SMX Convention Center, Pasay City
15 November 2016
When Sec. Pernia invited me to this summit, I was more than happy to say that I could join you. Today’s summit brings a much clearer meaning to the journey of AmBisyon Natin 2040. That journey, which was started in March this year, is built on our long-term vision of a better and more progressive Philippines. And there’s no better time to think hard about the long-term prospects of our country.
As we know by now, the Philippines has become the fastest-growing economy in Asia, outpacing even China. Yet once upon a time, the country was the Sick Man of Asia, an economic laggard struggling under the weight of political instability and widespread corruption.
But then we tentatively rose through the ranks as our GDP growth posted higher gains. By 2015, Bloomberg announced that we had become Southeast Asia’s Strong Man. That’s a long and distant cry from our reputation as the Sick Man of Asia.
Before we knew it, credit rating groups elevated us to investment grade. We flew up the rankings in global benchmarks for competitiveness and ease-of-business. The recent years saw investors approaching us with renewed interest. All of a sudden, the Philippines became the darling of economic analysts around the world.
But was this all really sudden? Of course the answer is no. One thing is clear: this did not happen overnight. Our country’s growth is not a happy coincidence. Instead, it was born of many years of smart public financial management. Government reforms for transparency, accountability, and citizen participation also went a long way into fixing our economy.
It’s an impressive report card, but there is so much more to be done. While GDP growth has been brisk, poverty has not been as easy to resolve. Millions upon millions of Filipinos continue to live in abject poverty. But not all is lost.
Last month, Social Weather Stations reported that self-rated poverty in the country is at a record low. It agrees with a report released by NEDA earlier this year: that poverty levels climbed down to a record low of 26.3 percent in the first half of 2015.
What these numbers prove is that it really does take time for economic gains to translate to real and direct benefits for the poor. It’s a reality we’re inclined to surrender to: we’ll make the economy grow, and then we’ll wait for the goods to trickle down to our poorest.
We must challenge that belief. Our people shouldn’t have to wait for economic gains to trickle down to them. The poorest in our country do not have the luxury of waiting, not when their lives are a daily gamble for survival. We must take an active position in fighting poverty and ensuring long-term and inclusive growth in the country.
After all, when we think of growth, we imagine something rising from the ground up, from the deepest and sturdiest of roots. In much the same way, we should boost antipoverty initiatives on the grassroots level, even as we maintain our macroeconomic strengths and shore up our good governance reforms.
But if we want to accomplish all of this, we need to work together. This is why I was so excited to meet you today. I understand that in the run-up to this summit, you were able to conduct focus group discussions among yourselves. In these discussions, you mapped out your long-term goals for this country. Ultimately, you found that the Filipino family was at the center of this ambitious map of development.
Matatag, maginhawa, at panatag na buhay. Ito ang pangarap natin para sa pamilyang Pilipino.
My team and I share this vision with you, and we share with you that same enthusiasm for partnership and engagement. Just last October, I stood here at SMX to launch Partnerships Against Poverty, during which we presented our Five-Point Antipoverty Framework.
The result of that summit and our work in sustaining the partnerships pledged to local government communities we have carefully chosen are our humble contribution to what you are doing. You’ll be happy to know, too, that the Filipino family is at the heart of our poverty reduction strategy.
The first point in our framework is on adequate healthcare for poor Filipino mothers and their infants. Maternal mortality rates remain high in the Philippines, and figures from 2013 show that 3,000 mothers still die for every 2.4 million deliveries. Imagine that: we can prevent these deaths if we can give our mothers and infants enough access to proper natal care.
Our second focus is on nutrition and food self-sufficiency, especially among Filipino children. One of our biggest concerns is stunting among our poorest kids. Stunted children are prone to irreversible mental and physical impairments, and that hurts their chances at a better future. That’s why my office supports the Department of Health’s First 1,000 Days Program. The first one thousand days of a child’s development are crucial in the formation of their mental and physical faculties. We can stop stunting among poor Filipino children by providing them with sufficient healthcare and nutrition. By preventing stunting, we can protect the next generation of Filipinos from underachievement and further poverty.
Our third focus area are the Filipino youth. To help them, we’re going to target the quality of our public educational system. We’re going to make K-12 work for senior High School students, so that they learn skills that are in high demand across various industries.
We also want to prioritize Filipino adults in rural communities —‘yung mga nanay at tatay—especially since they are the poorest and most disadvantaged in the country. Our plan is to stimulate rural development and economic self-sufficiency —especially in remote communities—by making supply chains more rewarding for our poor farmers and fishermen. We want to help them cultivate an entrepreneurial spirit, so that they can take command of their livelihoods and contribute more to the local economy.
Finally, we are also looking at empowering Filipinas all over the country. Although the Philippines ranks very highly in the Gender Equality Index, the life of the ordinary Filipina is still shadowed by sexism and bigotry. Our women work twice as hard to gain the respect of their male peers, and yet they’re regularly demeaned for the fact of their womanhood. This has to stop. Women are more than our looks, and we are more than our bodies. My office and I are making a strong statement on that.
Ultimately, our dream is to create safe, healthy, and progressive communities, where every family has a shot at a better future. The five-point Antipoverty Framework isn’t our only means of making this happen. We also want to leverage the policy work we do at HUDCC, so that the government’s urban housing solutions are comprehensive and community- oriented. Government housing shouldn’t be a matter of herding the homeless into grim boxes of concrete. Rather, public housing should give families the opportunity to make homes of their new dwellings, and to form vibrant communities among themselves. We hope that this will help NEDA achieve the goals of Ambisyon Natin 2040, which validate that homes are the top aspiration of the Filipino family.
On the day that we launched the framework, we received 716 pledges from 288 development partners to work with 50 carefully chosen LGUs that practice good governance. Our partners were composed of civil society organizations, corporations and social enterprises, international organizations and aid agencies, government agencies and institutions, and academic institutions.
Already, we’re piloting the framework across 50 local governments. These LGUs were handpicked not just on account of poverty incidence, but also on their leaders’ track record for progressive governance. That’s really how it ought to be. Many of our LGUs are limited by technical and operational constraints, and that prevents them from effectively serving their communities.
We’re here to change that. Through our Antipoverty Framework, we’re going to bridge them to the right partners in the private and public sector. We’re going to match them with development and aid organizations, so that we can channel enough talent and resources to communities that need it most.
It is that same passion for synergy that I am seeing here under the leadership of NEDA. And it brings me so much joy to witness this, because I truly think that collaborative action is the engine of our national ambitions. We can well dream of a greater Philippines, one where every Filipino can hope for a better tomorrow. But that dream cannot be realized unless we’re willing to roll up our sleeves, join hands, and forge ahead with a single vision guiding us.
And this vision of a transformed Philippines should not be hampered by our fears. Instead, this vision must be far- reaching: it must protect the welfare of the generations that will succeed us. This country has suffered the consequences of many a stop-gap solution: quick fixes that only aggravate the problem, shortcuts that only put our people’s lives in danger. It’s time to be more ambitious about our dreams. It’s time to be more intelligent about how we make those dreams come true. So thank you very much NEDA, to all the government agencies who are here present, and to international organizations and our development partners who play an important role in reaching a better Philippines in the future.
Maraming salamat po and a good morning to you all.