SPEECH: Education for Indigenous Empowerment

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(Speech delivered by Vice President Leni Robredo at the Pamulaan Center for Indigenous Peoples Education, University of Southeastern Philippines Mintal Campus in Davao City on 15 May 2017, during the 2017 National Indigenous Peoples Education Festival)

Maraming salamat po. Maupo po tayong lahat.

Bago po ako magpatuloy, pagbigay-galang muna po sa mga kasama natin ngayong umaga, sa pangunguna po ng President ng Assisi Development Foundation, Mr. Benjamin Abadiano. Magandang umaga po.

Dr. Lourdes Generalao, President of the University of Southeastern Philippines; Dr. Eulalio Patayon, Campus Dean; Mr. Rozanno Rufino, DepEd – Indigenous Peoples Education Office Coordinator. Good morning po.

Iyong mga faculty members ng USEP, saka iyong Pamulaan formators; magandang umaga sa inyong lahat. IP educators, education implementers, advocates and partners; iyong atin pong IP leaders, saka iyong mga kabataan; sa inyo pong lahat: Maayong buntag sa inyong tanan!

Unang-una po, gusto kong humingi ng paumanhin. Dapat po kanina pa akong ten o’clock nandito, pero delayed po iyong aming flight. Ito lang po iyong pinunta ko ngayon. Pagkasalita ko, sasakay din ako sa alas doseng flight pabalik sa Maynila. Kaya isang malaking karangalan po na naimbitahan ninyo ako at ng Assisi Foundation na makasama kayo sa isang napakahalagang okasyon para po sa ating IP community.

It is exciting to be with you today as we celebrate five successful years of the Local Educators Advancement Program o iyong tinatawag niyong LEAP. This is truly something to be proud of, because for every educator trained, inspired, and committed to the art of teaching, there are hundreds of young minds transformed and empowered.

I am reminded of a quote I once read. Ito po iyong pagkasabi ng quote: “You can count the trees that will grow from a seed, but you can never count the seeds that will grow from a tree.” Lahat po tayong mga educators ay mistulang mga puno, at ang inyong mga estudyante ang inyong binhi. As you face the daily grind and sometimes travel long distances to teach children and the youth, know that each act of dedication will make a difference in more lives than you think.

So, let us honor every teacher and educator here in this room today. Alam na alam ko po iyong buhay ng isang guro dahil sa sampung taon, ako po ay nagturo din. I was a teacher for ten years. I was teaching Economics while I was a law school student. Iyong asawa ko po, mayor na siya noon. Kakasundo po sa school na tinuturuan ko, nagturo na rin [siya] sa College of Engineering. Kaya kami pong dalawa ay teachers. Iyong nanay ko po, 81 years old na siya ngayon pero nagtuturo pa rin. Nagsimula po siyang magturo at the age of 18. Eighteen nagsimula, ngayon mag-e-eighty-one siya sa September, nagtuturo pa rin po siya sa graduate school ng aming paaralan. Kaya alam na alam ko kung gaano kahirap, pero alam na alam ko rin kung gaano ka fruitful iyong nararamdaman ng isang guro.

Nothing creates hope and progress more powerfully than education, especially in indigenous communities where poverty is a daily struggle.

Let us also honor the elders of the various IP communities who are here with us this morning who, to me, epitomize the wisdom of your cultures, the strengths of your traditions, and the truths that our people today seem to have forgotten. I congratulate you for everything you have made possible for your communities, and for making sure that your unique cultures live on.

Alam niyo po, bago pa lang naman akong pulitiko. I only became a politician after the death of my husband. Namatay po iyong asawa ko, 2012. Bigla po akong naitulak na tumakbo noong 2013. But in all the years that I wasn’t in politics—It was my husband who was in government—human rights lawyer po ako. Hindi po kami iyong abogado na nasa law office, kami po iyong mga abogado na nagta-trabaho sa mga communities. At iyong madalas po naming katrabaho—ang area po namin, buong Bicol region—mga magsasaka, mga mangingisda.

Pero iyong isa pong sektor na madalas rin naming katrabaho ay mga indigenous peoples. Meron po kami sa Camarines Sur, ang tawag po sa kanila, mga Agta. Sila po iyong aming katrabaho at mahaba iyong panahon ng struggle. Hindi lang para lang i-secure iyong kanilang tinitirikan na parating mayroong pagsubok na papaalisin sila, pero iyong pang-araw-araw na kahirapan. Iyong pang-araw-araw na pakikisalamuha sa kahirapan ng pagbuhay.

So, matagal pong panahon na iyon ang aking trabaho. Kaya nooong ako po ay naging politiko na – hindi pa po ako Vice President, pero noong ako ay Congresswoman na – iyong mga paggalaw patungkol sa pag-secure at pag-protect ng mga karapatan ng IPs, parati po akong nakikisali.

Marahil po ay alam niyo rin ang naging trabaho ng asawa ko noong siya ay nabubuhay pa para sa IP communities. Siya po iyong naglabas ng department order na dapat kayo ay represented na sa mga local legislative councils.

