27 July 2021


The President’s SONA is over. We heard lists of numbers and projects. And yet there were things we had hoped would be given emphasis but were not. I face you today in the hopes of filling a gap; of imparting a truth that must be affirmed by any leadership.

The truth: The Filipino helped their fellow Filipino; the Filipino came to their fellow Filipino’s rescue; we made it through the past year and a half only because of the strength we gave each other. I face you all today to say: Thank you very, very much.

We at the OVP bore witness to this ourselves. Each time we called—for time; for donations, in cash through our partners or in kind; for knowledge and advice that you continue to give—the Filipino never failed us; always, the positive response was overwhelming. Even before ECQ was declared in Metro Manila, for instance, we had an online donation drive to address the most urgent needs of frontliners—PPE sets, medical supplies, and food and care packages. Thank you to everyone who helped, everyone who stayed up late with us, everyone who dug deep into their own pockets to pitch in for a sack of rice or a box of canned goods.

Thank you to the local dressmakers and community-based sewers who didn’t hesitate to craft affordable PPE sets when supplies ran low. Thank you to the medical specialists who inspected these and made sure they were up to safety standards.

Thank you to the private partners who lent their vehicles and facilities for our shuttle service and temporary shelters. To the volunteer conductors, drivers, and even those who gave haircuts to frontliners: Thank you.

This past year, students and teachers went through intense adjustments because of the cancellation of face-to-face classes. In response, the OVP launched Bayanihan e-Skwela. To the LGUs we engaged, the volunteer tutors in Community Learning Hubs, the educators, creatives, and celebrities who exemplified bayanihan in crafting instructional videos: Thank you.

Thank you as well to our partners who helped build sikap.ph, our jobs-matching platform for blue collar workers, and iskaparate.com, which brought small businesses online. There were also our many collaborators for the TrabaHOPE apprenticeship program for Out-of-School-Youth, and our partners in rolling out the Community Mart app. Because of you, we were able to extend a lifeline, to give jobs and livelihoods, to fellow Filipinos when they needed it most.

You may also remember: Before the pandemic, Taal Volcano erupted. Right in the middle of the pandemic, successive typhoons struck. With just one call, donations and volunteers poured in. In Albay and Camarines Sur, private partners and the residents themselves who lost their homes worked together; because of this, we were able to build permanent housing for those affected by Typhoons Rolly and Ulysses. Bayanihan was also the foundation of the Angat Buhay Village we built there. To all who joined us in these initiatives, thank you.

When COVID cases resurged in Metro Manila, we called for volunteers for Bayanihan E-Konsulta. Once more, fellow Filipinos did not fail us: 1,078 doctors and 3,156 non-medical volunteers responded. Other volunteer doctors also joined Swab Cab and Vaccine Express—some heading straight to volunteer duty after long shifts at their own clinics and hospitals. You had so little time left for rest, and yet you still chose to offer it in service to others. Thank you.

In truth, we’ve been witnessing this for the last five years. Even with our Angat Buhay programs, it was the private sector and volunteers that banded together to build dorms for students in the farthest reaches of our country. In Pola, Oriental Mindoro and Agutaya, Palawan, homes in the remotest barangays were electrified thanks to partnerships with the private sector. We built a mental health facility in San Remigio, Cebu— also with help from the private sector. In Marawi, we worked with local communities for livelihood projects and in building the Angat Buhay Village shelters. In Bicol, we helped farmers expand their production and gain access to a wider market — all through Filipinos ready to help lift their fellow countrymen up.

The OVP does not have a large budget; unlike other agencies, we don’t have an expansive political machinery. Our budget is trust; our machinery, a people willing to give of themselves. Can you imagine what more we could have accomplished if everything, including decisions and policies of the government, was oriented towards this same bayanihan spirit?

