Speech at the monthly meeting of Rotary Pasay Club

9 December 2015

The Rotary Club of Pasay. The Presidents of the participating Rotary Club with us this afternoon. I was very entertained to learn of the group of RC Presidents referred to as “Jeproks”. I thought it’s a great name. so, good afternoon ladies and gentlemen.

I was told when I asked what is it you’d like for me to speak on, the response was that, you can talk about anything you want. So I thought I’d come up here and talk about the NBA and Lebron James. So I guess it’s not surprising that especially at this time that what everyone is talking about is the upcoming elections of 2016. We are well and truly within the political season once again and what a political season it is turning out to be.

I was talking with some of my friends coming from the different parties, from the different camps. They were all in agreement that this is about the strangest and most unusual political campaign that any of us has ever experienced.

First of all, the line-ups that we have been seeing have been very fluid and very loose. That just seems to indicate that party does not seem to be as important as it used to be. Whereas before, there were instances in political history, where if you remember, if anyone of you are old enough to remember, when we had a two-party system, there were areas that would say, dito NP kami dito, dito LP kami dito. That is basically how it went. Whenever either parties would give their ticket, then people would vote from president all the way down to the local according to party line. Although we still manage to do that once in a while in the recent past. That is certainly no longer the case. Parang ang nararamdaman namin ay iyung partido hindi na ganoon kalaki ang ginagampanan na role sa pagkampanya at parang napupunta na nga sa personal.

I think as a political scientist, I suspect what may be happening is that we may be watching the dying thrones of our experiment in the multi-party system. I think the reason this has happened is simply because something that we actually had realized before was that people do not still understand how the multi-party system is supposed to work. Not only the voters, not only the citizenry, but even the politicians. Because as you can clearly see, our party system, are all marriages of convenience and none of them are based on a common shared ideology amongst its members.

In the United Kingdom for example, if you are a member of the Conservative party, your politics are relatively conservative. If you are in the Labor party, then again, you are generally thought to be left of center. The same thing in the United States. If you’re a Democrat, you are more liberal. If you are a Republican, you are more conservative.

Those tags, those labels, do not seem to apply to us anymore. That is why it has become a complete free for all. Now every day, we are confronted with news that Grace Poe is about to be disqualified or will not be disqualified. We have news that Mayor Duterte is about to be disqualified or not disqualified. There are problems with the COC. Everybody. It is simply now based on personalities, on individuals. That has been I think developing over the past years because again the party means less and less simply because it has no ideological foundation. Every time we have an election, the parties change. This I think has been a factor in the problems that we face today.

When we ran a survey about a month and a half ago, I was very surprised with the result of when people were asked the question: what is the biggest problem that you face in your everyday life? In running surveys for 20 plus, 30 years, I have never seen this result. The result was number one, drugs. This has never happened before. Drugs has always been a problem but it has never been number 1. For the first time in our political history, that seems to be the main problem. Following that with criminality and count those you would expect. High prices of commodities, lack of jobs, peace and order, education, agriculture, all of these others start to come out.

So what are we to do? What are we who are candidates, who are asking for your vote, who are asking for your support, what are we to do when we are confronted by this new phenomenon, this new development that we can see?

Before we all knew that in the urban areas there would be a problem with illegal drugs being circulated and being sold next to our schools, to our children, we are now seeing a new and worrying development. Not only urban areas suffer this problem, but also even in the rural areas now. I saw very disturbing statistics earlier that 93% of the barangays in Metro Manila have an illegal drug problem, have a presence of drug syndicates.

So what is one to do? What one is to do is I think we have to go back and look at the experience of other people. I try to study and I look at the United States. Since the war on drugs was declared by Richard Nixon which was so many years ago, trillions and trillions of dollars has been thrown on the problem. Every year the drug problem in the United States continues to increase. The other places in other countries, it is again the same situation. No matter how much you spend, the drug problem continues.

The side effect of this is the militarization of our police- the polarization of our communities. This is the kind of problem which does not seem to have a simple solution. So we look into it very well and I’m beginning to find that there is a common them amongst the countries where drug problem is prevalent. That is the weakness of the nuclear family.

I know that this is an unusual conclusion to come to, but it is certainly something that we need to be looking into if it is something that can be used to come back to what we are considering to be one of the greatest problems we are facing today. That is why it is not sufficient in my view that we just spend in the PDEA, that we spend in the police; that we be more active and be more aggressive in finding, investigating and prosecuting these drug syndicates, drug lords. I think we cannot leave it just to the police and to the authorities. I think we must go back and admit that the solution to the drug problem is not through just enforcement of law, but we also have to look into perhaps, the weakness of the family and the lack of values formation of our people.

