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[Transcript] Press Conference with VP Leni in Pennsylvania

08 August 2016
Press Briefing held on 06 August 2016

VP LENI: Thank you very much Con Gen, thank you to everyone who are here this afternoon. Magandang hapon po sa inyong lahat.

It is an honor and a privilege to grace an important occasion for the Filipino-American community. If you must know, NAFAA invited me before I became the vice president.

I think I got the invitation towards the end of the elections. I was even asking the one who invited me, what if I don’t win the elections and she was telling me win or lose we have chosen you to grace our event and I was asking her, are you sure? And she said yes.

I was talking to Atty. JP over lunch and she was telling me, they were serious about the invitation because they were so sure that I was going to win. Mabuti pa si Atty. JP.

Ako until the very end I do not know what my chances of winning were because you know it was a very difficult elections. It was a come from behind victory, I started at 1 percent and number 6 of 6 candidates.

But with everyone’s help and with all the faith and support of the Filipinos we were able to make it and as Con Gen was saying earlier.

This is the second official trip since I became the Vice President. It is actually a treat since even if this is just a short trip; Pennsylvania has almost been a home to our family in as much as I have a sister in law who lives here.

But truly the honor and the privilege is mine. Thank you to Atty. JP and thank you to Doktora Aida who has taken the cudgels of going through the entire difficult process of contacting me, scheduling this one.

I did not know how difficult it would be after I won that despite my discomfort of all these protocol and security it seems that I have no choice but to embrace it.

I have been in the office for a month and I am still in the process of adjusting to all of these. But everyday I pray that despite the many changes that is happening in my life right now, after six years I will come out of it still the same person before I entered public service.

But this is an opportune time for me to thank everyone who has given so much and extended support.

I think that you are fully aware that I won in North America so thank you very much for making me feel at home and for being here this afternoon.

Q: Message to Kababayans here and what is your promise to them as the new vice president?

VP LENI: First of all thank you for giving me the opportunity to be here and to be able thank everyone. As an aside, I was looking at the overseas votes and I lost tremendously on the overseas votes but I won in places where there were many Filipino professionals.

I won in North America, I won in Latin America, I won in Indonesia, I won in some parts of Europe.

It is heartwarming to know, you know I was running against very popular names. Names that were known in the political world for a long time and halos wala yatang nakakakilala ng Robredo.

Kapag naririnig iyong Robredo parang sinasabi kaano-ano kaya niya yung bumagsak sa eruplano? Parang ganoon lang. But you know, those who have really been discerning, in some places that I won, I think I won by a little less than 50 percent in North America.

The second one who came after me won a little over 20 percent so thank you very much and I hope I would be able to return the favor hindi lang sa mga lugar na nanalo ako pero kahit sa mga lugar na natalo ako.

I hope that I would be of service. There is so much to be done as far as overseas Filipinos are concerned, but I will go over that in my speech tonight so hindi ko na papangunahan iyon so thank you.

Thank you for the support and opportunity to thank you personally.

Q: What are your goals and projects as head of HUDCC?

VP LENI: I do not know if you are familiar of the housing portfolio. It is not a department but a coordinating council and if you look at its mandate, it is just that.

To coordinate the efforts of the 6 agencies under it. There is still a lot to be done in terms of policy is concerned. There is a lot to be done as far as institutionalization of processes and mandate is concerned.

The way HUDCC stands now as a coordinating council does not really give it any mandate. But it does not mean that I can’t do enough to at least solve the housing backlog.

The first three weeks as housing chair, all I have ever done, was try to compile all the data that was needed. Nakakadismaya lang na you know, I think over the years, HUDCC has not been really able to fulfill much of its mandate in the sense that if we are expected to do policy works on housing and if we are expected to coordinate our efforts, we should at least have the basic data.

Pero noong hinanap ko na po ang data, walang data yung HUDCC na ilang bahay ba talaga ang kailangan. Wala siyang data na ilan ba talga ang informal settlers. Wala siyang data na ilan bang lupa ang available sa housing. Wala lahat.

