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    Open Forum of PHINMA with VP Leni

    16 February 2017

    Q: The first question is one of your priority areas in poverty alleviation is rural development. As mentioned in your speech, you’ve been going to these areas. What concrete steps are you taking to accelerate progress in these areas?

    VP Leni: Well we’re actually looking into separate models. If you look at our statistics, the most poor in our communities are farmers and fisherfolk.

    We’re looking at them–When I was still in congress, I had a project with the World Food Program where my district became a pilot for the zero hunger program. But the zero hunger program that we’ve adopted is not just feeding alone.

    It’s feeding and taking care of farmers. So we’ve linked our very small farmers to the DSWD program to DA and to DAR and we discovered one major situation as far as helping our farmers is concerned. That our national government agencies do not help farmers who are not organized.

    That is one discovery we made. The farmers do not belong to any organized accredited group. Government cannot help them. But when we looked into which of the farmers are poorest, they’re actually the farmers who do not belong to any particular group. So ang nangyayari natutulungan ang hindi naman siya ang pinaka nangangailangan ng tulong.

    We gathered the farmers and we asked them what is keeping them from joining groups. And they said that they’re isang kain, isang tuka. They don’t have money to pay for membership dues. They don’t have money to spend for accreditation of organizations. So that was the role of my congressional district office.

    Kami iyong nag-organize, we took the cudgels of membership fees, accreditation, etc. Once they had been organized and accredited, DA and DAR can already help them directly. So iyon ang first step.

    Pagkatapos noon, even if you help them, they don’t have access to markets. Talong-talo pa rin sila kasi iyong middlemen are the ones who enjoy the profits.

    Pero iyong magsasaka na from sun up to sun down are breaking their backs, they don’t get nearly enough. So what we did was we asked DSWD can these farmers have direct access to the feeding program?

    So we entered into a MOA and DSWD agreed that 30% of all their purchases from these farmers. And the program has been going on for more than a year.

    You know what’s surprising is that average income of these farmers before we stepped in was only P1,800 a month. So how would they live with P1,800 a month?

    But a few months into this program their incomes were raised from P1,800 to P6,000, P6,000 to P8,000, and now they’re in the P12,000 a month income. So malaking bagay.

    But you know, Jollibee has a very good model for it. Jollibee partnered with the farmers of San Jose City in Nueva Ecija, before we learned that Jollibee has been importing onions for the needs of the restaurant.

    But since they partnered with the farmers of San Jose City, Nueva Ecija, they not only helped them with financial assistance but with technical assistance. All of the produce of the farmers were being bought by the Jollibee directly.

    They didn’t have to go through middlemen, etc., etc., it’s a very good program. They’ve since expanded from onions to some other crops and we’re trying to adopt that program in some of our sites.

    There’s some coastal towns in Quezon, they’re trying to link them up, their produce is coco sugar. We’ve already linked them to big markets. I think two months ago I was in Tampacan, South Cotabato, one of the areas we’re looking at, and we brought Nestle Philippines and they’re looking into adopting the Jollibee model with the coffee and cocoa farmers there.

    So it’s something that’s doable, it’s something that will directly help farmers and it’s a model we’re hoping to expand our programs for rural development.

    Q: Sir, could you weigh in on the VP’s insights?

    Ramon del Rosario: I was just going to say that these are wonderful programs and they really should be scaled up to the extent possible and what I wanted to do was to let you know that the President of the Management Association of the Philippines and the Chairman of the Makati Business Club are both here and it would be very useful for those organizations members to hear about these programs so the ability to scale up and bypass middlemen can be significantly expanded just by letting people know that these opportunities.

    I think it’s both beneficial for the business and of course for the communities themselves. The idea is to give more of the benefit to the farming communities to the extent possible.

    VP Leni: We’re actually trying to sell the idea to some of our partners and we can make a presentation to anyone interested. We’d like to present the model started by Jollibee and our model with regards to the partnerships against hunger and poverty, the model with Nestle and Tampacan, South Cotabato. So maybe we can set up another meeting with the Management Association.

    Ramon del Rosario: We can set up, organize a joint-membership meeting to give you a chance to set up a presentation, I think that would be very helpful.

    VP Leni: And we can also invite people from Jollibee and Nestle

    Ramon del Rosario: To explain the model, great. I was interested in your presentation on those is one of the purposes of this forum is to see if there are things we can advocate to participate with you in advocacy.

