GOVERNANCE: Welcoming Differences in Working for Democracy

(Speech of the new governor of Dinagat Islands, Arlene “Kaka” Bag-ao at the turnover rites held at the Provincial Capitol in San Jose, Dinagat Islands on 28 June 2019)

Governor Glenda B. Ecleo, local government officials, fellow workers in government, honored guests, ug mga minahal naming mga Dinagatnon—good afternoon to all of you.

For me, more than being a turnover ceremony, we are in an occasion of tribute as we give credit to what Governor Glenda B. Ecleo has accomplished as the highest official of the province. Let me start by expressing my gratitude to the woman we pay tribute to today.

Thank you, Gov, for your unwavering service to our province. Without your initiative as Congresswoman, we wouldn’t even be a province to begin with. It is an honor for me to be your successor in holding the reins of leadership in Dinagat Islands. I thank you for your grace in welcoming me to your office as we commence our transition.

The newly-elected governor of Dinagat Islands province, Arlene “Kaka” Bag-ao (L) receives the ceremonial mace with the provincial seal from outgoing governor Glena Ecleo as a symbol of the transfer of leadership. Contributed photo

Ngayong araw na ito, nagpapasalamat tayo sa ating Gobernador hindi lamang para sa kanyang pamumuno, kundi para sa pagbubuo ng ating probinsya noong siya ay Kongresista. Pero sa palagay ko, ang pinakamakabuluhang parangal na maaari nating ibigay sa kanya ay ang pagsasakatuparan ng esensya ng ating pagiging isang probinsya.

A province, in essence, is not simply a grouping of places, towns, and barangays within one territory. It isn’t just a category or a classification based on population, land area, or culture. It isn’t merely held together by local governance. We are more than these things. Ang esensya ng pagiging isang probinsya ay nakapaloob sa ating pagiging isang komunidad na binubuo ng mga mamamayan na pinagbubuklod-buklod ng pagtulong sa isa’t isa, pagkakaroon ng pakialam sa nangyayari sa kanilang kapaligiran, at pagmamahal hindi lamang sa pamilya kundi sa kapwa tao. If we accomplish our goal of realizing the essence of what a province truly is and should be, this would probably be the best gift we can give to our Governor to express our gratitude for her authorship of the law that created the Province of Dinagat Islands.

With this, I ask everyone to stand and give our Governor a round of applause.

Of course, your applause for her is also praise for the entire Provincial Government, which she led. This is why I also thank everyone working in these halls for the welfare of each and every Dinagatnon. I am grateful for your dedication in ensuring a smooth transition in the leadership, and I look forward to continuing to work with you in the next three years.

Now, I thank our people for giving me the mandate to serve as the new Governor of our province. I am truly honored and humbled by what you have entrusted upon me. I, together with my team, commit to bringing the same brand of principled leadership and service that we have espoused in our service in the 16th and 17th Congresses of the House of Representatives.

Human rights, social justice, equality, people’s participation and empowerment—these are the foundations of democracy that I have fought for as your Representative in Congress. These are the same things that I will defend and uphold as your incoming Governor. I believe that these are also the same struggles that we all share, regardless of political affiliation.

With this, I would like to reiterate some of my words in my speech during the Provincial Government’s Esteeming Ceremonies delivered on my behalf by my congressional Chief of Staff. I said that: “Our constituents have given us a Vice Governor who belongs to the other party and a Fifth Sangguniang Panlalawigan which is very evenly divided among the parties and independents.

“As an advocate and believer of genuine democracy, I view this not as a threat but as a gift and a challenge. As an advocate of political pluralism, I accept this challenge with much respect for our differences and diversity.

“Let us not deny that we are different. Let us not be threatened that we are diverse. Let us celebrate our differences and diversity for such is the spirit and essence of democracy and pluralism.

“I will not ask you to put our differences and diversities behind, I am inviting you to put the interests, welfare, and well-being of the people of Dinagat in front.”

Crowd gathers in front of the provincial capitol of Dinagat Islands during turnover rites from outgoing governor Glenda Ecleo to lawyer and Dinagat Rep. Arlene “Kaka” Bag-ao on 28 June 2019. Contributed photo

Let us embrace our similarities together with our differences. We are one and the same in our goal of ensuring development in Dinagat Islands, but we may be different when it comes to how we will carry this task out. We welcome the debate—ang pagbabangga ng mga ideya ang pinakamagandang paraan para makabuo ng isang malinaw at magandang solusyon sa mga problema. Pero siyempre, hindi lang dapat mga lider ang nagdedebate. Kasama dapat ang mga mamamayan.

I have said over and over again: The best people to determine the best solutions to problems are the ones facing them head on, the ones most affected, and the ones with the most to lose. This is why, as we welcome political differences to our table, we, more importantly, welcome the diverse voices of the people of Dinagat Islands. It is not enough for us to see them and the problems they face in their communities. What is essential is that they are given the chance to be heard, because that, I sincerely believe, is the be-all and end-all of democracy.

In this ceremony for the turnover of leadership of the Provincial Government, I stand before you—honored by your mandate, grateful to my predecessor, and ready, willing, and able to serve as your new Governor. Once again, thank you to our outgoing Governor, the Honorable Glenda B. Ecleo; thank you to our workers in the Provincial Government and our partners in the Municipalities, Barangays, and line agencies; and most of all, thank you to the people of Dinagat Islands.

Daghang salamat!