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    Why I Keep On Fighting

    Message at the 57th Annual Induction and Installation of Officers of JCI QC Capitol

    One Shangri-La Place, Mandaluyong City

    Cong. Alfred Vargas, 2017 JCI QC Capitol President; Mr. Glenn Jude Rufino, 2018 JCI QC Capitol President; Mr. Rey Felix Rafols, 2018 JCI Philippines National President and the National Board; JCI Senators; 2018 Infinity Presidents; past presidents; members of the JCI QC Capitol and other chapters; honored guests; ladies and gentlemen: Magandang gabi po sa inyong lahat!

    First of all, let me congratulate JCI QC Capitol’s new set of officers. You fill big shoes, because all of those who occupied your position in the past, did their best to uphold JCI’s long history of volunteerism and civic duty. But I am sure that you will do well in your new roles, and that each and every one of you present here tonight will give the same support you have given to the past leadership, my inaanak, Cong. Alfred Vargas, who has done a lot in the past year to widen the membership of JCI QC Capitol.

    In my youth, I was a part of the JCI family myself. I was a member of the Naga City Junior Jaycees and spent many of my college summers serving a very poor community in Gainza, Camarines Sur that we adopted. I remember we also manned registration booths and served as water boys and girls whenever the Naga City Jaycees had official events. Naalala ko nga po, in Naga, every summer, mayroong inter-civic club sportsfest. Ako iyong forever na player sa darts ng Junior Jaycees. Nananalo naman. Those days were a mixture of fun and hard work as they were exercises in leadership, discipline, empathy, and compassion.

    My husband, Jesse, himself was fortunate to be at the receiving end of JCI’s trust and generosity. In 1990, at the age of 32, Jesse was nominated and awarded as one of the country’s Ten Outstanding Young Men. In 1994, we attended the JCI World Congress in Kobe, Japan, where he was awarded as one of the Ten Outstanding Young Persons of the World, again, upon the nomination of the Naga City Jaycees. These awards are already institutions in our society—well -known, prestigious, respected, and relevant—because they shine a light on real innovators and disruptors, those who practice their professions with utmost dedication, in service to the communities around them. This is what Jaycees is all about.

    The values that you espouse are values we greatly need in our world today. Societies around the world seem to be drowning in hate speech, frustration, anger, and divisiveness. We cannot stand by and just watch these emotions consume our people and our nation. We need to do something to help change the conversation.

    So in November of 2016, the Office of the Vice President launched a program called Istorya ng Pag-Asa, an attempt to replace all of the negativity around us with stories of hope. We have struggled, but have successfully defied all odds, in searching for stories of hope and triumph among those that would otherwise be ignored and unappreciated.

    As we went around the country and collaborated with different groups and stakeholders, we found these stories and they validated our belief in the strength and resilience of the Filipino spirit. We realized that these stories could become a unifying force among our people who are currently fed up with fake news and hate speech. We needed to tell their stories; we needed to make the country take notice.

    Since a picture tells a thousand words, we decided to turn these stories into a traveling photo exhibit that would be featured in malls, universities, and other public areas around the country. We designed events around these photo exhibits, and I myself traveled with them to personally present the stories of hope to the public. We would bring along the heroes in these stories themselves, so that people could feel with more power what kind of force lies at the core of the Filipino spirit. It was touching to see the tears and the inspiration that flow freely during these events.

    After a year, we decided to intensify our campaign, by asking for help from our partners on how to reach a wider audience. We are moving forward to the next stage and we are very excited. I personally met with the Zobel brothers, Jaime Augusto and Fernando, who liked the idea of spreading positivity and hope to counter the darkness that is all around us today.

    So, last November 27, as we celebrated our first year anniversary, we launched the Istorya ng Pag-Asa Short Film Festival in partnership with the Ayala Foundation, at the Ayala Museum. Now, we are currently collating entries for the Gala and Awarding Night on June 12. Those who want to join can send us three to five-minute videos of extraordinary stories of hope from ordinary people, and these don’t have to be professionally done. Puwede po ang amateurs. The winning entries would of course receive cash prizes, but aside from that, their films would be shown in Ayala Cinemas nationwide. Isn’t that a great opportunity to spread stories of hope? If you know of friends who might want to join, there is still time.