    You mentioned there are four pieces of legislation you are particularly interested in. And again I’m curious to find out a little bit more. Which of those pieces, in your mind, are the most critical–the one or two most critical, and what are the features of those pieces of legislation that you’re interested in putting into place so they will assisst in the work you’re trying to do?

    VP Leni: I think it’s really the Comprehensive Land Use Bill. It’s been filed in Congress for the longest time and we’ve received stiff opposition from several different sectors.

    But I don’t know, Sir, if you know that we don’t have a Comprehensive Land Use Bill from the entire country.

    Not just with businesses but also with disasters. It’s been a pain that we don’t have this because local government units would pass their own ordinances regarding the land use bill but they’re not coordinated with all the others.

    And we all know that when land use is our concern we cannot be an island of our own, we have to pass an ordinance in relation to the neighboring municipalities. This will set concrete policies as far as which propertieis will be set as residential, which properties will be agricultural. Now, parang labo-labo.

    If you recall there has been a move to have a moratorium for conversion from agricultural to residential. While we acknowledge there has been so much abuse in the past, we were scared that it would, for a very large extent, affect our housing programs. But this happens because we don’t have a comprehensive land use bill, so of the four I think that is most important.

    Ramon del Rosario: Where does that bill stand now? Are there various versions that have been introduced and is there one in particular that you favor over the others?

    VP Leni: I’m not really very sure if there have been other versions which have been filed. But we have been advocating for one particular version during the 16th Congress. When the 17th Congress started, we met with many other members of the House of Representatives and senators for them to file the bill, we actually have many authors now.

    We actually have many advocates, but you know, the lobby against it also strong, so this is something we have to contend with, we were talking with the advocates and they felt that if this will be the one of the priority legislations of this administration.

    If this will be one of the priority legislations of this administration, there is a very big chance that it will get passed during this administration.

    Q: Again, if I may speak for the two organizations, I think both organizations make it their business to review some of these bills of critical importance to our country. And sometimes they put the weight of their organizations behind them, so it might be useful for you to share the version of the bill that you are advocating

    VP Leni: Maybe when we have a joint meeting where we will present the rural development program, we can also give you copies of the version we are pushing for.

    Q: Can you talk about why you think it is important, so that we can push it forward? Thank you, Enrique.

    Enrique: No problem sir. You have more questions sir? No more? Okay, back to my spiel [laughter] yes, sir? Ambassador?

    Q: Vice President, you earlier mentioned that only organized farmers are the ones that get government support. But there are still a lot of farmers who are not organized. Have you considered organizing them in to cooperatives? The US and the United Kingdom, they have very strong agricultural sectors, cooperative organizations…

    VP Leni: Ambassador, we have very strong cooperatives in the Philippines. But if you look at the status of our farmers, the farmers who are members of these cooperatives are actually much much better off than the farmers who do not belong to any organizations.

    So when I was a member of the House of Representatives, this was one area we looked in to. And this was the program we had with the World Food Programme, and there was a huge common denominator among all of them.

    These were the farmers who had no land to till. They are the farmers who can only participate in the harvesting and the planting when the landowner would not have any use of the land for several months in a year.

    So they don’t have lands to till, and since they don’t have lands to till of their own, they don’t have capital, because they won’t have any collaterals for their loans.

    So they have to make due with getting their loans from 5-6 lenders, and talong-talo na. When they get their loans from these people, talong-talo na.

    And they are also the ones who do not have crop insurance for their crops, so when a typhoon passes, wala na. Everything that they had invested in it, wala na.

    So what we did during our term was, our Office, the Congressional office, was the one who organized all of them. And after organizing we took care of their accreditation so that they would have a better engagement with DA, particularly DA because DAR they have agrarian reform beneficiaries already so they have ready clients. But these farmers are not Agrarian Reform beneficiaries, they do not belong to Agrarian Reform communities, they are just farm laborers.

    And these are the farmers, not only would they have very small income every month, but they would have malnourished children. Ito iyong mga nakikitanim lang, so the program that we’re doing now, the program that we started with WFP, after we organized them we asked DA and DAR to give them access to all their support services, we give them lands that they can till where they would have at least security for ten months in a year.

