46th Commencement Ceremonies and Conferment of Degree of Doctor of Laws, Honoris Causa in University of the Philippines Los Banos (UPLB)

Thank you very much to the board of regents, officials, administrators and faculty members of the University of the Philippines Los Banos for conferring on me the Degree of Doctor of Laws, Honoris Causa.

It is truly an honor and privilege that you all deem me worthy of this recognition. Rest assured that as a public servant, I will continue to serve our fellow Filipinos and our country in the best of my abilities and capabilities, especially in the fields of agricultural development, poverty alleviation, education and upholding the welfare of women and children. Again, thank you so much.

The atmosphere here brings back memories of my own graduation at the University of the Philippines Diliman, where Manny and I completed our Business Administration course. So, like all of you, we are also products of the UP education system. Lahat tayo dito ay mga Iskolar ng Bayan.

[Start of keynote address]

Congratulations to all of you! Thank you very much for inviting me to be your commencement speaker. I know how important this day is to each one of you here. Today is truly a milestone and memorable day. And I am happy and honored to be part of this special occasion.

I like going to commencement exercises or graduation ceremonies such as this, because it is refreshing to be in the company of young people. Looking at the beaming faces here fills me with inspiration, since each one of you represents potential, promise, and possibility.

As a parent, I share the mixed emotions of mothers and fathers here today. Parents work hard to provide their children with good education, because we believe that it is a valuable inheritance, more than any material or monetary inheritance.

Malaking kaligayahan sa aming mga magulang na mapagkalooban ng magandang edukasyon ang aming mga anak. Katulad ninyo, Manny and I are also glad that we accomplishe the same for our three children—Paolo, Mark and Camille (point to them in the audience).

Kaya naman noon pa man na congresswoman ako, education has always also been one of my priorities. I was the chairperson of the House Committee on Higher and Technical Education. During my term I led the passage of 28 bills promoting high quality education as well as advanced systems of education such as the ladderized approach and open-university.

Now, as a senator, prayoridad ko pa rin ang edukasyon. I authored the ‘Open Learning and Distance Education Act of 2014’ and the Ladderized Education Act of 2014.  Naisabatas na rin namin sa Senado ang Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education (RA 10931). It will subsidize the education of all students in SUCs, local tertiary schools and Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) accredited institutions.

In short, libre na ang tuition fee and other fees ng mga students of 112 state universities and colleges (SUCs) simula pa ng second semester of the  school year (SY) 2017 to 2018. Kaya ang inyong mga nakababatang kapatid at mga kamag-anak ay pwede mag-avail na rin mag-avail ng free tuition fee sa mga SUCs. Bilang mga iskolar ng bayan, alam ninyo ang benepisyo ng libreng edukasyon.

  At bilang kasalukuyang chairperson ng Senate Committee on Agriculture and Food, bukod sa pagsulong sa kapakanan ng agriculture sector at pag-resolba sa iba’t ibang isyu, pangunahin layunin ko rin na tulungan ang mga farmers, farming families at communities na magkaroon ng access sa education and training.

As I always remind everyone, ang ating bansa ay isang agricultural country, two-thirds ng ating population ay directly o indirectly involved sa agriculture. There is still a lot of untapped potential in the agriculture sector. At hangad natin na ma-maximize ang full potential ng agriculture.  It will truly make our country’s economic growth more inclusive.

Mataas ang poverty incidence sa mga agricultural communities. Kaya kung seryoso tayo talaga na labanan ang kahirapan, we have to focus on solving poverty in the agricultural sector. Twenty-two percent of our country’s population are still living below poverty line and 40 per cent of them are farmers and fisherfolks.

Agricultural workers are among the lowest paid. Last year, based on data, the average daily basic pay of wage and salary workers in the agriculture industry is 210.13 pesos compared to those in non-agriculture industry which receive 441.44 pesos. So, there is quite a discrepancy there. Ang mga coconut farmers ang pinakamahirap, earning only 50 pesos a day.

There are eight million crop farmers sa ating bansa, 3.5 million of them are coconut farmers and another 3.5 million are rice farmers. So, if we can improve their plight and lift them out of poverty, nasolusyonan na natin ang poverty problem ng ating bansa.

Increasing food production and farm productivity alone cannot move farmers and farming families permanently out of poverty. Small farmers need to learn capacity-building strategies and approaches to get them to operate their farms as agri-businesses and to make them profitable and competitive in it.

Based on studies, among the barriers that keep Filipino farmers from being more successful are lack of technical expertise, inadequate access to socialized credit and lack of mechanization and financial literacy or business sense.

