22 October 2016
Keynote Message at the Philippine Jaycees Senate National Convention, QC Capitol Jaycees Senate, Icon Hotel Timog, Quezon City, Philippines
I’d like to thank you all for inviting me to join you this afternoon. Each of you holds the distinction of being JCI senators because you are leaders in your field, and you have shown—across the years—what a force you can be for the greater good.
That’s why it makes so much sense that this year’s gathering shines the spotlight on the value of humanity. It seems that these days, people are quick to forget just how precious human life is. This is ironic, because never has it been so easy to connect with other people. Never has the world been so accessible, thanks to the wonders of modern technology.
Yet somehow, people remain disconnected from each other. Some of us have grown indifferent to the sight of human suffering.
Others have found it too easy to dismiss the deaths of thousands of people. Indeed, now is the perfect time to revive the discussion on our regard for humanity, and what we must do so we never lose sight of it.
The matter is even more urgent now. We are now one of the fastest-growing economies in the world—a big achievement, considering that we were once The Sick Man of Asia.
Late last week, an SWS survey found that self-rated poverty was at a record low in the country. This means that there are fewer Filipinos who believe themselves poor. This means that socio-economic and governance reforms, when done right, can be counted on to bear fruit.
But so much work remains to be done. Millions of Filipinos continue to live in abject deprivation. When we step out of the comforts of our homes, when we drive to work and back, and when we walk around our cities, we see the grim truth of poverty reflected in numberless faces.
Worse, systems of political patronage and discrimination continue to trap our poor, disempowering them and preventing them from leading better lives.
But what is most tragic about poverty is the way it dehumanizes its victims. Poverty can divest people of their dignity or liberty. This is actually why we say that the poor live in inhuman conditions, because no human should live the way that they do: in constant hunger, in fear, and with little hope for the future.
Millions upon millions of Filipinos live like this. It needs to stop.
The first step to solving poverty is by recognizing the humanness of every poor Filipino. Only when we appreciate the value of their lives can we protect their interests from a place of authentic service.
This is why my anti-poverty campaign began with visits to the poorest and most remote communities across the country. Together with a small team, I met with community leaders and ordinary families to hear their stories and understand their aspirations.
For these communities, our visits were a welcome surprise. It wasn’t just because we listened to them. It was also because, for the first time, they felt that they were part of the solution.
When we engaged them, these poor communities found that they had a voice. They realized that they now had a stake in their future.
Our engagement efforts also extended to members of different groups and sectors. These include representatives from government and the private sector, as well as members of civil society, international aid organizations, and the academe. We now have a network of more than 50 groups who are willing to help us reduce poverty in the Philippines. Some of you here are actually involved in our campaign!
Based on our discussions with these groups—and more importantly, based on the stories of ordinary Filipinos—we were able to design a five-point Antipoverty Framework. We officially launched it last October 10.
At its center is the most basic unit of society: the ordinary Filipino family, lalo na po ang mga pamilyang nasa laylayan.
We start with maternal health care, because if a pregnant woman is undernourished, her child will most likely to suffer from stunting. Stunting is an irreversible condition that impairs a baby’s physical and mental development, and nothing can be done to cure it.
Next: we are throwing our full support behind the Department of Health’s First 1,000 Days Program.
If we can provide adequate nutrition to Filipino children, we can help them grow up to be healthy young adults, ready to fulfill their potential and contribute to society.
Third is secondary education and skills training. We want to link our high school students to the right livelihood opportunities and reduce unemployment.
Our fourth component is rural development, making spaces for smallholder farmers in high-value supply chains, so they can earn more and be competitive in the local market.
Finally, we want to improve Filipino communities everywhere by championing women empowerment. Everyone benefits when Filipinas are given every opportunity to contribute to the growth of their communities.
The entirety of this five-point framework also cleaves to our vision of empowerment for the urban poor. Through my work as HUDCC chair, we intend to create the policy backbone for long-term and effective housing solutions.
Such solutions must continue to put the welfare of the Filipino family at its very core. Our goal, after all, is not to merely build houses: we want to build homes. We want to create safe and secure communities where everyone has fair access to their livelihoods, where everyone has equal opportunity for growth.
We are actually piloting this framework with fifty local governments across the country. These LGUs were chosen based on poverty incidence and according to high standards of governance and progressive leadership.
My office, meanwhile, serves as the convenor of talent and resources among local governments and our development partners. Experience has shown me that there is never a shortage of people who are willing to lend a hand. My job now is to make sure that through people like you, local governments get the help they need, so that they can make a real difference in the lives of the poor.
This is truly an exercise in collaboration. I’m sure you will agree with me: we cannot accomplish much if we do not work together.
The doors of my office are wide open to anyone who wishes to help, because if one thing is true, it’s this: that the government cannot arrogate the task of nation-building for itself.
No, we cannot do this alone.
If we are to change this country for the better, we must tread the path of reform hand-in-hand.
With you beside us, we can look to the horizon of our dreams of a greater Philippines.
Thank you very much, at mabuhay kayong lahat!