This does not make for a simple neat answer. It is a very nebulous kind of theory. Having realized that, what do we do with that kind of information?

So we have a long way to go. That frustration I think is reflected again by the support that is being gained by those who have been very strong in talking about peace and order; talking about reducing criminality- notably Mayor Duterte because he has taken a very, very strong position and somehow people still continue to support him despite the fact that people say these are extra legal actions and should not be allowed and should not be encouraged and should not even be spoken about. But nevertheless, people I think say and me as a parent, I have to say, I have some sympathy for that and say, I don’t care what you do. Just take the drugs out of my children’s life. It doesn’t matter anymore to me how you are going to do it, but I do not want my children to fall into that problem. So this is the problem that is facing all of us who are candidates and say, what can you do about these problems that are prevalent?

Secondly, we talk about prices of commodities. What do we do about that? Is there a simple answer to that too? Again, there is no simple answer to that. We have to go all the way back to production- to the agricultural sector. We have to go back to the agricultural sector because our cost of production is too high. Our rate of production is too low. The cost of transport, of processing is too high. We have looming ASEAN Integration and again the agricultural sector is going to be very vulnerable when that time comes.

So what is one to do? We have to increase. We have to strengthen our agricultural sector. The reason why we have come to this point is because we have not had a true agricultural policy for a very long time. For a country that used to export rice to be the first or the second, depending how you measure it, second highest importer of rice in the entire world, is a clear indication of how our situation in the agricultural sector has detoriated.

I am the Chairman of the Committee on Public Works in the Senate. To my great surprise, one day during a hearing with the MIAA, I was told that the irrigation coverage in the Philippines is less today than it was in 1986. In other words, not only have we not made or built new irrigation systems, but we have not repaired those irrigation systems which have fallen into this repair. Again, this is because of a lack of policy that we are facing.

People ask about our educational sector, our educational system. It needs improvement. We need to catch up with the rest of the ASEAN, with the rest of the developed countries. Why are we falling behind? Again, this comes because there is no policy to improve number 1: the support that we have for teachers; number 2: not only in terms of financial, not only in terms of benefits, but also in terms of technical support in training, technical support in giving scholarships to the teachers’ own children. Secondly, the quality of the school supplies, the number of school buildings. Now we have into the K to 12 program. The K to 12 program unfortunately up to now, it has fallen way behind all our best expectations. Despite the promise by the Department of Education that we are going to implement it fully in the next year or so, not a single classroom for senior high schools has been built. Not a single new trainer teacher has been hired. So again, we hear these grand plans and nothing has happened.

We talk about jobs. Why do we have so many OFWs? Why are there 8 million Filipinos abroad; making the sacrifices that they make having to be away from their family, having to be away from their friends and their loved ones, just to be able to make out a living? Again, I saw a study that simply indicate, especially for the professional workers abroad, they are willing to take a 50% pay cut if they are able to work in the Philippines. But they cannot do that because the jobs simply do not exist. So, they go away. So how do we solve that problem?

Well let’s look into it. How do we create jobs? We create jobs by increasing, by growing the economy. How do you grow the economy? What can the government do to grow the economy? What the government can do is invest public investment in infrastructure. I guess this is not a surprising statement to come from the Chairman of the Committee on Public Works. In the past years, it is very clear, we have been spending 2 and a half percent of our GDP on infrastructure development. If we compare this to any other developing country, emerging market, whatever you would like to describe them as, it is a very, very low number.

Our ASEAN neighbors are approaching between 5 to 10% in terms of GDP expenditure on infrastructure. In the parts of China, they’re talking about 10 to 12% of their GDP on infrastructure. So we have a long way to go. But then there was an attempt in this year to increase our infrastructure expenditure. But this was accompanied by a downsizing in the Department of Public Works. So what happened?

There was a World Bank study saying the Department of Public Works was overstaffed. So, they downsized it by 30%. The next year, they doubled the projects for the public works. How will the public works implement and use and absorb and make efficient use of that additional fund when you have removed 30% of their engineers, 30% of their workers? The equipment has not been modernized. You will not believe this, but there are places that I have gone to where I’ve seen the Department of Public Works still using reparations from the Japanese reparations equipment up to now. Simply because it has not been upgraded.