One of the lessons I have learned from working with IP groups back when I was a lawyer for the poor is the difficulty of balancing cultural legacy with the demands of modern life. Progress requires us to embrace innovation, to welcome the unfamiliar, and adapt to it. Kung hindi po natin gagawin ang mga iyan, baka mapag-iwanan tayo ng mundo. But members of IP communities, especially our youth, also need to value their roots and preserve their unique traditions, some of which are ill-matched with modern living. Alam na alam niyo iyon, ‘di ba?

It is this balancing act between heritage and progress, between tradition and modernity, that we must find, and education is the best way to find it. Each and every time you devote your skill and time to your students, you are helping form the minds of future leaders who can bridge tradition and progress. Leaders who will bear the wisdom of their cultural heritage, as well as use that wisdom for our people’s good.

Now that you have completed the fifth phase of LEAP, you are in a better position to innovate, so that education systems for tribal communities are tailored to your needs. You can help them see—even all of us—that your traditions are not barriers to progress.

This is what empowerment is all about. Parati po nating ipinaglalaban ang empowerment, pero ano iyong empowerment? And this is your greatest gift to the IP community. You know, firsthand, the tremendous difficulties that indigenous peoples have faced over generations. You have seen how the laws that should protect you have also been used against you. You are keenly aware of the discrimination you face, and the injustice you wrestle with. You understand too well how you are taken advantage of, and how even your most fundamental rights—including your right to ancestral domain—have been denied to you.

The empowerment of our tribal communities is your bedrock to success. What is most important and what is necessary is that our tribal groups can decide for themselves. Ito po iyong pinakabuod, ito iyong ipinaglalaban natin nang napakatagal na. Maraming mga grupo na nagsasabing para sila sa mga IP communities pero hindi naman binibigyan ng boses iyong tunay na mga representatives ng IP community. Ito po iyong gusto nating ipaglaban. That you are given a voice to determine what you want to become.

Our collective goal is not to impose our solutions on you, but for you to regain control of your future. That is when you can participate and eventually partake of the growth of this nation. That is when you can claim a stake in creating a stronger Philippines.

I understand that the path you have chosen—as educators, as leaders of your tribal communities, and as civil society actors—is fraught with difficulty. Talagang napakahirap.

Our laws need to be more considerate of the needs of our IP communities, so that your heritage is honored along with your potential for progress. Bawat pong bisita ko sa mga probinsiya na may IP community, I make it a point to visit. Pagpunta ko sa Bukidnon, nakausap ko iyong iba’t ibang tribes ng Bukidnon. May tinutulungan po kami, Bajau community pero nasa Nueva Ecija. Napakalayo ng narating; galing sila sa Sulu pero nasa Nueva Ecija. Meron po kaming binibisita sa Zambales na mga Aeta community. Meron din kaming tinutulungan na mga Mangyan community sa Oriental Mindoro. At iisa iyong reklamo. Ano po iyong reklamo na iyon? “Hindi kami napapakinggan.” Totoong may opisina na nag-aasikaso sa amin, totoong may mga batas patungkol sa amin. Pero ang pakiramdam nila, kulang sa representasyon. Iyong mga batas na nagpo-protect sa inyo, kailangang balikan, kailangang i-review muli. Pero iyong magre-review, baka kailangang kayo. Hindi mga legislators na hindi nararamdaman ang kahirapan na pinagdaraanan ninyo.

Our local government units need to recognize IPs’ need for more meaningful representation in their own development. Tribal leaders should be seated at the table in city and municipal development councils, people’s councils, local poverty reduction action teams, and—especially when it comes to education concerns—should be members of local school boards. You should be able to decide how to spend government money, which sectors and which geographical areas to prioritize. Our government should learn to listen to you, who know best the problems faced by the people on the ground.

Ito po iyong madalas na inirereklamo: na paminsan, pati iyong mga batas na sana nag-aalaga sa atin, iyon din iyong batas na ginagawa para alisin iyong ating mga karapatan. So iyon po ang kailangan nating ipaglaban.

Here and there, you meet resistance to your work. We assure you that you can count on our support, especially with the Assisi Foundation as our partner. The empowerment of IP communities is central to the antipoverty drive of the Office of the Vice President, because we believe that it is time to end poverty, especially in IP communities.

Kung titingnan po natin iyong datos, ipinapakita nito na 61 percent ng indigenous peoples ay dito naninirahan sa Mindanao. Subalit sa gitna ng inyong napakagandang mga kabundukan, lambak, talon at dalampasigan, ay siya namang pinakamataas na antas ng kahirapan sa buong bansa. Kaya dapat tanungin natin, bakit ganoon?

