Towards a Responsible Society
Luncheon Dialogue with Business Associations, Hotel Intercontinental, Makati City
November 17, 2000
As we all know, our country is in a political crisis with acute moral dimensions that threaten to destroy our democratic institutions. Even as we speak, we hear that the administration's forces are being mobilized to undermine the credibility, independence and integrity of our legislature.
In the Senate, there are rumors of brazen attempts to buy the loyalty of our legislators who are tasked by the Constitution to sit in judgement of the official and personal conduct of President Estrada in impeachment proceedings.
The resolution of this crisis may be more protracted than we had hoped, and the demands of sustained political action may sometimes weigh on us. But we must remain steadfast on our chosen course. We cannot let our guard down. Not now that we have made headway in the House, and the impeachment trial will soon be underway in the Senate. We must remain vigilant. Let our forces watch every move of Malacañang and its henchmen, and expose every attempt to subvert this sacred process.
At the same time, we need to mobilize our resources to help those who will be most severely affected by this crisis – the poor.
Our economic advisers have told us that our people will begin to feel the effects of the economic downturn at the beginning of next year, when the market contracts with its concomitant effect on production and employment. When this comes to pass, I am told, even the informal sector – down to the fish-ball and balut vendor, will suffer.
Today, we heard fine examples of on-going initiatives and impressive programs for the alleviation of poverty being undertaken by the business community, in collaboration with church groups and civil society organizations. I know there are many more laudable programs and projects out there we haven't even heard about that are making the lives of the poor more bearable.
However, the problem of poverty is so acute and widespread that we can never say we have done enough.
The continuing armed conflict in Mindanao and the severe economic downturn have exacerbated the plight of many Filipinos who live from hand to mouth. What are the things that need to be done for them? More to the point, what are WE prepared to do for them?
President Estrada' s defense in the face of the people's call for his impeachment, resignation or ouster has been to blame the elite, what he refers to as the well-heeled Makati crowd, for the current economic and political crisis. And he has called on the poor, his masa, to resist the machinations of the Makati Business Club and other business groups to remove him from office. He has called us troublemakers whose repeated calls for him to step down are, in his mind, the reason for the slide in the economy.
He has embarked on a dangerous exercise of pitting the poor against the rich, of demonizing the middle class and making us the scapegoats for his failures.
So, what can we still do to make a difference in the lives of poor Filipinos?
1. I ask you who represent the country’s largest corporations and business associations to put social development high on your agenda of priorities. Through joint ventures among your foundations and human development programs, you can together initiate projects that would have a greater impact on the lives of the poor communities.
2. I ask the business leaders and donor agencies to invest in existing programs that have already shown good results in alleviating poverty and improving lives, so they can be replicated to reach more people, more quickly.
3. I urge corporations to form foundations – legal ones with clear objectives and not money-laundering fronts – to put in place more formalized measurements for your corporate social investments in the communities. The League of Corporate Foundations does a good job of providing advice and running seminars on the different ways of doing this.
4. I ask colleges and universities to include social development and responsibility in your school curricula, so that the youth we send into the world have a strong sense of personal and corporate social responsibility. Social responsibility should be a part of the training of all of our young people, and even those who go back to school in mid-career – be they doctors, teachers, engineers, or professional managers.
5. I realize that for this year, most of your company budgets have already been earmarked or spent. In next year's budgets, add one more social development project to the number you have originally planned. There are many NGOs needing funds whose projects could use your immediate support. The Association of Foundations has a directory of NGOs that you can consult for possible partners. The Church too, through Caritas and the National Secretariat for Social Action has a variety of projects looking for additional resources.
6. Besides your monetary resources, your companies have staff with skills and expertise that could be harnessed in setting up projects for and with the poor. Encourage them to volunteer their time and talent to work with the dispossessed. The League of Corporate Foundations, the Association of Foundations, the Caucus of Development NGO Networks (or Code-NGO), and the Philippine Association for Volunteer Efforts can help match your corporate volunteers with projects that need professional help.
7. Finally I call on the media, some of whose owners are present here, to give the work of social development and the value of social responsibility more space and prominence in your newspapers and broadcast programs. The people must know that there are individuals and institutions with resources that are responding to their needs by reaching out to the underprivileged in very significant ways.
When I was President, I learned that government neither had the budget nor the expertise to accomplish the task of social development by itself. We needed the advice of experts in the private sector, especially the foundations and the NGOs on the ground, on how to intervene in a sustainable way, in the lives of the needy.
I realized early on that I could only ignore the private social development sector at my own risk. Unfortunately, President Estrada has chosen to regard this progressive community with suspicion if not contempt, and has publicized his own "pro-poor" programs using the conventional and disempowering dole-out system.
I call on everyone here to be united in our endeavor to help our less-fortunate brethren. If it is to blunt the pain of the present crisis among the most vulnerable in our society, social development work must be a collective effort. Let us organize people power among the rich and poor so that together we can do more, and extend our resources and our reach. As we are one in calling for a change in the national leadership, we must also act as one in creating a responsible, caring and sharing society.
The task is urgent. The poor cannot wait. May I therefore ask that we have a follow-up meeting, say three (or six) months from now, to report on the initiatives that have been undertaken to move forward the agenda that we have drawn up today.
I pray that by then, we will have resolved the political crisis and the solutions to our economic crisis will be well underway. However, our responsibilities to our people will not end. Our post-Estrada scenario must be an improvement over our post-Marcos behavior. We must never again let our guard down. We must never again leave governance for government alone to pursue.
We were given the gift of a swift and peaceful revolution in 1986. But just 14 years later, we are working and praying for a second chance to institute lasting and meaningful changes in our country and society. While we pray that history will deal kindly with us again, let us gird ourselves for the difficult days ahead, with the welfare of the most vulnerable of our people topmost in our minds and hearts.
Thank you for your attention and good day.