It’s as if I started from scratch. Right now, I can’t do much kasi wala pa pong na-appoint na mga heads sa mga key shelter agencies except the NHA na may acting chair pero all the other wala pa na-appoint kaya di pa kami makapag-board meeting.

I want to do much as far as Housing is concerned. I tried to ask for the accomplishments of the shelter agencies under my council.

Mayroon akong basic na mali na nakita. It seems like all through these years, ang basis ng pagbilang ng accomplishments ng opisina namin ay kung ilang bahay ang natayo.

I was telling my staff na it was not an accomplishment at all. It is just an activity, the accomplishment should be ilang pamilya ang natulungan as far as housing is concerned.

Iyong ginagawang bahay is in accordance to a comprehensive urban development plan and it seems that there is no urban development plan at all so I had to remind my staff na hindi ba iyong opisina namin hindi lang housing? Hindi ba iyong opisina namin housing and urban development?

I think very basic iyong problema dahil patayo lang nang patayo ng bahay. In fact government have spent so much already as much as housing is concerned. Over the past six years sa term ni president Aquino nagbaba ng 50 billion just for the relocation of houses.

Ginamit naman iyong pera in terms of relocation of houses pero hindi siya na-maximize dahil patayo lang nang patayo pero walang comprehensive development plan.

The good thing about it is that we discovered that there is an existing study done by the World Bank, a very comprehensive study and we can start from that. Parang nagpa-study pero hindi naman nagamit so sabi ko para hindi naman tayo mag-start from zero, we will be starting from the study of World Bank.

Pero sabi ko hindi na tayo puwede doon sa piecemeal. Ang sabi ko we have to make a comprehensive development plan. Make a six-year plan kung ano ang achievable at targets.

It’s basically a change of mindset, a change of policy and institutionalization of the entire organization. We have been looking at several models to take inspiration from.

When I went to Thailand to receive an award, I requested for a meeting with the Housing Ministry of Thailand. You know Thailand was able to solve their housing problem in ten years.

Kapag pumunta kayo sa Thailand ngayon wala nang squatters, wala nang street people. They have been very successful in that field and I think their model is something we can replicate.

Singapore’s model can also be replicated. Singapore nagsimula sila public rental.

Just to update you, ano problema ngayon? Magpapatayo ang gobyerno ng pabahay, huhulug-hulugan ng mga tao pero iyong mga tao karamihan maghuhulog ng ilang beses pero they wont pay anymore and because ownership has been turned over to them already.

Iyong fund hindi nagiging revolving. So na-stastall ang problema ng gobyerno.

In Singapore and in Thailand what they did was public rentals. There was a certain threshold in income level na kapag hindi mo inabot ito, public rental ka muna. Pero kapa kaya mo na, mag-eelevate ka into something bigger.

I think that model can be replicated in the Philippines. Not exactly that model but I think we can tweak it to make it more appropriate for the condition. We have to think outside the box already.

Alam mo sa atin gusto single detached. That is the ideal but we have to realize that we do not have enough space to do that especially in Metro Manila.

What is the situation now? Housing backlog is 5.6 milliion. 1.4 of that is informal settlers and 40 percent of that is in Metro Manila and we do not have enough land in Metro Manila anymore.

Kaya huwag na tayong mangarap ng single detached. Dapat high rise na or at least midrise.

Over the years also ang government nagpasunod ng offsite off-city relocation kasi mahal na nga ang lupa sa Manila. But it proved to be unsuccessful in the sense na nabibigyan ng bahay iyong mga nasa Metro Manila sa labas ng Manila.

Pero because there are problems with employment and transportation etc., kinukuha ng mga pamilya iyong mga pabahay sa labas pero bumabalik sila sa Manila. Binebenta nila iyong bahay kaya sabi ko we have to be very realistic.

Mas mabuti siguro in-city relocation or at least near city. Iyong may mga trabaho, isali na lang sa isang comprehesive development plan.

In other words, there is so much that needs to be done. Kulang na kulang ang oras.

Q: How do you plan to be a different kind of vice president?

VP LENI: I do not know if you are familiar with our Constitution pero if you look at our Constitution, the vice president has no real power except to wait for something to happen to the president.

Parang sayang yata iyong six years na naghihintay lang tayo. When I look at the budget over the years, ganoon nga ang nangyayari.

