VPSD Speech for the International Women's Day and National Women's Month Philippine Commission on Women

Event Date and Time: March 8, 2023, at 9:30 am



Magandang umaga sa inyong lahat.

I am truly humbled and honored to be in the presence of Filipinas who are making an incredible impact in the lives of our fellow Filipinas — especially those who have less in life and those who are feeling lost in their battle against discrimination, in their fight for equal rights and opportunities, or in their struggle and suffering from sexual and other forms of abuses committed against women and young girls.

I just have something to share with you — a recent experience about being a woman leader, a woman in a high-ranking position. But I have to tell you that I never saw myself by my gender, I never presented myself ever when I campaign, when I go out and talk to people and say na, “Piliin ninyo ako because I am a woman.” I never show myself by my gender. I only see myself as a person, an individual with my unique qualities.

In fact, there was an FGD that was conducted for me and it revealed there that people do not vote for me because I am a woman, and more men voted for me than women. Surprisingly, there was an FGD that was conducted for me before I ran as Vice President. When I sit on a stage, enter a room and attend an event, I do not look out if ako lang ba ang babae dito — I do not see it that way.

Before I share my thoughts about this gathering's theme, let me say that the work that you do truly inspire many of us to continue our own initiatives to serve, help, and assist other women to become empowered, to become free, and become women who are giving other women the strength, the support, and the reason to pursue a better life for themselves and their loved ones.

Kahanga-hanga po ang inyong ginagawa para sa mga kababaihan.

At hindi po matatawaran ang epekto ng inyong ginagawa sa mga komunidad.

Gaya po ninyo, naniniwala rin ako na kapag ang mga kababaihan sa isang komunidad ay nabigyan ng pagkakataong maging produktibo, kapag sila ay nabigyan ng edukasyon at nagkaroon ng kapangyarihan ng kaalaman, at kapag sila ay nahasa na mamuno, kaya po nilang baguhin ang mukha ng kanilang komunidad.

Let me cite as an example in the far-flung community in Davao City called Paquibato District.

I’m sure you’ve heard of this. This [area] is the stronghold of the New People’s Army in Davao City for the longest time since the 1980s, the 1990s, the 2000s until 2016 when I came back as city mayor of Davao City. It has always been impenetrable. It's a community of lumads that gradually deteriorated while it was under the influence of the New People's Army.

Most children of Paquibato were uneducated and malnourished growing up. But they had always been prepared to join the underground movement even when they were barely in their teens.

Their fathers — if not farmers, could also be members of the armed group.

Mostly, the women, their mothers, were the workers while the men were lurking around, ready for a gun battle in case government forces arrived.

For generations, the lumads of Paquibato lived in a cycle of violence that robbed them of their right to live peacefully.

It was a cycle of violence that also stripped them of many opportunities — education for children, literacy for women, livelihood, and employment for the men.

While it is a far-flung village, Paqubato's land is fertile. But because it was controlled by the armed group, there was no development. The roads were craggy, there were no bridges, no schools, no health center, no government presence — just a people isolated from the rest of the world.

But we can't allow such an injustice to happen to Paquibato forever.

Something happened in the early months when I came back as mayor in Davao City, and that changed my perspective on what to do in Paquibato. I said, “Nakakahiya naman sa mga Dabawenyo. kung magiging mayor ako and Paquibato will be Paquibato in the 1980s and lahat kami dito sa baba, we are in the year 2016. Nakakahiya sa kanila at sa mga Dabawenyo.”

Hindi ko gusto na matapos ang term ko as mayor and then they will say na, “Ano ba sa amin ang pagiging mayor mo? Wala namang nagbago sa buhay namin dito.”

So I thought I had to make decisive actions in the hope of finding solutions to the root cause of the problems hounding the community for decades.

We did an innovation — we introduced Peace 911, a government-initiated but civilian-led peace initiative that required people to help us help themselves.

One of the components of the program was to teach lumad women to grow and produce organic vegetables properly. It was something new to them.

It required them to become organized. It demanded their time, their attention, their commitment.

And it also required them to know what they were doing.

The women backyard farmers were taught basic financial literacy and part of the program was to establish a market for their farm products. This did not come without challenges. But we made it happen.

Helping us assist the empowerment of women in Paquibato was another empowered woman — a powerhouse of strength, and many of you here may be familiar with her particularly in the work of peace — Ms. Inday Irene Santiago.

Her long experience with peace-building in Mindanao and in dealing with people at the grassroots helped us slowly change the landscape of chaos in Paquibato into a landscape of peace.

Right before I stepped down as mayor last year in 2022, Davao City, after decades, was considered as an insurgency-free city. I will just have to say na dahil nadaanan namin ‘yun, tinapon namin ang decades-long problem in Paquibato District in 4 years, I think sustaining the peace in the area is more difficult than gaining the peace. Dahil ngayon, pag iniisip ko ang Paquibato, siguro in a snap of fingers, baka bumalik agad ang problema. It’s really very fragile doon.

At the forefront of this fight were the women of Paquibato who allowed us to help them.

We owe it to them.

Apparently, they were tired, exasperated, and fed up with the so-called protracted war waged beguilingly in the name of the Indigenous Peoples.

Those women, unlike all of us here, may not have access to advanced technology and innovations.

They may not fully understand things about the internet or Facebook or Twitter or how their transistor radio works.

But those women — they embraced a version of technology and innovation that was applicable and effective to change their lives and their community.

