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    When Light Comes Again

    Speech at the ANCOP USA Charity Ball

    MGM National Harbor, Maryland USA

    delivered on 31 August 2019

    Mr. Roger Santos, President of ANCOP Foundation USA; all the members of ANCOP Foundation USA and the representatives of the other organizations present here today; ladies and gentlemen, magandang gabi sa inyong lahat.

    It is always pure joy and a deep sense of honor for me to grace ANCOP’s events and activities inasmuch as when my late husband was still alive, we have been active members of the Couples for Christ. [applause] We joined Couples for Christ in 1992 and we were members until the day he died.

    Few things can fill my heart with more warmth than the sight of our countrymen, even those already living in faraway shores such as you, gathering together in a beautiful night such as this, for the benefit of those who have been both literally and figuratively left behind. That in the relative comforts of your new lives, you still think about those who are suffering back home is a testament to who we are as Filipinos at our very core. Brothers and sisters who will never stop caring; members of one flock who will never stop believing in the potential of our people and our motherland.

    This faith in the Filipino people is at times difficult to cultivate. There are many things in the news that may be frustrating for all of us. There are tidbits of information that we hear from our friends and family members that may shake our confidence in the goodness of our brethren back home.

    But let me tell you this: In the past three years that we have been in office, we have come across hundreds of stories that shape what we know of the plight of our fellowmen, their struggles and their triumphs, their failures and their strengths, and the kind of help that will truly empower them and transform their lives.

    These are the stories that bring us hope. That compel us to action. That encourage us to strive harder and never give up. We constantly listen to our people—not primarily with our ears but with our hearts—especially those who are marginalized and disenfranchised. When we strive to witness the struggles of their everyday toil, our convictions are strengthened: we do not just have a responsibility to do something. It is our privilege to be in a position to help.

    The Office of the Vice President, as many of you know, is small. We are limited not only by our mandate as stated in the Philippine Constitution, but more so by our resources. Nevertheless, I told my staff, we cannot sit idly by performing ceremonial functions as nothing but a “spare tire.” Six years is too long to do nothing relevant.

    So we conceptualized Angat Buhay, an anti-poverty program that would allow us to reach communities in need, with the help of development organizations and private partners, such as yours.

    Right from the beginning, trust became our most powerful ally. We evolved into a clearinghouse of programs that aims to attack poverty in its most crippling form, because those who needed help were looking for empowerment, not just aid. And those who approached us with resources were looking for partners, not just beneficiaries.

    This was a more challenging journey for many communities, because truth be told, it is much easier to do one-time, big-time projects for feel-good events, compared with the complicated work of training a community to be self-sufficient. But we persevered. And so far, we have mobilized more than 351 million pesos worth of programs and interventions, for more than 405,000 beneficiaries in 211 cities and municipalities nationwide. A total of 347 partner organizations and individuals have committed themselves to our program.[1]

    Compared with the budget of big corporations, international development organizations, and the administration, this is just a drop in the bucket. But no one can put a price on the transformation and empowerment that is happening in these communities. They are truly priceless.

    For over a year now, ANCOP USA has been instrumental in our work to uplift people’s lives and fight the more critical war of extreme poverty in our adopted communities. From the very first day that ANCOP and the Office of the Vice President began their journey together, it is clear that we are enjoined by the same purpose, which is to answer the call of the poor. You have been one of our most trusted partners, and on behalf of every Filipino family you have helped, thank you for your kindness and generosity.

    At this point, we will be showing you a short video of what ANCOP and how ANCOP has been helping our communities. [ANCOP video plays] [applause]

    Ayon, that is the first instalment video. There is one more at the end of the speech. For me personally, what is most touching about the assistance that you provide through Angat Buhay is how these have made a world of difference in the lives of the people you help.

    Imagine the difficulty of parents of children with cerebral palsy in bringing them to regular checkups. Some are already too big or too grownup to be carried, but these loving mothers and fathers carried their children anyway. The hip seats and carriers you have provided have allowed them huge relief in bringing their loved ones to the clinics and hopefully to other places that will give them better quality of life—like a chance to experience the sight of a butterfly for instance or the magic of a sunrise in a park.

    The nebulizers and other medical apparatus you have given have allowed parents to give first aid in their homes. This means the world especially to those who live far from health facilities, and provide a much-needed comfort for those who have to endure the trip to bring their children to the hospital.

    A remote municipality in San Remigio, Cebu now has a functioning mental health facility, thanks to the x-ray machine and medicines you have donated. In fact being the only existing mental health facility in Northern Cebu, neighboring communities have started hearing about this facility and some patients from nearby municipalities are already being brought there when they need help.

    Not only that, a hospital in a mountainous barangay in Naga now has enough equipment to cater to the needs of patients in its vicinity. Because of the medical supplies and vitamins you have provided, we have improved the quality of life of many of our kababayans back home, including senior citizens and the urban poor. We have also been able to save many lives and rescue trapped residents during the floods caused by the monsoons and the typhoons, thanks to the rubber boats you gave us back in 2018.

    Indeed, no help is too small. With every help you have given, people’s eyes light up and their smiles beam with happiness and gratitude.

    But like we always say, there is still so much to be done. As we celebrate the fruits of our partnership, another opportunity to help opens up. Children in remote communities are dropping out of school, not because they find it hard to wake up in the morning, or because the lessons are too hard, or due to bullying and other big concerns in some big cities. They are dropping out because even if they wake up at three o-clock every morning, they reach their school late, hungry, and tired because they live so far away from their place of learning and have to walk because either of the absence of roads or the inaccessibility to public transport.