    Iyong mga hindi po ginagamit na mga lupa, na hindi interesadong gamitin ng mga may-ari hinihiram namin yun, so they get support services, mga gamit, and they’ve been okay. They’re not earning too much but they’re earning enough for the family. And it’s something that we can do in a nation-wide basis.

    When I was in the 16th Congress I authored a bill institutionalizing this particular program, the bill was called the Food Security and Nutrition Bill, it was not passed in the 16th Congress.

    But I’ve convinced at least four members of the House of Representatives to re-file it again, and it’s due for its committee hearing next week.

    So I’m asking if I can attend the committee hearing, cause it’s really a bill that will institutionalize the entire program.

    We would like to present the model that we’ve had in our district and show that it’s doable, it can work, and it can spell a huge difference in the lives of these farmers.

    Q: Farmers, what we did is we organized them. They hardly make money, because they, when they harvest, they pay most of the , and what is worse is that before they can sell it, they have to pay first. So what they do is they sell and then they pay right away.

    What we did is we first organized them, and I’m telling because it might be a model that you might want, and what we did is we organized them. We introduced them to financing.

    What happens here is that the interest rates go down so they make so much money. But what is important about this program is that at harvest time they don’t have to sell because that’s where the lowest price is. What the financing program is that they accept this ally as collateral.

    And then they don’t have to pay, and then they wait until the prices are high, and then they sell at a good price. Over time they make so much money, and then the next thing we do is we asked them to put up and they made so much money. It might be something to…

    VP Leni: Actually, the model in San Simon, Pampanga, we’re doing also a similar model in Camarines Sur, in Lipangan, Camarines Sur. And it’s really a model worth looking in to.

    Kailangan lang po talaga, I think there are so many of you who have the capacity to really help them. Ang kailangan po talaga ay may partner organization na tumututok. Kasi without the partner organization talagang hindi kaya.

    Enrique: Thank you, Ma’am, thank you Ambassador. And I know our time is very limited, so we’ll go on with the next question, the last question that was given in.

    So it goes, Ma’am, even after leaving your post at the HUDCC, why do you feel compelled to add housing as an additional component to your current anti-poverty framework?

    VP Leni: Ako, I describe my resignation as parang nagluwal ng anak. Iyong pagkaluwal ng anak, iniwan ko sa nursery iyong anak ko. Ana Oliveros of SHFC is here, and we have been working closely in strengthening the processes and institutions with the housing unit.

    Pero, you know, when you see the enormity of the housing problem, parang it’s not easy to just turn your back just because you resign. Kaya right now what I’m doing, I know I no longer have the capacity to make policies, but what I’m doing is binabalik ko iyong mga problema na nakikita ko.

    Example, Bulacan has been a relocation site of so many informal settlers in Manila. And when I was still in HUDCC, I had the privilege of visiting some of those sites in Bulacan.

    Particularly the sites in Bocaue, Pandi, and Norzagaray, and common lahat iyong problema. Ano ang problema? Not only do they not have access to public transportation and to livelihood, pati potable water, pati electricity, iyong mga basic utilities were not there.

    So I felt that the least I could do was siguruhin na ma-provide pa din. And now even when I was out of HUDCC already, we’re on the verge of unlocking the problems as far as potable water is concerned.

    With regards to Bocaue, naglagay ng site doon, talagang wala siyang water supply. Parang sinasabi wala nang pag-asa kasi wala nang supply. So we had a lot of meetings with Maynilad, because that is a Maynilad area.

    And the only thing that Maynilad can think of that time was if the Philippine Area, the Iglesia ni Kristo arena there would allow the tapping of lines because that’s the only chance available for the people of Bocaue.

    So nag-usap ng ilang beses, Maynilad, Iglesia ni Kristo, ang office namin. So, pumayag ang Iglesia ni Kristo. There is already a MOA between the Philppine Arena and Maynilad.

    I think on Wednesday we’re meeting them sa opisina namin, pag-uusapan na namin ang detalye. We’re also talking to the local water providers, mukhang matutuloy na, and there is already supply of water.

    With regards to Norzagaray and Pandi, budget for some amount of water facilities, I was there last month. I was there January, we met with the local water provides, LGUs, and we were able to enter into a MOA already, kung alin ang sasagutin ng LWUA, alin ang sasagutin ng water provider.

    So within the year we expect that the relocation sites in Pandi and Norzagaray will have water already. Parang kailangan lang siyang tutukan.

