi in the days to come. Right now, we have partnered with several micro-finance institutions and are exploring ways to help them with their livelihood. All of these possibilities are making Taralbe smile amid her tears. We saw her again when we visited in July and she was telling us that being chosen as a beneficiary for the shelter is like “being brought to heaven all over again.”
In Palawan, one of the most beautiful places in the country known for its white sand beaches and tropical lagoons and where fishing remains to be the source of livelihood of many residents, we met a fisherman named Rolando Manzo. Rolando is from Barangay Algeciras in Agutaya, Palawan. I don’t know if you’ve heard of Agutaya but Agutaya is a very small island town in Northern Palawan. It belongs to the Cuyo group of islands, so far-flung that it takes almost [eight to 10] hours to reach its shores by boat from Coron. I’ve been there two times already.
Rolando was born and raised in Mindoro but he transferred to Palawan because he said there, there was more opportunity for him to make a substantial living in Palawan. But as with many other fishermen in Agutaya, Rolando has been a seaweed farmer and fisherman for most of his life. But when Typhoon Yolanda hit the islands in 2013, he lost his small boat, as other fishermen like him also did. And since then, he would just hitch rides with friends and neighbors who still had their own boats. Whatever he would catch on fishing trips would be divided between him and the boat owner, so he barely earns from his catch.
But now, Rolando tells a different story. Upon receiving the boat from our partner, St. Theresa’s College Quezon City Alumni Association, (I don’t know if anyone from here is from St. Theresa’s) last July… last June of 2017, Rolando put it to good use. With his small boat, he was able to spend more time farming seaweed, fishing, and he even uses it to ferry his children and grandchildren to their school in a nearby island. After 10 months, he saved enough money to build a bigger boat to catch more fish and carry more seaweeds to shore.
This year, more boats were turned over by St. Theresa’s College Alumni Association to the fishermen. Aside from this, we also brought Rolando and his fellow seaweed farmers to Palawan State University last October to learn new technologies and processes on seaweed farming. The training will help Agutaya in reviving its seaweed industry, which means increasing the livelihood opportunities for the people. Not only that, we’re also able to install solar panels in four barangays in Agutaya with the help of our partners ASA Philippines and Team Energy, lighting up around 400 households in the area.
In Sumilao, Bukidnon, we found out that the dropout rate of the students is very, very high. Many students from the Sumilao National High School are forced to walk 13 kilometers everyday each way just to get to school. The only public transport available in the area is the trusty habal-habal, which costs 120 pesos each way—a price too expensive, of course, for the children and their families. The high school has put up a makeshift dorm for some of the students that the living conditions are not ideal. The roof leaks badly whenever it rains and there are no windows. What is also sad about it is: the dorm only accommodates very few of the students given the school’s budget. The construction of a dormitory that can accommodate more students in a place with good living conditions will allow them to live near their school and will help decrease dropout rates. Thank you to Rotary Club of Makati for partnering with us in constructing a new dormitory. Right now, the dormitory is under construction.
We have also constructed similar dormitories in other areas like Siayan in Zamboanga del Norte. I don’t know if you’ve heard of Siayan but from 2003 to 2009, Siayan has been the poorest municipality in the Philippines. We constructed a dorm in partnership with the Yellow Boat of Hope Foundation, which is one of our Angat Buhay partners and we are also constructing dorms in Balangkayan and Salcedo in Eastern Samar—likewise, with the hope of addressing the high dropout rates in these communities.
There are many more stories of people under our Angat Buhay program and they all show that extraordinary results are possible even with limited resources. They are made possible because someone saw the need and someone chose to give. And when persons with a great sense of purpose collide with those who are willing and able to meet the world’s greatest needs, the result is a beautiful tapestry of collaboration that empowers those who have long been left behind by progress.
These stories are the very reason behind the work that we do, and they keep me going despite the challenges of being Vice President in this administration. You probably know that my travails as Vice President continue every day, but I find comfort in the knowledge that in many of these places, we are changing the nation one barangay, one community at a time.
For every child that gets an education, one family can rise from poverty. For every woman who is able to gain livelihood, one family can also rise from poverty. For each family we reach out to, we are improving the lives of an entire community.
Angat Buhay is our brave response in these extraordinary times. It is our fight for life at a time of killings, our fight for unity in a time of division, and our fight for hope in a time of hopelessness.
There are many reasons for us to hope, and you are one of those reasons. Rotarians are well known for your dedication in serving those who need help the most. And when we work together, we do SO much more.
When we live our lives for others and serve the last, the least, and the lost, our lives gain more meaning. There is no better example of that than PDG Jun. May we all be inspired by his example. I am grateful for all that you do for our people and we look forward to partnering with you in the coming months and years.
So thank you very much, happy anniversary and mabuhay po kayong lahat! [applause]