    In fact, some JCI Chapters are already partnering with us for our Istorya ng Pag-Asa program, and we are very grateful for their enthusiastic participation. JCI Zugbuana in Cebu City, JCI Sunflower in Baguio, and of course, JCI Cariñosa in Naga City, are all helping us connect with different stakeholders to find all of these extraordinary stories of hope.

    JCI has always been involved in these kinds of programs. I remember that many years ago, when I was the President of the Naga City Council of Women, we collaborated with the Naga Cariñosa Jaycees to create the Maogmang Nagueña Awards, which recognized awesome Nagueñas who had to hurdle tremendous odds but have emerged triumphant.

    The work that JCI has done to inspire hope among our people, and now the work that JCI chapters are doing for Istorya ng Pag-Asa will have long-term implications. That’s because all of you are vanguards of our country’s youth, at a time when, as The Economist said in its latest issue, “global conflict on a scale and intensity not seen since the second world war is once again plausible.”

    Our world today is facing uncertainty on all fronts. For one, the play of hard and soft power between major countries of the world has once again made nuclear war a possibility. Can you imagine drones and robots figuring greatly in a war among men? That might not be far off and I am not even talking about the next Marvel movie. Great strides in military technology have turned drones and robots into tools for achieving hegemony by brute force.

    Second is that climate change, technology, and the vibrance of free markets — they are all changing the way people in different corners of the world live. In a couple of years, many of those who are in school today will be doing jobs our minds currently cannot comprehend.

    Yet, in the face of all of these, certain truths remain: We need each other to survive. We do better when we do things together. The evolution and progress of our society depends on the ability of innovators and outliers to disrupt the way we do things. Last but most important of all is the most-revered Jaycee tenet: “Service to humanity is the best work of life.”

    This life was never meant to be lived alone. Although doing things together can sometimes make things more complicated, taking the effort to reach a consensus always pays off.

    This is the story of Naga City where I come from, which, for many years now, has been recognized as a model for collaboration. This is now the evolving narrative of the Office of the Vice President as well. Although, as you may know, our office has one of the smallest budgets among government agencies and organizations, we decided that we cannot stand by doing nothing for six years except become a spare tire and attend ceremonial events.

    So, with our meager resources, we decided to put up Angat Buhay, a program dedicated to fighting the war against poverty. Angat Buhay’s interventions in food security and nutrition, universal health care, public education, women empowerment, housing and resettlement, and rural development, are all done in an inclusive manner, centered on the belief that beneficiaries are partners of development, not merely recipients of aid.

    As we went around the country in the course of implementing Angat Buhay, we found inspiration in the lives of the people our programs have touched. The story of Agutaya in Northern Palawan is one of my favorites. To get to Agutaya, you have to take a 10-hour boat ride from Coron, and that boat travels to Agutaya only twice a week. This means that the nearest health care facility of everyone in Agutaya is a 10-hour boat ride away, reachable only twice a week.

    About a year ago, I went to Brgy Diit, Agutaya to visit for the first time. When I got there, I was very touched to see people crying —from the children lined up to meet us, to the parents, to the Mayor who welcomed us warmly. It turns out that their remote location has made it difficult for people in government to go to their place, and our visit made them feel that government cares.

    At the onset, it was obvious that Agutaya’s beaches could rival the best beaches in the world. But ironically, the poverty of the people there told a story of lack and neglect. There was no electricity anywhere on Brgy. Diit, there was very little source of potable water, and its only school had been ravaged by Yolanda years ago and remained unrepaired. The fishermen lost their boats during the typhoon, so to be able to fish and earn a living, they had to pay to rent a boat. Many of the children were stunted, a condition caused by severe malnutrition which affects the mind as well as the body, and is irreversible after the first five years of life. Guess what passed off as their toys? Real, live crabs tied to a string.