The Office of the Vice President has one of the smallest budgets in all of the departments of the government, which is expected kasi wala naman siya talagang trabaho.

The bulk of the budget of the vice presidency is admin, ceremonial, and local affairs. And local affairs are more political.

We do not want that to happen. In my six years as vice president, we want to reinvent the OVP into more advocacies centered but the budget does not allow that. We are already getting budgetary savings already and we started by moving the office from the Coconut Palace to New Manila.

The rent of the Coconut Palace before was a little less that 500,000 and we found a new place which allows us to save at least 200,000 a month.

So gusto namin sana, we are still asking help from DBM if we can use the savings for more advocacy work and that is what we are doing now. Even before I started my term, we sort of tried to assess what kinds of advocacies because we cannot spread ourselves too thinly.

We decided on 5 core advocacy areas. The first is hunger and food security, the second one is universal healthcare, the third one is public education, the fourth one is rural development and the fifth one is empowerment.

So bagay na bagay sa convention ninyo. I am sure you are aware of the statements made by the president before the inauguration that he did not intend to give me any cabinet post so we were preparing for that already. Sabi ko hindi naman yata puwedeng wala akong gagawin in the six years so we planned already.

In fact during the planning, one of my staff suggested, let us add housing as one of our advocacy areas because that has been my advocacy since I was a practicing lawyer, I worked heavily with informal settlers.

It is also the advocacy of my late husband pero sabi ko sa kanila huwag na tayong mag-ambisyon sa Housing dahil without government support we can never push for that advocacy.

Napaka-providential naman kasi noong nakasa na namin iyong 5 core advocacy areas, the Housing portfolio was offered to me kaya parang it is our 6th advocacy.

Because of the constraints of the mandate, we are not allowed under the law to execute projects by ourselves so what we plan to do now is to be the secretariat of all private organizations doing advocacy work in all these five advocacy areas.

Ano po ang ginagawa namin ngayon? Mondays to Thurdays, sinasabi namin na we take care of the supply side.

We talk to all private organizations, embassies, foundations, and try to do environmental scanning of which of them are doing programs that are related to the advocacies that we have chosen.

Halimbawa, World Food Program is doing a lot of hunger related activities, feeding the children, some of the embassies, Jollibee foundation, ito ginagawa nila.

And then we try to make a list of ano ang mga areas sa atin na mataas iyong hunger stats, ano ang areas na mataas ang malnutrition stats?

And one thing we discovered was that while there are so many organizations doing feeding programs, parang ang feeding programs ang pinaka-end goal nila. Parang ang accomplishment is how many children are fed.

Iyong accomplishments of these private organizations is, “this year we fed 20,000 children.” So again it’s like our office will try to change the mindset, that feeding is not the end all of this program.

Dapat measurable. With regard to the first advocacy, hunger and food security, we plan to do a nutrition governance where we help everyone start with baselines, do feeding then make all the efforts measureable.

We are also trying to inculcate the belief that hunger, malnutrition cannot be solved by feeding alone. It has to be feeding and poverty.

Because even if you feed and feed and feed, but the number of poor families is also increasing then the malnutrition stats won’t ever go down.

So iyon po ang tulong namin, kami bibigay ng technical assistance on how these private corporations can improve their existing programs then match them with beneficiaries.

So Monday to Thursday that’s what we’re doing but Fridays and Saturdays, that’s our laylayan trips. Laylayan trips because these are the days we go to the poorest barangays, the farthest, the smallest, the poorest barangays.

We’re concentrating now on the 20 poorest provinces. So far we’ve gone to 6 already in the first month. By visiting them we try to assess what are the existing, what are the circumstances, why do we think are they included in the poorest provinces kasi iba-iba naman ang dahilan.

So kung ano ang mga nalalaman namin, we, it’s also sort of a listening trip. Hindi kami nagsasalita nang nagsasalita, kami ang nakikinig.

So ginagawan namin ng profile, the places we visit and we try to link them up with the supply side.

So ngayon our first month in Office has been very fruitful, we’re far from our target.

