Speech of Maria Leonor Gerona Robredo Vice President of the Philippines at the Philippine Council for NGO Certification (PCNC) 21st Annual Assembly
Thank you very much. Good morning to all! Magandang umaga po sa inyong lahat. Thank you very much for inviting me to be with you today sa inyong annual general assembly! With the pandemic still putting physical gatherings on hold, masaya akong makita na tinutuloy niyo pa din ang mga annual meetings tulad nito to meet, to connect, and learn from each other.
Alam kong hindi ito ‘yung inaasahan niyong assembly, especially for an organization that has hundreds of members. Sigurado ako, nami-miss ninyo ‘yung energy of being around each other, sharing your experiences, talking about the year that has been. And I know I speak for all of us: It has truly been a challenging year. We started 2020 on a very promising note, welcoming the new decade with open arms and a plan for the months ahead. But then COVID-19 happened, at na-hold muna tayo lahat. Ngayon, kalahating taon na tayong naka-community quarantine, with most of us working from our homes to keep ourselves safe from the virus.
The world as we know it has really changed, at lahat tayo apektado: Economies are reeling, populations are on the edge of poverty, and global leaders are grappling with the effects of the pandemic on their people. Here in the Philippines, cases of COVID-19 continue to rise, registering thousands of new cases every day, with almost 300,000 total confirmed infections already. In the news, we see the toil of ordinary Filipinos affected by the virus: people losing their jobs and livelihood, the poor only getting hungrier and poorer, teachers and students struggling to adapt to the challenges of distance learning.
I know that these are issues close to your heart; among you are organizations whose advocacies are committed to addressing these gaps. The pandemic further magnified these inequalities, and those who are vulnerable feel this more than the others. And it can be frustrating, especially at a time like this of social distancing, to come face to face with the limits of what we can do to help the people who really need us. Frustrating talaga, di ba? Ang dami nating gustong gawin, but hindi natin magawa.
Ang daming nangyayari, and it can be so easy to be trapped in feelings of hopelessness. Paano nga naman ba tayo makakapagplano kung hindi sigurado ang mangyayari bukas? These uncertainties bring our fear and anxieties to the surface, and we lose sight of the horizon. Normal ang matakot at mangamba, pero hindi tayo dapat magpaparalisa dito. At tulad nga ng lagi kong sinasabi: we have to move forward and outward, facing each day with grit, and focus, and resolve.
Alam ko na kayo as an organization, as well as those in your strong membership, have been moving in this direction even before the pandemic. We at the Office of the Vice President have partnered with so many NGOs who are also certified members of PCNC. Maliit lang ang opisina namin, kaya we look for partners in the private and development sector to fill in the gaps that we see in our communities. We seek out those who are willing to help, to lend their skills or resources—and in the last four years, the response has really been very positive. Nakita namin: Napakaraming gustong tumulong, hindi lang nila alam kung paano. So we served as a conduit between them and our areas on the ground, para madala doon ang mga programa nila.
For example, one of our ever-reliable partners is ANCOP Foundation, who has helped us in many of our relief operations and medical missions around the country, providing communities with health and livelihood support, among others. Partner din namin sila pagpagawa namin ng dorms sa Sumilao, Bukidnon. Sa tulong ng ANCOP, pati ng Rotary Club of Makati, eto ‘yung dormitories inside the public high school sa Sumilao, Bukidnon na ginawa namin so that students won’t have to walk several kilometers each day just to go to school. There are groups like the Philam Foundation, of course the Federation of Filipino Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FFCCCII), AGAPP Foundation, who have helped us build classrooms for our students, so now they have a conducive place for learning. We also found partners in Pilipinas Shell Foundation, who brought their Integrated Farming Bio Systems Program to our areas in Iloilo and in Bukidnon. With the help of TEAM Energy, we’ve been able to energize communities in remote areas such as Agutaya in Palawan, so that people would have electricity in their homes already. Recently, we collaborated with Coca-Cola Foundation Philippines, to bring our Workshop for Aspiring Women Entrepreneurs to Luzon, providing seed grants to our nanay participants so they can jumpstart their businesses. We had similar initiatives already in the past years—in Mindanao, we held it in Zamboanga; and in the Visayas, which was done in Bohol.
And even in the time of COVID-19, many organizations and individuals from the private sector partnered with us to bring our response efforts to more communities around the country. Sa membership ninyo, we are thankful to find partners in the Jaime Ongpin Foundation, who donated masks, hazmat suits and other protective gear, para sa mga tinutulungan nating frontliners and communities. Partner din natin sila sa pagtayo ng Community Learning Hubs, isa sa mga projects namin ngayon na nakatutok sa distance learning needs. The Jollibee Group Foundation, who is also a partner in many of our livelihood projects pre-COVID-19, also has been helping us with hot meals, which we distribute to both frontliners and poor communities.
