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    Coming Home to the Center

    10 August 2016

    Get Together and Meet with the University of the Philippines Association – San Francisco Chapter and other Filipino-American Communities, Kalayaan Hall, Philippine Center, San Francisco, USA, 08 August 2016

    What a wonderful sight it is to see you all here today. My “one percent crowd” who stood by me from the very beginning of the campaign when very few believed that we would win.

    The last time I saw you was in March last year. Who knew at that time that we would be where we are now?

    You stood your ground during a very emotional and taxing campaign, and because you did, you inspired me even more to do the same.

    Now, the work begins.

    Since we assumed office, we have made a consistent effort to visit far-flung barangays in the country on a listening journey. We seek to understand the people we serve. By walking the paths they traverse on a daily basis, we want them to know that we have not and will never forget the reason why we won the election, and that we truly aim to make a difference in their lives.

    But the business of making a difference does not lie solely in the territory of those in public office. For instance, I was inspired by the OFWs that came from Brgy. Pulong Anahao in Mabini, Batangas.

    There, we were able to meet and hold a dialogue with around 500 families of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs). And during our conversations, we were reacquainted with stories that illuminated the courage, persistence, and great sacrifices made by Filipinos who chose to live and make a living abroad.

    We discovered how these men and women have taken it upon themselves to create ripples of change by giving back to their community.

    When many of the residents started working in Italy, OFWs willingly contributed to the construction of an access road that linked the barangay to the rest of the municipality.

    Without asking any help from local government units, they organized, generated funds, and slowly improved the lives of their families back home.

    Before, the streets were lined up with simple homes made of nipa – but now, big concrete houses are sprouting one by one in the area; proud symbols of toil and resilience where they can rest and retire after years and even decades of hard work.

    The story of Brgy. Pulong Anahao is but one of many that highlights the Filipino’s deep love for family. Such generosity and willingness to sacrifice one’s self so that others may live comfortably define our inner core as a people.

    It is what drives us to excel and endure even in the most painful of circumstances. Hindi ba’t gagawin natin ang lahat upang mabigyan ng maganda at komportableng buhay ang ating mga minamahal?

    But beyond what is immediate and personal, this story also reminds us that no great distance or amount of time spent abroad can separate us from being Filipinos. That nothing can really detach us from the problems that affect the lives of our countrymen.

    That we will try as much as possible to be always updated and involved in how things are being run back home. That our hopes and dreams will always be directed towards the building of a better country.

    It is not surprising then that our OFWs have become more than just modern-day heroes – but also nation-builders.

    Looking at recent data, there are around 10.2 million Filipinos who work and live overseas. OFWs sent home $10.86 billion in the first five months of this year, still averaging more than $2 billion every month.

    Ironically, despite the huge remittance volume, the OFW community remains a marginalized sector. While a 10% increase per capita remittance leads to a 0.42% reduction in the proportion of families living less than the poverty threshold, studies show that remittances’ impact on addressing the depth and severity of poverty is still far from being felt.

    It is our hope that we are able to bring with us back to the CENTER of our attention those who may have left our homeland physically, but should always be part of the fold of the entire Filipino nation.

    You are in a unique position to make this happen. Here in the San Francisco Bay Area, you have been blessed more than other OFWs in the world. There is much talent here among FilAm scientists and engineers.

    But more importantly, I hear that there is much excitement and positive energy that is building among you, unheard of and unseen for quite some time. That positive energy can bring about more good than money itself.

    We need you in this work. There is much good that we can do if we work together. Just as you rolled up your sleeves at the start of the campaign, I hope that you would be willing to continue with us on this journey for our beloved nation.

    But how? Our experience in Naga has taught us that to give better services to our OFWs, we should engage them and provide a space where we can freely exchange ideas to understand their needs better.

    After all, the best solutions come from those who experience the problem firsthand.

    Thus, by mainstreaming migration issues in local development planning, the government’s response becomes more ‘localized’, tailor-fit and, in a way, more personal to the particular needs of the community. And for me, that kind of collaboration – between leaders and constituents – is what real, deeply-felt governance is all about.

    For instance, when the Naga City Migrant Resource Center or MRC was opened to the public in December 2015, it provided an efficient one-stop hub for OFWs, making it easier for applicants to process their passports, fix their employment papers and even have access to free legal services.

    It also spearheaded programs that offered training, skills matching and assessment of agencies to avoid victimization through illegal recruitment. After the OFW is deployed abroad, the family can visit the center whenever they would need to communicate with their loved one.

    They were also invited to training seminars that taught them how to save economically and set up their own small businesses. OFWs who return home will be encouraged to set up businesses and support the local economy, specifically in crucial areas such as agriculture, tourism and public infrastructure.

    Looking back at our days as an alternative lawyer working with the marginalized, we discovered that when we talk face-to-face and heart-to-heart with people, we bear witness to the realities that surround them and can respond quickly to the needs we have not yet addressed.

    Many times though, those who seek help and assistance do not know who to approach or where to go. This is where the establishment of specialized centers like the MRC becomes crucial.

    By providing a platform where government can reach out and attend to the immediate needs of its people even in far-flung areas, OFWs and their families are given the attention they deserve.

    Imagine if we are able to replicate this program and have more MRCs in cities and municipalities all over the country. It will not only facilitate greater coordination among local actors but also provide guidelines for the creation of policies at the national level.

    The task given to us now is much, much bigger and quite daunting, at times. But I know that we can overcome all of these challenges with your help.

    That is why I am now asking each and every one of you to join me, once again, in reaching out to the farthest corners of our society. By placing their concerns at the center, at the heart of every project and program we will initiate – we hope to address the various social inequalities and injustices that have been plaguing our nation for the past few decades.

    The Office of the Vice President is committed to changing the face of poverty in the next six years. We will be focusing on five key areas: hunger and food security, universal health care, rural development, education, and women empowerment. Within this framework, we also hope to work with other government agencies to address the growing needs of OFWs here and abroad.

    For example, according to the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA), many Filipinos in extreme poverty are still easily swayed and have become vulnerable to the sweet promises of illegal recruiters who offer them big sums of money to leave the country.

    This is a sad reality that continues to happen everyday, even in this digital age of information and social media. No Filipino should ever be a victim of illegal recruitment and human trafficking.

    We still have a long journey ahead of us, filled with endless possibilities and hopes for a better country. We are now at the forefront of improving the lives of our fellow Filipinos – can you imagine how much we can achieve in the next six years?

    So, let us strike while the iron is hot. Let us work together like the OFWs of Brgy. Pulong Anahao in building more roads and bridges that reach out and lead to those who need us the most – the lost, the least and the last who have long been excluded from society.

    Being a UP alumna myself, I know that you can come up with the most interesting and innovative solutions to our problems. Let us talk and collaborate. Let us discuss and participate. Let us give back to our country. Kaya po natin ito.

    One day, our OFWs will return home and I hope that by then, they will be welcomed back by a country where everyone is given equal opportunity and access to government services.

    That will not happen if we do not act now.

    Let’s bring every single Filipino to the center back home—if they choose to do so. Working and living overseas will then be a choice, more than a need.

    Maraming salamat po.

    Posted in Speeches on Aug 10, 2016