We’re still at the stage of scanning the environment but starting Aug 15, we’re calling pre-summit conferences already because we’re going to have one big summit in Sept.22.

We’re going to have a summit where we plan with all the stakeholders already, the roadmap. Parang ang ayaw namin mangyari, tira nang tira lang ng plano kasi baka madaming masasayang na resources.

So we will try to dream together, we will try to plan together, but we will make sure that our targets are delivered and we want to make that every resource that comes in will be measured.

Mahirap kasi iyong labas nang labas ng pera pero hindi naman natra-translate. So we’re sort of changing mindsets, as I have said, we will not receive donations.

Our Office does not want to receive donations. What we will do instead is link the private organizations with the beneficiaries. So iyong mga private organizations, diretso sila sa beneficiaries so that we help them every step of the way.

So iyon, kami ang secretariat, kami ang clearning house, but we will be with them every step of the way.

I think it’s doable considering the many limitations of my Office. As I’ve said, under the Constitution, we do not have a mandate to execute programs but I think we can be a very good conduit, be an inspiration, siguro you’re familliar naman.

Sa atin kasi required ang Corporate Social Responsibility programs lahat ng companies and madaming companies naghahanap ng CSR programs but don’t really know what to do.

So kami iyon, we plan to give a menu already, here are the things needed, but if you will give this is how we will measure everything and these are the targets.

We’re very excited, we think we’ll be able to do much but we really need the support of everyone kaya my coming over is also an opportunity to inspire everyone to be involved.

Even if the Filipino-Americans here are so far from home it doesn’t keep them from being engaged. All we can do perhaps is make it easy for them to help our kababayans, pave the way so that they will be able to engage in the manner that is most convenient to the people.

Q: Thank you VP. The VP will be proceeding to the next event so I will be reading the last question. The VP has a tight schedule and we apologize. This is in relation to the younger generation who want to be more involved in business and entrepreneurial opportunities in the Philippines, what is your administration planning to support Fil-Ams to strengthen the Filipino economy?

VP LENI: I will try to dissect that question kasi parang there are two parts. The first part is more in line with what we are doing now, as I have said earlier there are just too many of us who are willing to help, ang pinaka-question lang is they do not know how.

Ang second question, the matter of trust. Gustong tumulong pero how can we be assured that we will reach those that we want to help?

So since the premise of the question is young Filipino-Americans, and by young siguro hindi naman yung edad ko, 20s-30s.

To have been living here for the longest time, most of them have been born here already, siguro it would be a tremendous help kung magkaroon ng trips na sponsored for them, there is one program now, I forgot the name, I think it has to be expanded, there is an ongoing program now that government organizes trips for the young people.

Mas parang, internship pero mas pinapakilala ang pinanggalingan. But I think it has to be enhanced in such a way that it’s not just culture or history, but a large part of it will also be opening their eyes to the situation to the Philippines, giving them an opportunity to understand what is going on at home but at the same time paving the way for them to guide them, how they can be of help.

Marami kasing problema sa atin ngayon, may gustong tumulong pero maraming, the bureaucracy is really too much. Marami sa atin, I don’t know if you’ve heard stories already, magpapadala ng used medical equipment tapos tatagain sa Customs, magpapadala ng libro, tatagain sa Customs.

Parang it has to be, iyong bureaucratic red tape has to go. I think the President is very supportive as far as this is concerned. We’ve talked about this in our Cabinet meetings.

How do we make our success more customer friendly? Mga gustong tumulong taga-dito, paano ba siya mapapadali? Sa atin kasi, pag umuuwi marami pang horror stories na nasasalunan pa po.

So we propose that there should be an inter-agency task force, that will go over ano ba yung mga proseso, an inter-agency task force na dapat nangdiyan yung DTI, nangdiyan ang DOT, nangdiyan ang DSWD.

Right now the past administration has made several headways already but the bureaucratic red tape iyong kailangang asikasuhin. It has to be easy enough–example, sa Housing, right now we’ re trying to set up a one-stop shop for doing this.

There are a lot of companies, I’ve discovered, who are just too willing to go into socialized housing pero parang pumasok sa socialized housing, ikaw na nga ang gustong tumulong, pinapahirapan ka pa sa proseso.