Surely there are many other Paquibatos in the entire country — communities that need technological interventions to address existing structures of violence, including the lack of basic education infrastructures for children and their mothers.

I grew up in Mindanao, and naalala ko ‘yung kwento sa giyera sa Maguindanao. Usually natitigil ang klase pag mayroong firefight between the government forces and the rebels. Pag wala na, babalik na ‘yung mga bata. And sometimes, they stay in tents tattered with bullets kasi hindi na useful ang kanilang mga classrooms dahil nasira na ng mga bala at bomba.

Nakikita ng mga educators na hindi lang ang mga bata ang nakaupo doon sa mga tents, sumasama rin ang kanilang mga nanay dahil they were deproved of the opportunity to learn and ang maganda doon ay gusto rin nilang matuto kasama ng kanilang mga anak.

Today, it is important for us to advocate for an inclusive digital education that will provide opportunities for women and girls to overcome any inequality affecting their development and involvement in the community.

I am glad that we have started implementing programs, such as the Innovations for Women Enterprises or iWomen Project which provides technical assistance to women micro-entrepreneurs.

We also have the Women-Helping-Women: Innovating Social Enterprises (WHWise) Program that helps prepare women-led social enterprises for growth, scalability, and subsequent venture capital funding.

This year, and after this event, I will proceed to Laguna because the Office of the Vice President will implement the Mag Negosyo Ta 'Day program nationwide. It is an entrepreneurship program for women, and then we expanded it to LGBTQI+ members, and other underprivileged sectors.

It is my earnest desire that the nationwide roll-out will help stimulate entrepreneurial activities, create employment, and contribute to our post-pandemic recovery.

Meanwhile, as we narrow the gender gap to digital accessibility, let us not forget to strengthen our protection mechanisms for Filipinas, including girls, from all kinds of violence committed against them at home, in their workplaces, and in online communities.

Ending domestic violence may be insurmountable — but not impossible.

The Department of Education is committed to protecting the rights of children in basic education.

We have strengthened our Child Protection mechanism and launched the Learner Telesafe Contact Center national hotline where our learners can report cases of abuse including online child sexual exploitation.

On this note, allow me to acknowledge the support of our civil society partners who steadfastly provide psychosocial and legal support for victims of child abuse and human trafficking, an abhorrent practice that continues to violate our people's basic human rights and dignity.

DepEd is also making sure that teenage mothers who have dropped out of formal school to take care of their children are provided with a second chance to finish basic education and pursue their dreams through the Alternative Learning System or pursue technical skills training through our TESDA programs.

Alam niyo, very recently, I visited Pikit National High School in North Cotabato. Pumunta ako doon dahil nawala ang ating mga learners. When I say the data, only 63% are coming to school. I had to go to listen to the interviews with the principal. I told him, “You’re doing it wrong. We understand that the children are in fear and do not wanted to go to school. But that’s not how you do it. You’re at 63%, and you need to be at 100%, so you implement your ADMs or Alternative Delivery Modes, your Blended Learning Programs. You say, we understand that you are afraid to go to school. But you need to continue with your modules at home until you are ready to come to school.”

So I had to explain that to them. And since this is a high school, kinausap ko ‘yung mga estudyante. Kasi tinanong ko ‘yung mga principal, “Apart from fear because of the peace and order problems, bakit hindi pumapasok ang mga estudyante?” Sabi niya, “They get pregnant.” I said, “So what did you do?” Sabi niya, “I offered them the open university.”

I also talked to the students. Sabi ko, “The best thing for you is abstinence. But in reality, you don’t observe absitinence kasi nangyayari talaga siya.” I also said, “Then what did you do when you’re sexually active?” So I had to tell them that when you are sexually active, you need to go to a health worker and you need to go to a doctor. Ask that doctor what should you do if you’re sexually active.”

These are 15, 16 years olds. And they are the age that are likely to get pregnant. I said, “Then what would you do?” There was one person who was brave enough to answer, “Muhunong ko ug skwela (I will stop my studies.” I said, “No. You shouldn’t stop going to school. You should ask your principal on what can they do to help you because you wanted to continue with your studies.”

“That is just anecdote. But I think that is the phase of our teenagers right now. So we make sure that they can enroll in ALS, they can enroll in open university, and they can do ADMs — the alternative delivery modes which is the blended learning programs which is one of the learnings that we had from the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Marcos administration's Philippine Development Plan for 2023 to 2028 is clear in its commitment to increase social protection programs and strengthen the implementation of laws protecting women in low-income households.

Let me emphasize that the pursuit of gender equality is not solely a women's issue.

Filipino men are encouraged and have been advocating for gender equality, too.

By helping women access economic opportunities, for example, we empower them to be financially independent, improve the standard of living of their families, and are better able to ensure the good health and education of their children.

It is my hope that by working hand in hand with this pursuit, we can provide more digital opportunities for socio-economic growth and gender empowerment and thereby enable women to rise above any form of online violence affecting their mental and physical well-being.

Let us stand together in our common aspirations for inclusive development and remain at the forefront of social transformation for the benefit of women, children, youth, and other vulnerable groups.

Today, may we honor Filipino women and Filipino women who tirelessly and selflessly serve their fellow men and country.

In terms of helping women, I just need to highlight the work of my mother who is practically raising my children so I can do more in my work, and I can be with you here this morning.

A happy National Women's Day to all of us.

Ang lahat ng ating ginagawa – para sa Diyos, sa Bayan, at sa bawat pamilyang Pilipino.