Iyan ang dahilan kung bakit sinisiguro ko na ang mga panukalang batas na aking isinisulong at ipinapasa sa Senado ay may may component ng scholarships. Katulad na lang ng extension of the utilization of the Agriculture Competitiveness Enhancement Fund or ACEF, ini-allocate namin na ten percent ( or around PhP500 million) of the fund to be used for a comprehensive scholarship and attractive grant-in-aid program for agriculture, forestry, fisheries, and veterinary medicine education, to be implemented by the Commission on Higher Education (CHED).

Pinursigi ko rin na magkaroon ng mga TESDA scholarships for agriculture training or courses.  TESDA has allotted 750 million pesos para sa scholars. May pondo na ang scholarships sa TESDA sa mga farm schools, so sana ay mas marami pa ang makapag-avail. We will also make sure that every town or city in the country will have a farm school or learning center.

And to show that I practice what I preach, I myself have put up, through the Villar Social Institute for Poverty Alleviation and Governance (Villar SIPAG), two farm schools—in Cavite and Bulacan.

Through further training and education also, farmers are learning new methods of doing things as well as new equipment and technology to assist them.

Coconut farmers for example, who are among the poorest earning 50 pesos a day only. They are now aware that by merely intercropping coconut with other crops such as coffee or cacao, they could earn additional 10,000 pesos a month. Moreover, if they plant using the new variety of coconut seedlings, their nut harvest can triple from 40 nuts per tree to 150 nuts per tree per year.

As for the rice farmers, if they use the inbred seedlings of the Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice), they can increase their production from  four metric tons per hectare (4MT/ha) to six metric tons (6MT/ha), which will make our country self-sufficient in rice. And it can also double the income of rice farmers. If they mechanize, they can bring down the product cost of rice.

Isa-isa na natin binubuwag ang mga balakid o barriers sa pag-ahon sa kahirapan at pag-asenso ng mga Pilipinong magsasaka at ng mga agricultural communities. And I mean “us” o tayo…kasama kayong lahat. Kayong ang mga bagong henerasyon na mangunguna sa mga positibong pagbabago sa mga darating na taon o dekada. You are among the new generation of educated Filipinos who will partner with the private sector and the government to bring about further growth and development.

Many of you might ask and what has that got to do with you, lalo pa at hindi naman agri-related  courses ang natapos ninyong lahat. But it is really crucial for the youth to get involved and engaged in the agriculture sector because you are a key component in the growth and development of the Philippines and the agriculture sector.

And of course, food security is everyone’s concern lalo na kayong mga kabataan. Alam nyo ba na may forecast ang United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (UN FAO) that by 2050 (32 years from now), there may not be enough food for the global population. By then, it would have reached nine billion. So, food production should increase by 70 percent.

The youth (with ages 15 to 29) comprises 27 percent of the Philippine population.  You have one of the highest potentials in breaking the cycle of inter-generational poverty as well as instituting reforms to help increase the productivity of the agriculture sector.  Lalo na ang mga estudyante dito sa UPLB, kung saan, prayoridad ang agrikultura.

Marami na rin ang nag-aalala dahil ang mga Pilipinong magsasaka ay tumatanda at matatanda na, with average age of between 58 and 60. Kaya we need the young generation to get involved. It would surprise many of you to know though that farming is already considered by an increasing number of youngsters here and in other countries as smart, cool and sexy. Farming is not anymore the stereotypical image of physically tilling or plowing the land.

There are a lot of exciting opportunities and untapped potential in the agriculture sector. At hangad ko na kayong mga kabataan ay magiging bahagi niyan, that you will be the ones to tap into that potential.

Hindi dapat iwanan at mapabayaan ang mga family farms dahil nakadepende sa mga ito ang ating future food security. According to UN FAO, family farms will be the ones feed the world, not the corporate farms. Over 70 percent of food consumed globally comes from small farmers.

So, as you embark on your respective careers in various fields of endeavor, we hope you will, in your own way, think about the plight of our poor countrymen in the agriculture sector and rural communities.

You have the power to make a positive difference. In fact, hindi lang kayo change-makers, mga poverty-busters pa kayo. Kayang-kaya ninyong tapusin ang kahirapan once and for all. Malaki ang papel ninyo para ang susunod pang mga henerasyon ay makalaya na sa tanikala ng kahirapan. Sipag at tiyaga ang gawin ninyong puhunan sa inyong kinabukasan.

Hangad namin lahat ang magandang buhay para inyong lahat. On that note, congratulations again and we wish you all the best in your future endeavors!