    But you know I still have a lot of frustrations when I was still in HUDCC I made a, it was a rule that we won’t, we will have a moratorium of relocating outside of Manila until we are sure that all of the facilities are there.

    Dahil wala na ako doon, parati akong may takot na baka mag-relocate ng mag-relocate ng hindi na naman handa. It’s so much easier to solve the problem when the residents are not there yet, than to solve them when they are already there. We have seen so many housing projects government has spent for na bakante.

    Marami tayong housing na ginastusan ng gobyerno pero bakante. Kasi ang metrics natin mali. Ang metrics natin was just number of houses built. Pero di ba parang it’s not just building houses but building communities, building lives.

    So iyon ang sinasabi ko when I was still in HUDCC. Let’s change the metrics. Because if it’s just building of houses we don’t actually solve the problem. Kinukuha nila ang bahay sa labas and then vina-vacate nila, pinapa-arkila. Babalik sila sa Manila to be informal settlers again because work is here.

    So kahit madali momentarily na itapon sila sa labas, we’re not really solving the problem kasi babalik at babalik din sila. Sometimes the social cost is too high. Pupunta sila sa labas, babalik ang tatay dito kasi ang trabaho nandito.

    Pag nandito na, ang pamilya naiwan sa labas, nakakakuha na ng bagong pamilya so naghihiwalay. Ang bagong pamilya informal settlers na naman. You know it’s a problem that only gets bigger as time goes by if we don’t look at it at a more holistic, sabi ko nga, huwag madaliin.

    Ang parating target dapat pag hinanapan ng solusyon, that’s a final solution already. But in the years we’ve contented ourselves with just building houses and that’s an accomplishment already and I’ve been telling the agencies, I don’t consider a house as an accomplishment, dahil changing lives should be the target.

    So sana, masusunod pa ba ang dati nating plano? In the 6 months that I’ve been with HUDCC, we have exerted with emphasis with changing all of this.

    Changing the procedures, red tape, bureaucracy, ito mga aming inaayos and changing the metrics.

    And we hope, I hope that in the 6 months that I was there, kahit papaano itutuloy pa din nila.

    We have exerted with emphasis on changing all of these. Changing the procedures: red tape, bureaucracy, and we hope that, I hope that in the 6 months that I was there, itutuloy pa rin nila ang changes.

    Q: Finally, Mr. Del Rosario – What can you tell them or challenge them sir, in also making lives better in their different businesses, to both the Vice-President and Mr. del Rosario.

    Ramon Del Rosario: I wanted to ask one more question, but anyway.

    Q: Sir, it’s your cue already sir.

    Ramon Del Rosario: I think the Vice President has made a very powerful call for participation by all sectors in this fight against poverty. Clearly the fight against poverty is a monumental challenge for our country as a whole because poverty levels have continued to remain extremely high relative to…

    Of course the growth in our GNP and GDP has not been matched by a reduction in poverty levels. And that’s really the sad reality and that has a lot to do with the fact that the benefits of economic growth have not been shared equitably.

    So I guess the challenge for all of us is to look for ways by which we can participate in this great effort of trying to reduce poverty levels and improve the quality of life. I think we at PHINMA have been able to identify some areas of focus and education is clearly one of them, and housing is another.

    These two areas are just two possible areas. I think that the whole question of, for example, nutrition, is an area that lends itself to a lot of private sector participation. This question of stunted growth of children – where, if you do not address the stunting and malnutirition of kids, the impact is permanent.

    Their brains are damaged permanently and it cannot be corrected anymore. And if you do not correct this problem of stunting, then we will have generations of Filipinos growing up who will not have the physical capacity to compete against the rest of the world simply because they did not have the right nutrition at the right time in their development as children.

    So the challenge that was posed is, “What can we do to participate in these efforts?” And I think there are many things that can be done – business organizations, business corporations, all kinds of NGOs.

    There’s a lot of opportunities and I think, I will close by asking the Vice President to give one more appeal for this kind of participation from all of us because as I said earlier, clearly this is something that government itself cannot do by itself.

    The Church also is very active in this and they also cannot do it alone. So I think what we really need to see is a concerted effort from all sectors of society coming together.

    VP Leni: Thank you again, Sir, for this opportunity. I was telling you a while ago during my speech that our Office doesn’t have the capacity, nor mandate to execute programs.