These are just some of the examples; marami pa actually na mga grupo ang nakikipagtulungan sa amin para mapunan ang mga kailangan punan at gawin ang kailangan gawin. We are inspired to work with them… because we work with organizations like yours who are tireless and generous in serving others. You found ways around the many obstacles and quickly adapted to the crisis before us, all while strengthening and supporting each other even during a crisis of this magnitude.
These extraordinary times ask so much of us, and yet, most of you rose to the occasion, reflecting compassion for others through service. It takes a lot of courage to move forward at a time like this; kaya sobrang saludo kami sa determinasyon ng marami sa inyo, na despite the threats to our health and safety, talagang desidido pa rin to help our fellow Filipinos.
And this is exactly how we remain resilient and relevant in times of crisis. In your line of work, second nature na siguro ito sa inyo: Being bridges where you can, fostering meaningful relationships, expanding your reach to cover more ground, helping more communities along the way. At dahil sa lawak ng saklaw ng inyong malasakit, mas lalong marami tayong naaabot—lalong dumadami ang naiaangat natin, lalong dumadami ang gumiginhawa ang buhay.
Pinapatunayan nito na magkakarugtong ang diwa natin. The suffering of one redounds to the suffering of all; just as the progress of the last, the least, and the lost redounds to the progress of all. Sa parehong paraan na we are bound by this crisis, we are also tethered to each other by our collective aspirations and a collective resolve to achieve these.
This is exactly what humanity needs today—more of us to do the work and build a future kung saan lahat nasisilungan, lahat natutulungan, lahat naaaruga. More of us to deepen collaborations and find even more ways to move forward. Kaya parati ko itong sinasabi: Tuloy lang; laban lang. Despite the many adversities, humugot tayo ng lakas sa isa’t isa. Always, we look beside us—or in this case, to the people on your screens—and find strength in numbers; strength as more of us find solutions, more of us take action. And if today’s event is any indication, napakarami na ninyo sa inyong hanay na ginagawa ito. Hindi lang kayo tumutulong, pero naghahanap pa rin ng iba pa nating makakasama sa laban na ito.
The virus will be with us for a while, unfortunately. As leaders and advocates, our next steps should be clear: We have to be more agile and find ways to constellate our efforts para mas marami pa ang maabot ng mga ginagawa natin. Magset-up ng mga meaningful gatherings tulad nito, even amongst yourselves, to talk about how your organizations’ best practices… how these can help others. Find your commonalities and look for specific areas kung saan pwede tayong magtulungan. Some of you may have the skills and products, while some have needs and markets na kailangang i-tap. Find ways to connect and link up para mas maraming gaps ang mapupunan natin. Kasi sa panahon na ‘to, parang no sense na magkanya-kanya tayo sa laki ng problema before us.
Isa rin sa aral, isa sa learnings namin ngayong pandemic, is to use technology to our advantage. Harness it to speed up and scale up: Baka may mga app or platforms na existing na, na ginagamit ng ilan sa inyo within your organizations. Tell others about it, share your data; better yet, level-off with everyone para ma-standardize and framework na ‘to, para mas maraming data ang makuha at maging mas matibay ang pundasyon ng paggawa ng mga desisyon sa hinaharap.
Malaki ang hamon, totoo; pero gaya ng lagi kong sinasabi, palaging mas malaki ang pagkakataon. In difficulties, there are always opportunities: To find ways to thrive, to be resilient and relevant, and to build a better normal for all. So sa akin, pagpapasalamat—pagpapasalamat for being there in the many years that has swept the country away. Thank you for your steadfastness. Thank you for your compassion and generosity of spirit. Hangad ko na sana kahit napakahirap ng panahon, hindi kayo mawalan ng the same drive, the same energy na pinakita niyo nitong nakalipas na panahon. Kasi now more than ever, our country needs you, [it] needs us to do the work. So laban lang tayo—we are here to partner with you, we are here to be of help. So good luck in the coming months, good luck in the years ahead sa trabaho niyo.
Maraming salamat sa pakikiisa ninyo sa agenda nating ito. Panatag ang loob ko, na dahil kayo ang kasama nating nagpapanday ng kinabukasan, mas abot-kamay natin [ito] lahat. So mabuhay po kayong lahat! Be safe, everyone. Take care of yourselves so we can serve others better.