So why is there a disconnect? In all of these instances that I am talking about, it is clear that somehow the government cannot seem to find its way to a good policy- to a good program. Even when it does, we are not able to implement it properly and implement it fully.

The question is simple. Why can we not do this? Filipinos are superb workers. that is clear to be seen by our OFWs. The employers abroad, when they have a choice between a Filipino or some other national, generally speaking, they tend to work with the Filipinos. Of course our speaking English takes a part in that, but beyond that, we are well trained. We are industrious. We are resourceful. We are honest. We work well within a team. We work well within a structure. We work well within a corporation or any kind of enterprise.

So why does this not translate to affluence skill back home in the Philippines? I really believe the problem has been, it boils down to one thing. That is that we in the past few administrations, some administrations in the past have chosen instead of trying to unite the Philippines, instead have chosen to polarize the Philippines a long political line.

Some people say, you know the problem in the Philippines is there’s too much democracy. That’s wrong. There’s not too much democracy. There’s too much politics. It has come to the point when there is a proposal for a program, for a project, the merits of that proposal do not come into the assessment of whether or not that proposal will be adopted. The merits are pushed aside and the question that is asked is: kasama ba natin ito? Is he with us? Is he my ally? If he’s my ally, okay. We will do the project kahit pangit. You can clearly see where that will take us. The effects of that are clear in the performance, especially of our government agencies at the national level.

That is why in my campaign, we talked about all of these other problems and we know that there are solutions. Or even if we do not have the solutions, we know which way to start to find those solutions. Why can we not embark on those roads? What can we not begin to start to find the solutions? Because we are not unified.

There was a time in our history when we thought of ourselves as Filipinos. We may be Tagalog, Bikolano, Ilokano, Waray, Bisaya, whatever; but at the heart of it, we thought of ourselves as Filipinos. We were working together as Filipinos. We had very clear on our mind the principle, the idea that once again I feel we must return to governance. We must return to our people and more importantly, we must return to our leadership. That is the idea, the understanding na kagaya ng lagi ko sinasabi, ang magmamahal lang sa Pilipino ay ang Pilipino rin. Ang tutulong lamang sa Pilipino ay ang Pilipino rin. Ngunit kung tayo ay ipinagaaway-away at ipinagwawatak-watak ang ating lipunan, if they are tearing apart our society all in the interest of parties and politics- of individual politics, again, this partially why parties and politics has gained such a poor reputation, then you can see that this is not in the national interest.

I remember growing up and sitting around and listening to my father speak. I remember listening to the other great presidents and reading their speeches and there was always the phrase that entered, that was “we do this for nation-building.” What we are doing is building a nation. We are putting together the different factors that are necessary for a strong, vibrant, involved, society. For a sovereign nation that earns the respect of its international neighbors.

I have not heard the phrase “national interest”. I have not heard the phrase “nation-building” in a long time. That is unfortunate because we are not nation-building any longer. What we are doing is that we are building-up ourselves as politicians. We are building-up our kaalyado. As politians, we are building-up our parties as politicians. I’m a politician. Politics clearly has its place. It is the process by which we choose our leaders. There cannot be a more important aspect of our society. But once the election is over, and once the winners have been proclaimed, once it is known who will take the high offices of government; then it is time to put politics aside and to start to work together.

One of the questions I am often asked is: if you are elected vice-president, what will be the first thing you will do? My answer is very simple. The first thing I will do is I will go to my president and I will ask him or her: what is it you want me to do? How can I help? What is our program? How do we make it work?

That is the only way that we will succeed. In unity there is strength. It is a cliché, but it is a cliché because it is true. It is in unity that there is strength. Only in the unified Philippines will we regain that strength. Only will all Filipinos working together towards a common goal, towards a common vision, with strong and clear and sensitive and compassionate leadership; only then can we be able to feel the economy moving forward- our society moving forward.

In that unity that has been lost, that is something that we must aspire to once again if we want to succeed. It seems like a very simple idea, but it is somehow unfortunately, we have lost that idea. Well, it is time I believe to gain it back. It is what I am fighting for. It is what I dream of for this country. It is something that I hope one day soon within our lifetime, we will once again achieve. So that once again we can answer the people and say, yes. We have done the job you have asked for us. We are working for you to fulfill your dreams. We are unifying our country to work together to build a progress, the vibrancy that we all want for our country, for our people, for our children and for the future.

That is what I’m fighting for. That is what I’m campaigning for with your support. With your help, we can achieve this. It is time. Thank you and good afternoon.