We cannot stand by doing nothing in the face of massive poverty. Naiintindihan po natin kasi, halimbawa po ako, hindi rin po ako laking Maynila. Probinsyana po ako. Lumuwas ako ng Maynila, noong nag-aral na ako ng college. Pero pag-graduate ko po ng college, bumalik din ako sa probinsiya. Lumuwas na lang ako ulit noong ako ay nag-congresswoman na. Alam ko kung papaano iyong nararamdaman na nama-marginalize. Alam ko kung papaano iyong nararamdaman na hindi naiintindihan iyong pinagdadaanan na kahirapan. Isa lang naman po ang susi sa mga ito: para maintindihan, bigyan ng boses. Kaya hindi naiintindihan kasi hindi rin nabibigyan ng boses.

Although strictly speaking this is not part of our mandate, we are trying to fill in as many of the gaps that we see in the government’s anti-poverty program. Ito po hindi kumpetensiya sa existing programs. Pero naghahanap ng kulang at iyong kulang doon ang sinusubukang punuan.

We call our anti-poverty efforts Angat Buhay. Iyon po ang pangalan ng programa namin sa Office of the Vice President. Ang gustong sabihin, exactly what it says: We want to uplift the lives of the poorest Filipinos—including, of course, indigenous people in remote rural communities.

How does Angat Buhay work? We work with key partners to make change happen. Together with grassroot communities, CSOs, national and local governments, and ordinary citizens, we find real solutions that will benefit the poorest.

We have already begun partnerships to create a positive impact on our IP communities. Through Angat Buhay, we are supporting the Negrense Volunteers for Change Foundation – hindi ko po alam kung narinig niyo na sila –  and the Negros Women for Tomorrow Foundation, who are working with the Taalandig Bukidnon tribe. Iyong amin pong partners, nagta-trabaho with the Talaandig Bukidnon tribe. We are also building a two-classroom structure for 115 of the tribe’s children in Hinoba-an, Negros Occidental. Area po namin iyong Hinoba-an. Iyong team po namin have been there for several times. Isa sa mga itinurong problema doon, walang paaralan para sa mga anak ng mga IPs. We aim to finish the classrooms by the end of this month. We are also working with the Mangyan community in Oriental Mindoro.

Our Angat Buhay efforts for IP communities are not restricted to education. We also have projects as well for rural development, where we help bring necessary services to tribal groups. Last month lang yata iyon – kasi ako po mismo ang pumunta –  we installed water pumps for over a hundred Sama-Bajau families in Barangay Bakod Bayan in Nueva Ecija. Ito po iyong sabi ko sa inyo. Malayo iyong narating nila, mga taga-Sulu po sila pero nasa Barangay Bakod Bayan sila ngayon sa Nueva Ecija. Binisita po namin sila. Ang reklamo nila: 200 plus families silang nandoon pero meron lang yatang 16 na water pumps. Gumigising daw sila ng alas-tres ng umaga para pumila, kasi iyong mga anak nila mag-aaral. So naglagay po kami ng mga dagdag na mga water pumps doon para hindi na sila kailangang napakaagang gumising.

Prior to that, we have also installed solar kits in the homes of Mangyan families in Pola, Oriental Mindoro. Ako rin po iyong pumunta, inakyat po namin sila sa bukid. Ang problema nila, wala silang kuryente. Hindi na sila kayang idamay ng grid doon sa Pola kasi napakalayo nila from the center. So iyong nahanap po namin na solusyon para sa kanila, mga solar generators. Kaya ngayon, mayroon na silang kuryente. Nakakapanood na sila ng “Ang Probinsiyano.” Kasi iyon iyong kanilang request sa amin – makapanood lang sila ng “Ang Probinsiyano.” Ngayon masaya na po sila, kahit papaano, kasi meron na silang kuryente. Iyong isa sa community nila, mayroon na’ng ref at nakakapag-negosyo na po sila ng yelo dahil doon sa ref na iyon. Ito po iyong mga members ng Tadyawan tribe sa Pola, Oriental Mindoro. Kami po mismo iyong umakyat doon.

What we want is a future where IPs are accorded the respect they deserve, a future where tribal groups do not just thrive, but a future where indigenous communities can have access to opportunities for progress.

We know that these are all within reach. For as long as you continue your work as IP educators. For as long as we aim for IP empowerment, our nation’s tribes can look forward to a future that is secure and full of promise. In fact, let me point out that we are all one tribe — that of the human family.

Ito po iyong ayaw natin: na parang inihihiwalay kayo dahil mga IPs kayo. Gusto po natin, habang pino-protect iyong inyong cultural heritage, tini-treat kayo na magkakapareho lang tayo. Because if we all care for each other, our indigenous peoples will be recognized for who they are: our living treasures that must be protected and honorable bearers of our country’s heritage.

Kaya we look forward to the next three days. Pagkatapos po nito, palapit tayo nang palapit doon sa paggawa ng education as a main driver, iyong education iyong pinakasusi para lalo kayong mapalapit, lalo kayong mabigyan ng boses at lalong lumakas ang mga loob na hindi tini-treat iyong sarili na inferior to the rest.

So, sa atin pong educators, sa Assisi Foundation at sa USEP administration, maraming maraming salamat po for your service to our country. Magandang umaga pong muli at congratulations sa inyong lahat!

 

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