22 October 2016
Keynote Message at the UP School of Economics Alumni Homecoming, UPSE Grounds
Coming back to the UP School of Economics grips me with emotional dissonance…perhaps many of you feel the same.
On one hand, it makes me feel young, seeing and remembering scenes from our college days. On the other hand, so much has changed and I cannot help but feel the years that have indeed passed by when we were not looking.
It was here where I met my life heroes who taught me integrity as well as inflation, love for country on top of macroeconomics, a passion to unlock the solutions to poverty, not just understanding what it is or how to measure it.
Those who taught in the School of Economics are every bit more brilliant, more feisty, and more committed to a vision of prosperity for our people than ever before.
We graduated just a few months after the People Power Revolution, and I am sure my batchmates here will remember some of our Economics professors clearly. They were the fearless economists who wrote a white paper during my college years that could have gotten them into very deep trouble.
With the power of the pen and the elegance of figures, they painted the real truth of what was happening to our economy then, exposing the truths and the untruths of the former dictatorship.
They taught us not only about Economics, but about life, about courage, about passion and about standing up for what we believed in. During our last semester, we were allowed to join protests and we were taught that the streets were as important as our classrooms.
The biggest lessons I learned in college stemmed from their actions: that when we believe strongly about something, we stand up for it no matter how hard, no matter how dangerous, no matter how trenchant.
My four years in this university were so memorable, precisely because of the heroes that walked these halls. No wonder the UP School of Economics has always been the supplier of cabinet secretaries and government economists. Some of our best ones are being honored today, and it is truly my privilege to share the stage with them.
To a huge extent, my experiences in this university were the dots that connect me to where I am now. When I was in college, my life was all planned out. I planned to go straight to law school after graduation and become a lawyer like my father.
But my political awakening, which started with Ninoy’s assasination when I was a sophomore and which led to EDSA in my senior year, fueled my desire to work for govermment to contribute whatever I can to nation building.
I joined a government office in charge of Bicol Development and there met Jesse who became my husband of 25 years.
I lost Jesse four years ago, but I could not turn my back on the call to continue his life’s work and mission. Whatever I am now was not something I had wished for and dreamed of. But I will not turn my back on the mandate given to me, despite the difficulties.
The trust that people so freely give and the love of those I have never met before, they are my driving forces to achieve a vision of prosperity for the least, the last, and the lost. A vision of justice and love for country that I first embraced when I was studying in this college and that led me to Jesse.
This is the reason why we are redefining the Office of the Vice-President. So that we can contribute a bit more to the administration’s overall drive to eradicate poverty in the country.
Our cabinet members who are here, all have the same beautiful dream for our country, and have spent much of their lives tirelessly steering our country towards this goalpost. We will be so much stronger, working together.
We will rise above poverty and provide our people real freedom that arises from development.
On top of the Office of the Vice-President’s job to build happy and sustainable communities, we also aim to link development partners with local government units so they can start public-private partnerships that will uplift the lives of our poor.
I see this as a laser-like approach to healing our country’s poverty situation: local CEOs who are closer to the ground are empowered with transparency and accountability to identify their most urgent needs in alleviating poverty and development partners looking for the best places to make a difference are given options to maximize their resources and expertise.
We recently held a Partnership Summit to present our framework to fight poverty and staged a “development speed dating” activity for 50 LGUs that were carefully selected based on poverty incidence and high standards of governance and progressive leaders, and 288 development partners.
Some were acting as individuals in their own capacity, corporations, non-government organizations, multilateral or bilateral institutions, and some were groups of individuals like my School of Economics batchmates who call themselves my vice squad and who helped me organize the summit.
During the summit, LGUs received a total of 716 pledges, averaging 14 pledges per LGU. Luzon got bulk of the pledges at 37%, but Mindanao was not far away at 35%, and 27% went to the Visayas region.
The pledges were distributed quite evenly between the three regions. One municipality got as much as 28 pledges.
Most of the pledges were for rural development at 36% of total, and these include livelihood projects, specific programs and projects for basic sectors including farmers and fisherfolks, and infrastructure projects.
Around 28% were for education and these are for training and deployment of teachers, construction of classrooms and training centers, and provision of scholarship grants that would benefit Out of School Youths.
Universal health care accounted for 20%, and these are pledges for Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) initiatives as well as promoting health governance and improving the health delivery system in far flung areas.
There were also pledges for Food Security and Nutrition, which involved feeding and nutrition programs from both local partners and International NGOs. There were also pledges for the promotion of Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health (RPRH), and assistance in setting up livelihood programs for the promotion of Women Empowerment.
There are pledges that directly or indirectly contribute to one or more of the other advocacies, because poverty truly is multi-dimensional in nature and the solutions also have to be likewise.
During the Summit, we witnessed a number of local officials who were moved to tears. Mayor Jae Gonzalez of Lambunao, Iloilo could not believe when someone committed to provide 73 play gardens for every barangay in his town, making his long-time dream come true.
In Taysan, Batangas, Vice-Mayor Marianito Perez also shed tears when my Econ batchmate, my vice squad, committed to build classrooms with toilets and furnishings.
People amazingly embraced the idea of collaboration. PRISM, Phinma, and Philam, for example, will be working together to construct a state college in Lubang, Occidental Mindoro.
And in Hinobaan, Negros Occidental, 188 IP elementary schoolchildren will get school supplies for five years.
Again, these are simply our contribution. The administration, through the leadership of my fellow honorees here today, have the mandate, the resources, the complementation, and the expertise to eradicate poverty and for that I am truly inspired to work harder.
Ambisyon 2040 and the Executive Order signed by the President the other week has a clear vision and it is based on baseline data and a deep resolve to change our nation.
Every week, I go to very poor communities in the farthest barangays of the country to listen to the stories of our people. In some of these places, there are more animals than people, and the voting population may not warrant a visit from other politicians. But I go where there is need because I believe that for a society to grow and mature, we need to let go of the attitude, “that’s not my job.”
It wasn’t our economic professors’ job either to fight the dictator and risk their lives while doing so. But they did, and this has inspired me us to continue striving to make a difference. In the rooms of this college, we were taught to care and do what needs to be done. We were taught to go beyond the numbers and instead remember the faces of the people waiting and needing our help.
We are what society becomes. Our collective, daily acts of empathy and tolerance are the things that will fuel our country’s journey towards progress.
Despite the noise outside, let us keep our eyes on the ball.
Never losing hope. Never weary of doing good.
Always loving this country we call home.
Mabuhay ang ating mga honorees and may you all enjoy the food and the music and the great company, but most of all, the inspiration that UP Econ stands for.