    That doesn’t mean that we can’t be a conduit for all these things. So what we’re doing now is we’re trying to go around, seeing for ourselves what needs to be done and presenting to people what we see during those trips.

    Some of you have already responded to our calls for help. Jeff is here. Ano iyan, guardian angel ko yan si Jeff. Jeff has been helping me.

    Shell Foundation, kahit si Ed, retired na, Shell Foundation pa rin iyan. Shell Foundation has been a partner even when I was still in Congress.

    Pero I think, the model of PHINMA is one model we can all look at – not just in housing, not just in education. Pero iyong model na, we do not want to ask for grants. Grants every step of the way.

    But we want disruption in the way you guys are doing your business. And when I say disruption, I think the model of PHINMA is one example when it is still a viable business model and at the same time, the company is not only helping the shareholders but the society as well.

    It just would require innovation, creativity in developing such models but I think it’s the more sustainable one. Hindi iyong grants lang, kasi ang grants parati may saturation point.

    But if you are able to develop models where both ends will benefit – like what Jollibee is doing, like what Nestle Philippines is doing, like what PHINMA is doing, it’s a partnership that can go on for a very long time.

    And as the days go by, we spend at least 2 days of our week, going around the poorest… Last Monday I was in Kalinga, in Benguet. In Kalinga and Apayao, I mean. Tomorrow, I’m flying to Surigao.

    And we take these trips as an opportunity to look into what is really happening on the ground and how can we be of help. As I’ve said, the Office of the Vice President has very limited resources, I think we have the smallest budget in the entire bureaucracy.

    But with you guys there, kami na lang ang mag-se-sales pitch sa inyo. When we see a need, if you can give us the opportunity to present that need, and for you to help us create models where we can replicate many, you know – many good business practices with a lot of social dimension. Malaking bagay.

    Q: Madame Vice-President, would it be appropriate to think of the OVP as some kind of a clearing-house where you identify these projects that you think have a lot of promise, and models that you think can be replicated?

    Because, sometimes you have all kinds of ideas that crop up. Some of them work and some of them don’t. Some of them are good and some of them are not so good.

    Maybe it would be good if your office could really, number 1 sift through these programs and identify which ones you think have a good chance of succeeding and having the right kind of impact, and be a clearing house so that these projects can be prioritized in some manner.

    So business groups who wish to do these kinds of projects have an agency or an office to go to where they can discuss these types of programs and be told that these are the right kinds of programs to do. Not that you will direct people, but it’s just that to be guided properly so that the maximum impact can be achieved.

    VP Leni: Actually, Sir, that’s what we have been doing for the past 3 months. I don’t know, if I can – given 5 minutes, 5 more minutes. Not me, the head of the Angat Buhay Advocacy is here, Georgina Hernandez-Yang.

    I think we can ask Georgina to give a 5-minute update on how our Office is acting like a clearing house for all these projects.

    Georgina: Basically our Office is currently working with more than 300 companies, mostly private sector, corporate foundations.

    What we do is, we have a list of needs in terms of Housing, Livelihood, Education and Health from our partner communities, which comes from data available from Local Government Units.

    We have a small team going around communities to validate the needs. We have the inventory of the needs and whenever our partners meet with us, we always find the area of convergence in terms of what their programs are, and where they’re operating and connecting it with the needs that we have.

    So far, we’ve met with the EMERGE team of MAP to discuss Agro-Enterprise Development through a venture capital of sorts from the MAP group so we think that we can push through with that.

    The projects range from small infrastructure building used for social services of education, health and livelihoods, and also in terms of capacity building, market linkage, product development and also in terms of other training needs of the communities.

    And so far, the results have been fast, and maybe even faster instead of working with the usual bureaucratic processes of government.

    What we really do, the value we really bring is we link the partners directly to the communities or the peoples’ organizations.

    VP Leni: One more thing, we cannot accept donations. So as a conduit, we link the partner organizations with the LGUs directly. Kaya iyon din, if companies plan to engage with us, what we do is just do the groundwork for them, tell them what the needs are, bring them to the communities.

    Pero iyong nag-usap sila na lang. We just iron out the kinks in the partnership. Ano lang kami, kami ang messenger, kami iyong tagaplantsa ng…

    Pero iyong nag-uusap lang talga iyong companies.

    Host: Thank you very much, VP Leni Robredo for gracing our forum.

    Posted in Transcripts on Feb 15, 2017