Our consultations with experts yielded recommendations— things implementable only by the national government, and that we ask to be acted upon as soon as possible. Many of these we’ve already mentioned in previous statements, including a faster and integrated system for testing, tracing, and treatment, primarily a solid database. Direct delivery of vaccines to our people and their communities. Reviewing revenues from the Sin Tax, for allocation towards pandemic needs. Paying off PhilHealth’s debts to hospitals to ensure their continued operations. Properly and sufficiently enforcing Universal Healthcare. Passing Bayanihan 3, and ensuring the funds from this law are used so that no one starves or loses their home. Lending to small businesses. Offering aid to those who lost their jobs, and giving them extensive retraining opportunities to help them keep up with the evolving landscape of industries. Allocating more funds towards raising the quality of education.

In the next few days details of these policy recommendations will be posted on our Facebook page, many of which were already proposed by other experts and sectors. Our point: If it hasn’t been done yet, begin; if it’s already being done, intensify. There is no debate as regards the reality: Much is left to do to address, and lift ourselves up from, this pandemic.

Which is why we have persistly reiterated our message: There should be no other priority but the pandemic and its effects. We need all hands on deck and laser-like focus. This should be mirrored in our budgets, in the agenda of every meeting within government, in every memo cascaded down the bureaucracy. If we need to put up billboards and tarps, let it be about staying safe from illness. If need the services of a batallion of graphic artists, let it be for a vaccination drive. When passing new laws, let it be for funds and a stronger system to combat the pandemic.

But aside from laying down policies, we know that government has another very important responsibility: To orient us towards a single direction; to remind us that whatever our disagreements, we are ultimately one nation. The mission of government, especially in times of crisis, is to cultivate unity.

When our fellow Filipinos leave their homes even while under ECQ, shouldn’t we look deeper into their reasons for doing so? Perhaps there is more to it than simple hardheadedness. Perhaps they face the very real threat of starving if they don’t go out to work; perhaps it’s even more cramped and unsafe in their homes. When our doctors and nurses cry out for help, shouldn’t our first response be: What can we do, how do we ease your burden? When people are reluctant to get vaccinated, isn’t it better to give incentives, rather than threaten with punishment? When suggestions are being made, shouldn’t we listen first, rather than outrightly dismissing it as fault-finding and antagonism?

We’ve come to notice how, whenever problems arise, the first impulse of some is to look for a culprit, to look for a suspect to arrest, or to single out the next critic whom trolls can attack. We are one another’s strength, but it seems as if we’re always being pitted against each other –always being split into tribes, according to which island or province we grew up in, which gesture we make with our fists, or who we supported in the last elections.

This has to stop. We are in the midst of a crisis. No one else but us gets infected, no one else but us suffers, no one else but us gets stalled on the road to progress. The truth is that the pandemic doesn’t ask which group we belong to, or which political party appears on our membership cards. Whenever someone gets sick, all of us come at risk. When one person loses their job, it doesn’t just inch their family closer to poverty; it also slows production, reduces the resources flowing through our communities, and affects the entire economy. A challenge faced by one is a challenge faced by all; to neglect one means neglecting all; and to help one is to ease suffering for all.

We are one nation marching towards a single future, and we have a choice that lies before us: We can keep on fighting each other, or we can listen and open up our hearts to one another. We can unite.

I see this clearly in all of our initiatives during this pandemic: The Filipino is compassionate, the Filipino is always ready to lend a hand, we only need spaces to come together in solidarity and communal responsibility. The task ahead of us is to widen these spaces, and direct every step and every effort towards reaching one horizon. Let us not be fooled by illusions of disunity, fabricated by the few who seek to slow our journey towards the fulfillment of our dreams. Let’s treat those we meet not as members of one camp or another – but as brothers and sisters, as family, as fellow Filipinos.

We are all interconnected. The only way to overcome this crisis—the surest path to reaching our loftiest dreams—is to act as one. My faith remains steadfast: The Filipino knows and understands this truth. I remain faithful that we will keep striving to live out this truth. My faith in the Filipino people remains wholehearted and intact.

Thank you and good day to all.