Lalo na ang mga mother na mahihirap, nag-aaply sa pabahay, ilang taon bago na-approve. Sa amin, if we can do everything in a few days only, better. Alam ko madami sa inyo gusto tumulong pero iyong pag-aalinlangan na lang.

Even the simplest Filipino worker working abroad always has the urge to give back, hindi lang sa pamilya, iyong pag-give back na kahit tumulong sa isang kababayan na nangangailangan, there’s always this sort of anxiety to help and you’re not really sure if your help will reach the person you want to help. So maraming bagay na ganon.

Ito last point already, I don’t think this speaks for Filipinos in the United States since most of the Filipinos here are professionals, pero ang mga OFWs in other countries.

In Naga where I come from, in Naga City where I come from, we established the first migrant resource center. We established that last year and we’re the first and only in the Philippines right now.

What we’re doing is doing everything for people who want to work abroad and for people who are working abroad. May pre-deployment, deployment and post-deployment.

I think the most will be very helpful in the sense that halmibawa dito matanda na, gusto mag-retire na. Ayaw umuwi kasi hindi alam anong opportunities doon.

This migrant resource center will take care of everything. Iyong pre-deployment para sa mga gustong magtrabaho abroad para hindi siya maloko ng employment agencies, iyong gobyerno nag-poprocess ng lahat.

We’ve been doing that for almost a year in Naga and it’s been very successful, in fact it’s been cited internationally already by different labor organizations.

I hope to advocate that as well in many other parts of the Philippines because I am sure marami dito gusto na mag-retire, ayaw naman sa America mag-retire kasi mas masaya sa Pilipinas pero hindi rin alam ang pupuntahan.

This migrant resource center will be able to do that. Iyong tinatanong mo, related din doon kasi that same center can provide the resources for Filipino-Amercans who want to do business in the Philippines and want to help in any way they can.

Q: Thank you Madam Vice President, on behalf of the Philippine community, on behalf of the Consulate, we’d like to thank you for granting us the opportunity to engage with your office and for discussing with us your programs. On behalf of the Philippine American Media and Press, we wish to convey our wholehearted support of your programs. When you come back…

Q: About the extra judicial killings?

VP LENI: Am I in favor of? Siyempre naman hindi. I think I have been vocal about it. In fact, I have issued several official statements already.

Even if I am Vice President I am still just one voice. I think media can do a lot in as far as creating a mindset that this is not right.

There have been a few voices already out there against extra judicial killings but I think that public outcry is not there yet. I think all of us should do our share in making sure that this has to stop.

The president has made several statements already saying that the rule of law and due process would be honored but every one should have a stake in this.

Just last week I lost two of my friends. One is a barangay chief and one is a sheriff to senseless deaths. I was in the wake of I do not know if you read about him, the high school teacher, who was a batch mate of my second daughter. High School teacher in Ateneo was gunned down outside his house and until now no leads.

The barangay captain I was telling you was aged already if I am not mistaken, late 60s early 70s. Very simple very humble man. No enemies he was also gunned down by motorcycle riding men.

There is already a pervading culture of impunity and not only that but if you look at social media, it also seems like there is a culture of hatred already. I think this started during the campaign period.

Parang hindi naman tayo ganito and you will ask yourselves, saan ba tayo… parang may nag-stop sa ating lahat. But if you also look at the rest of the world, it seems that we are not alone in this. Parang there is a global phenomenon right now that there is really a culture of hatred going around but we should not feel helpless. It is scary.

Ito kapag hindi enough ang public outcry, it brings about a sense of hopelessness and you think to yourself is this really what the majority wants? Bakit walang ganoon.

So tatanungin natin ang sarili natin kung ito ba ang gusto natin? Kasi kung ito ang gusto natin, iyong mga ayaw noon dapat matakot. Pero kung hindi naman ito ang gusto natin at marami lang sa atin ang hindi bumoboses then we are not doing enough.

So ako naman, I have been very vocal about it, a few people have been very vocal about it but it is not enough.

There should be more. Medyo kakaiba.

Tama po kayo, it is scary in the sense that maraming nangyayari pero kaunti ang outrage.

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