    In Brgy. Maracañao, also in Agutaya, we met Nanay Mildred, a bubbly woman in her 50s. Like most women from her barangay, Nanay Mildred is a farmer by day and a weaver by night. On most evenings, Nanay Mildred and her friends would weave hats and baskets under the moonlight because the entire island did not have electricity. Hearing her story left us with broken hearts, so we promised to return with help.

    Our team has returned to Agutaya several times since my first visit. We were accompanied by representatives from our partners, like ASA Philippines who installed 120 solar panels in Brgy. Diit, and Team Energy who installed 149 solar panels in Brgy. Maracañao and Brgy. Matarawis, lighting up around 400 households in the area.

    You can imagine the wonder and excitement in the people’s eyes when solar panels were installed in their houses and they were taught how to maintain them. After a few months, we were told that women weavers like Nanay Mildred now produce more hats and bags because they can work even after the sun goes down. Their products are now being sold in nearby Amanpulo and other Aman luxury hotels all over the world.

    But that is not all. Another Angat Buhay partner, the Andres Soriano Foundation, who was with us during the first visit, had health caravans, livelihood trainings, and water testing so that a Water System Level II could be put up as soon as possible. The St. Theresa’s Alumni Association donated motorized boats for the fishermen and Children’s Hour and Canvass PH gave books and school kits.

    As for the live crab, it is still a well-loved toy, but the children now also enjoy other educational toys donated by the Philippine Toy Library, which give them a window to the world beyond Agutaya’s beaches.

    We also met Mocrimah Abdulrahman Mohammad, a 26- year-old aspiring teacher from Brgy. Dayawan in Marawi City. When we visited her community in March last year, we discussed ways on how they can produce more landap – a traditional Maranao textile known for its vibrant and colorful design. Plans of selling the cloth to bigger markets were already on the way. But in less than two months, the Marawi siege took place. Mocrimah and her loved ones were left with no choice but to escape.

    Through the generosity of our partners, Metrobank Foundation and the Negros Volunteers for Change, our Marawi women weavers now have sewing equipment and capital to rebuild their lives.

    We are also about to begin an Angat Buhay Village in Marawi City, with 100 housing units in a one-hectare property for families whose houses were totally damaged during the siege. Aside from roofs over their heads, the village will have a community center, a mosque, a temporary learning center, water and electric supply, livelihood opportunities, good access roads, and vegetable gardens for food security. This project is fully funded by our private partners, not a single peso coming from the national government. We are scheduled to turn over the units to the beneficiaries by May of this year, before the anniversary of the Marawi siege.

    There are many other communities like Agutaya under our Angat Buhay program, and they all show that extraordinary results are possible even with limited resources. The model of empowerment and inclusivity works. This is how we transform our nation; this is how we build unity.

    There are an increasing number of organizations that are partnering with us and we would also like to invite you to be part of our work. And the good news is, our National President would already be meeting tomorrow, Georgina Hernandez, who heads our Angat Buhay program in our office. So, thank you very much.

    Whether to adopt communities or use the power of volunteerism to bring change to the last, the least, and the lost, we promise that this experience will allow you to see our nation in a different way. In a much better, hopeful way.

    These are the reasons why we keep on fighting. You probably know that my travails as Vice President continues every day, but I find comfort in the knowledge that in many of these places, we are changing the nation one barangay and one municipality and one life at a time. Service to humanity is truly the best work of life.

    Remember this, ladies and gentlemen, as you ponder on your programs for the year. The work of nation building is a work for giants among men and I see many giants among you. I am grateful for your commitment to our nation, your creativity and innovation, and your desire to change the course of our nation’s history. As partners, you bring so much knowledge, expertise, and inspiration, to the table.

    So, thank you all for all that you do for our beloved country. We look forward to partnering with you in the coming months and in the coming years.

    Congratulations to everyone! Magandang gabi pong muli sa inyong lahat!

    Posted in Speeches on Feb 01, 2018