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Speech delivered at the Development Academy of the Philippines, Pasig City on November 27, 2013.

DAP Pres. Tony Kalaw, Dean Gloria Jumamil-Mercado and the administration and faculty of the Academy, including my ka-Twitter Prof. Gabby Lopez; Mr. Edsel Ramos and his colleagues in CARD-MRI; and of course our graduates of batch two. Isang magandang umaga po sa inyo!

Una sa lahat, palaalkan po natin ang ating mga graduates. Congratulations po!

I have been to many commencement ceremonies. But this is special for me first, because it is an opportunity to see my old friend and your institute’s managing director George Soriano. Nag-abot po kami sa La Salle Greenhills nung high school pero nauna po siya ng ilang taon. Sumunod po ako sa kanyang mga yapak at naging aktibista din sa UP Los Banos. I am happy to say that George and I have not lost the idealism of our youth, even if we have lost some of our hair.

This is also my first time to speak before students of the Development Academy of the Philippines. Nung natanggap ko po yung imbitasyon ninyo, ang unang sumagi sa isip ko ay bakit kung kailan hindi na ako congressman ay saka pa ako naimbita sa DAP? Eh ordinaryong mamamayan na lang po tayo ngayon. Sabagay hindi ko po kayo masisisi. Pagkatapos ng pork barrel scam, wala na ho yatang gustong mag-imbita ng congressman o senador sa graduation.

But seriously, it is an honor and great privilege to be with you today and to be speaking before the present and future leaders of the microfinance sector. I am happy to know that DAP and microfinance institutions like CARD-MRI have distilled their long and rich experience in development work into such a masteral course. This is very important if you are to continue your excellent work in uplifting the poor and, more importantly, make such efforts even more effective, thoroughgoing and sustainable.

Indeed, microfinance continues to be a key element in almost all anti-poverty and development programs worldwide. By making credit, insurance, banking and other financial services accessible to the poor and marginalized, you are giving them opportunities to have higher incomes, better health and education, and greater power to improve their lives.

As masters degree holders, you are now certified experts in this field. I understand most of you are already working as managers for CARD-MRI and other microfinance institutions. So you’ve been there. Done that. Malamang po mas madami pa kayong nagawa para wakasan ang kahirapan kumpara sa mga congressman at senador na ipinapangalandakan ang kanilang mga umano’y anti-poverty projects at financial assistance programs. Itanong n’yo pa ho kay Benhur Luy at Janet Napoles.

Kaya nga po nanggagalaiti ang buong sambayanan sa nangyari sa pork barrel scam na ‘yan. Habang ang karamihan sa ating mga kababayan ay hirap na hirap maghagilap ng perang magagamit sa kanilang kabuhayan, sa pagpapaaral ng kanilang mga anak, pagpapagamot o pagpapagawa ng bahay na winasak ng bagyo, biglang mababalitaan mong biyun-bilyon ang winaldas sa mga walang kwentang proyektong kinikikbakan lang pala ng mga tinaguriang public servants. Sampung billion! Biro n’yo po, kung kahit katiting lamang sana ng perang ‘yan ay napunta sa Development Academy of the Philippines o sa CARD eh di may silbi sana. Di ba ho?

But of course, having been in the field and now graduating into masters in the subject, you also know that microfinance is not the panacea that many thought it was a decade or two ago. There was a time when policy makers and development agencies thought that providing the poor with cheaper credit would naturally turn them into successful little entrepreneurs capable of breaking free from the shackles of poverty. It was a nice story. But now we know it’s not that simple. On the contrary, the picture that has emerged is quite strange – the overall impact of microfinance on poverty reduction is now thought to be negligible, spotty at best. That for every success story is an equal, probably even greater amount of failure. Worse, microfinance institutions are even being suspected of extorting money from the poor.

According to a recent ADB report on the country’s Microfinance Development Program, of the clients of microfinance institutions in the country, only 4.5% come from below the poverty threshold and only 10.2% earn below $2 per capita income per day. This means that MFIs have failed to reach out to the greater number of people living in poverty.

The report says and I quote: “Within the broad context of inclusive growth, the program created new jobs through financing of microenterprises, increased access to financial services, and helped increase financial literacy and consumer protection of microfinance clients. However, while the MDP helped catalyze growth and commercialize the sector, outreach to the poor remains limited, and impact on poverty is not known.”

This is not to say that microfinance does not improve incomes or people’s lives. We’re all sure it does. However, like many good things in this country, it is constrained by the structural defects, imbalances and failed economic policies that have kept our country underdeveloped and our people poor for decades. Within such limits, one can only do so much.

When I was in the 15th Congress, I chaired the Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship Development. Even as I believed in the importance of microenterprises in providing people with jobs and livelihoods, I had this nagging feeling that micro-entrepreneurship, just like overseas employment, was being hyped to gloss over our leadership’s failure to provide more meaningful jobs to our people. I held the view then until now that we can not develop as a country of food carts, tricycles and sari-sari stores. Nor will we prosper as the e-load capital of the world. Somewhere along the way, we will have to develop agricultural and industrial enterprises of such size and scale so as to provide enough stable, regular employment and incomes to our people. That while microenterprise is great for subsistence livelihood, it is the linkages and value chains between small and medium enterprises to large industries that is key to higher incomes and sustainable, long-term growth and development. Sadly, in my nine years in Congress, I had been asking NEDA and our economic managers for a national industrial plan for the country. Grumadweyt na lang po ako sa Congress wala pa hong naibigay sa akin.

But how to overcome the obstacles to such a dream? That is the question. How do we end systemic plunder and corruption? How do we abolish the vestiges of ancient feudal relations in the countryside? How do we reverse the disastrous free market policies that have stunted the development of agriculture and industry and reduced government to being a provider of dole outs and mediocre public services? And more importantly, how do we remove the stranglehold of parasitic political dynasties and economic oligarchs that keep this system in place? Well, maybe a course in social transformation is somthing that DAP should seriously consider.

As practitioners and now experts and leaders in microfinance, you are in a better position to ensure that your valuable efforts lead to higher incomes for your clients. But I think the challenge for you is to go beyond the micro. To also look at the bigger picture. To take a more strategic view of development so that higher family incomes lead to prosperous communities, stronger local economies and a robust, integrated national economy. To make sure that the services you offer become a stepping stone for our nation’s greater dreams and aspirations.

I am sure that upon graduating, you will go back to your work with greater knowledge, passion and skill befitting of your masters degree. I can only hope that you have also found the greater wisdom and courage to go beyond your comfort zones and engage in advocacies that impact in no small way to the poor and marginalized whom we have all sworn to uplift. Maybe it would be good to look into how we can remedy those structural defects, imbalances and failed policies that I mentioned earlier. And how you can support initiatives and movements that pursue such changes.

Magkakaiba man ang paraan ng pagtulong sa bayan ay iisa lamang ang nais nating makamtan – ang maitaguyod ang isang bansang masagana, makatarungan at mapayapa.

Mulit, isang mainit na pagbati sa inyong pagtatapos. Maraming salamat po.#

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