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Manila Overseas Press Club forum

November 26, 2009

Good evening. As always, I am happy to be in the company of the press, having spent some of the most fulfilling and exciting years of my life in the media.
I am one with the Manila Overseas Press Club in the belief that journalism can become an instrument of social change and good government, and of promoting democratic principles, international understanding and national welfare. I would like to commend the MOPC for carrying on the legacy of freedom of the press.
There is no doubt about the inspiring contribution journalists have accomplished for the independence of our country. Among many nations, the Philippines remains a model for democracy and diversity—many different ethnic groups and political factions have found a way to live and work together in peace and harmony. We could brag about a robust civil society, a free and fair press, and alliances among regional leaders fostering regional peace. Except that brutal and gruesome murders of civilians, including journalists last Monday has shown us those journalists in the Philippines are living dangerous lives.
That is the reason I began my remarks with the freedom that you and your predecessors fought so hard to win throughout Philippine history. Now, not even the most callous could deny that journalists are being hunted in this country by those who seek to subvert our democracy.
By now, the extent of the Maguindanao Massacre continues to unfold and the number and identities of the victims shocks us more: innocent women, lawyers, and journalists who were just passionately pursuing their vocation.
In the past decades, I’ve scoured the archipelago and seen both the joys and pains of the Filipino. In the face of seemingly insurmountable hardships, I have discovered the warmth and hopefulness of our people. I have seen the beauty of of our country and its abundance of natural resources. But in the past few days, especially in the aftermath of Ondoy and Pepeng and in the aftermath of violence, it has become even clearer to me the responsibility that I carry as a public servant.
It has become clearer to me that in all these years, what the Filipino people need are leaders who truly serve them – leaders who listen and understand the voiceless, the powerless and the vulnerable.
My vision for the country can be summed up in six main areas:
First, a pro-people leadership centered on good governance. We need leaders who will promote good governance, stamp out corruption, promote efficiency in the delivery of social services, and uphold the rule of law.
Second, sustainable and equitable socio-economic development propelled by agricultural growth and rural livelihoods. To do this, we must work towards climate change adaptation for our agriculture sector and implement the 10-year old AFMA.
Third, environmental protection. For the last three decades, I had worked to raise the level of awareness on environmental issues. People would tell me it’s a politically irrelevant topic, one that does not figure into the consciousness of the masa. But as we have seen during the Ondoy and Pepeng tragedy, it was the poor who were hardest hit. Climate change has grave economic and social consequences, and it is our responsibility as national leaders to learn to adapt and maintain it with the National development agenda. We must begin by strictly implementing the Solid Waste Management Act, a law I authored nine years ago but has reached only 13% compliance.
Fourth, protecting migrant worker’s well-being and economic development. Migrant workers are the savior of the Philippine economy. It is therefore government’s responsibility to ensure their wellbeing and repay them for their sacrifices. We must provide them adequate pre-departure support and skills training, social and labor rights protection in their countries of destination, safe remittance channels, and psychological support towards re-integrating with home communities. We should also provide OFWs with viable, practical uses for their hard-earned money through concrete incentives for insurance, child education/scholarships, housing, and investment opportunities. But first we must ensure that they are able to remit their earnings through assured safe and transparent channels.
Fifth, a genuine, just and lasting peace. For many years, internal armed conflict has drained public resources and undermined our social fabric. Piecemeal and on-and-off peace talks between the government and CPP-NPA/NDF and MILF have produced mere positive media points – but not genuine, just and mutually acceptable political settlement with insurgent groups. This has to stop. A nation mired in war and divided cannot move democracy and development forward.
Last, restoring pride in our culture and furthering the rights of the indigenous people. We need a strong culture and arts program that will define and promote Filipinos’ innate creativity, artistry and identity. We are a country of exceptional history, art, song and dance. Our culture is our soul. Government must promote and enhance Filipino culture, bringing out the best that the Filipino has to offer.
This is the platform on which I will build my campaign. Our people have shown that they want more than the usual changing of the guard, more than minor reforms to address the calamities and the crises that are depriving them of the means to extricate themselves out of poverty.
The Challenge lies before us. The change we seek is within each of us. Let it be said that during our time, during our watch, with wisdom and insight, with power and influence we said that during our time, during our watch, with wisdom and insight, with power and influence we did our share in making our lives better.