    So we started asking ourselves: What kind of future is in store for our youth, if this is what they have to go through every day, just to get to school? If we truly believe that the youth represent hope for the FUTURE, it is our responsibility to give them the tools they need TODAY so that they can save our divided and conflicted world. That is best done through quality education.

    In Siayan, Zamboanga del Norte in Mindanao, the poorest municipality in the country from 2003 to 2009, students walk steep slopes and cross rivers that swell during the rainy season. Last month, our Angat Buhay team joined one of the students on his trek home from school; it took them almost three hours to reach their house after climbing at least two mountains to get there.

    Dormitories have been the most urgent and effective solution. Through the help of The Yellow Boat of Hope Foundation and the Metrobank Foundation, we have built one dormitory for boys and another for girls. These dorms are currently home to 60 students of Siayan National High School, who now have time to rest and focus on their studies because they now live inside the campus. The students live in the dorms rent-free and follow a daily schedule that includes chores and study time. One mother gave a sigh of relief when we visited; ang sabi niya: “Hindi na namin kailangan mag-alala kapag naglalakad sila, lalo na kapag gabi,” she said. The principal of the school also told us that the attendance rate of the students have dramatically improved since the dorms were put up.

    In another one of our adopted communities, Balangkayan in Eastern Samar, the feet of the students are protected only by their frail and overused rubber slippers, as they walk many kilometers of muddy paths to reach school. The children are so eager to learn, that they wake up before dawn breaks to travel the hard roads. By the time they reach the campus, however, they are exhausted. This affects their academic performance; hence absenteeism becomes widely prevalent.

    Last week, we went back to Balangkayan to turnover dormitories for the students of Balangkayan National High School, and the students of Matarinao School of Fisheries in Salcedo, also in Eastern Samar. One of the dormers in Salcedo is Amara, a Grade 12 student, who used to pack her uniform in a plastic bag so it won’t get wet during her six-kilometer trek to school. Another student, Jesseca, a Grade 11 student who dreams of becoming a flight attendant, used to walk nine kilometers for two hours each way with her sister. Despite their fear of the long walks, especially at night when it gets dark, Jesseca persevered. Ang sabi niya po sa amin: “Edukasyon lang kasi ang pag-asa namin para makaahon sa hirap.” Now, Amara and Jesseca won’t have to suffer every day, because they are now living rent-free in the dormitories. [applause]

    Seeing how their stories and lives have been transformed, we are inspired and motivated to reach out to more communities, especially those in the far-flung areas who feel that they have already been forgotten by the government and the world around them.

    Take for example Sumilao, a small town in the mountainous regions of Bukidnon in Mindanao. Geographically, Sumilao is surrounded by mounds of high land, canyons and plantations sprawling in the horizon, unfolding into picturesque views. Hindi ko alam kung sino dito iyong taga-Mindanao, but anyone who is from Mindanao would agree that Bukidnon is very beautiful. Sumilao rests at the foot of Mt. Kitanglad, the fourth highest mountain peak in the Philippines. It gets its name from a Bukidnon phrase “Kon sumilaw da”, which means “when light comes again”—a phenomenon that happens every afternoon in the sleepy town, as heavy rains clear the sky just before the sun sets.

    This weather and terrain are just some of the challenges that students of Sumilao National High School-Vista Villa Annex are forced to face. They are sons and daughters of farmers, who are forced to walk 13 kilometers each way every day to get to school, passing through raging rivers and rocky roads. The only public transport is a modified motorcyle called habal-habal, which costs a very prohibitive 120 pesos each way. It is a price too expensive for the children and their families, kaya naglalakad na lang imbis na mag-habal-habal. Because of this, the province has a very high dropout rate.

    We have been to Sumilao many times already to give livelihood trainings and farm inputs to farmers. But we have also been able to build a dormitory for girls in Sumilao National High School, with the help of the Rotary Club of Makati, but there is an urgent need for a dormitory for boys also. We hope that just like Siayan, the dropout rate will lessen when the dormitories are built, and more students will be motivated to pursue their studies. We want to comfort the parents of these dormers, so that they won’t have to worry about their children traveling long distances. We want to nurture students’ love for learning, so that they will be ready to conquer the world when the time comes.

    Together, we can work hand in hand to answer the call of our people in need. To keep the light shining, not only in Sumilao but in many different parts of the country. We need to be able to set aside our differences, go beyond our usual circles, and discover ways to reach out to others. By empowering one family or one child, and giving them the opportunities to thrive, we are changing the lives of not just one family—we are creating an impact that ripples through an entire community. That as we lift each other up, we are showing our entire nation that we can be so much more.

    When we first approached ANCOP USA to ask for help in providing for medical equipment back home in Camarines Sur, you did not—for one second—hesitate. The fact that you are holding this fundraising for the second time, this time for the youth of Sumilao, fills our heart with gratitude. We truly cannot thank you enough for the trust and generosity that you give to our communities back home. We hope that we can keep doing this, together, in many more projects in the future and many more organizations outside of ANCOP USA.

    Angat Buhay has led us to create wonderful bridges of partnerships with organizations such as yours, and in the process, we have come to know the true meaning of bayanihan. That as we answer the call of the last, the least and the lost of our brothers and sisters, we are keeping the spirit of hope and resilience in our beloved country alive.

    So muli, taos-puso po kaming pagpapasalamat sa bawat isa sa inyo. Mabuhay po kayong lahat! [applause]

    Posted in Speeches on Sep 01, 2019