Speech of Roberto M. Pagdanganan


Speech of Roberto M. Pagdanganan, President of the Rotary Club of
Manila, RY 2012-2013, at the Induction Ceremony of the Rotary Club Of Cebu
Saturday, June 30,2012, Waterfront Hotel

Ladies and gentlemen:

Maayong gabii kaninyong tanan!!!

Tonight, I am deeply honored to be with you during the induction of officers and directors of the Rotary Club of Cebu, the second oldest Club in the Philippines, the Mother Club in Cebu, and the first daughter Club of the Rotary Club of Manila.

We have here a delegation from the Rotary Club of Manila and we are very happy to convey to you, your Mother Club’s most sincere felicitations!


The Rotary Club of Cebu indeed, has a lot to be proud of. For eight decades, you have been undertaking numerous medical and dental missions, environment conservation and livelihood support projects. Your Community Scouts Center has helped rehabilitate thousands of youthful minor offenders who otherwise would probably have become
hardened criminals. Your Contra Dengue project and Holistic Life Preparedness Program are worthy of emulation.

We at the Rotary Club of Manila are indeed very proud of our firstborn!

While struggling about what topic to talk about tonight, on the flight from Manila to Cebu, I came across an article in the papers about President Noynoy’s statement on the occasion of his second anniversary in office today.

Let me share some excerpts with you . . .

“I have always been a believer that the mission of government is to take actions to create fairer outcomes for society. If we ensure that growth is inclusive from those in the center to those in the margins of society, then all of us will feel that we have a stake in moving forward, and will do our fair share to make sure it happens.

“The global community has recognized the seriousness of our goal to close the gap between the rich and the poor and to eradicate corruption.

“Today,we continue to dream and dream bigger!

“May I ask you to help me answer the question . . . How do we transform not just our official but also our populace, to looking at the officials not just as provider of solution but rather as enabler of solutions?

“Partnership like this will undoubtedly bring us to our dreams closer and faster.”

As Rotarians, we care and are concerned not just about our Clubs but also of our beloved country. Surely, we can not and will not refuse the President’s invitation to a partnership to “create fairer outcomes for society” and “to close the gap between the rich and the poor and to eradicate corruption”.

It is therefore, this ROTARIAN CONCERN FOR OUR BELOVED COUNTRY and our possible response to the President, that I propose to discuss with you tonight.

I have always wondered why , what used to be just about the second most progressive nation in Asia up to fifty years ago, is now considered by many as the region’s economic laggard!

The SWS survey last March 10-13, 2012, just to cite some statistics, showed that the number of Filipinos who rated themselves poor, increased to 11.1 Million families from 9.1 Million families in December, 2011. It is estimated that as many as 36 mIllion of our fellow Filipinos out there are barely surviving. They are unable to provide for even their most basic needs, with limited or no access to medicines and healthcare.

The poor, in the words of noted Economist and Author, Jeffrey Sachs, “do not get to put their feet on the ladder of development”.

To be sure, Rotarians can not and are not expected to solve all of society’s ills. But we must continue to do what we can, where we can, because much has to be done.

Perhaps it is not superfluous to quote the Good News . . . “To those to whom much is given, much is expected in return.”

And as RI President Sakuji Tanaka put it, ” Rotary helps us to meet the basic needs of others: to provide healthcare, sanitation, food or education when and where it is most needed. By helping others, even in the simplest of ways, we can help build peace”.

But the problems are too big and complicated. Is the situation hopeless? What can we Rotarians do?


Rotarians all over the world have shown what a determined effort could achieve by leading the successful worldwide campaign to eradicate
polio. We are of course proud that this world changer of a campaign was actually initiated in the Philippines.


Rotary International CATALYZED the stakeholders into action, promoted SYNERGY with government and non government sectors, influenced opinion makers and business leaders, and MOBILIZED the 1.2 Million Rotarians all over the world! Even Bill Gates chipped in hundreds of millions of dollars to support the effort.

As of last May, outgoing RI President K Banerjee reported at the RI Convention in Bangkok that only two countries, namely Pakistan and Nigeria have yet to be declared polio- free.

What an outstanding achievement indeed!

And so in response to PNoy’s question, can we 22000 Rotarians in the Philippines apply the same principle to help minimize, if not eliminate poverty in our country?

Surely, we can also do the three things they applied to the Polio eradication project. We can also CATALYZE. We can also SYNERGIZE. And we can also MOBILIZE!

Let us try to begin by asking, who constitute the poor? What are the root causes of poverty? For it is only in knowing the problem that we can find the appropriate solutions.

How can we catalyze the stakeholders into action and promote synergy?

Finally, what should be done to mobilize as many sectors of our society as possible to bring about the necessary changes to achieve our goal?


1.) 70% of the poor Filipinos comes from the rural areas. Most of them are farmers and fisherfolk, with limited education. It is very likely that they have very limited access to health facilities. They, like most Filipinos, have to pay out of pocket whenever catastrophic illnesses hit their families. They would also have no access to credit, except to usurers through the so-called five-six system.

2.) Let us compare our situation with our neighbors. I have chosen two countries with which I am quite familiar, Thailand and South Korea
where I used to do business while with Unilever and which I have visited many times since.

In Thailand, the farmers, fisherfolk and small entrepreneurs pay around 5% per year on interest for their capital, thanks to the Village Renewal Fund initiated by Former Prime Minister Thaksin when he assumed office in February, 2001.

The Thais now also enjoy 99.5% universal health coverage under a national health insurance program also started by Thaksin. The Thais pay out of pocket, only half as much as Filipinos, for their healthcare. And they do not have to worry about catastrophic illnesses.

Thaksin was deposed in a coup in 2006, but he remains very popular because of the reforms he initiated. In fact the present Prime Minister of Thailand is his younger sister, Yingluck Shinawatra.

3.) In Korea, the farmers, fisherfolk and entrepreneurs pay only 2-3% interest rate per year for their capital requirements. The biggest banking network in Korea the National Agricultural Cooperative Bank, which controls more than 1/3 of total loans and deposits, is owned by farmers’ cooperatives. This program was started by President Park
Chung Hee in early 1960s, when South Korea successfully implemented agrarian reform.

4.) In the Philippines, at least 95% of the total loans and deposits in the banking system is controlled by the few families who own the Universal, Commercial and Thrift banks. These banks enjoy tremendous support from the government because as a Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP), official said, “they are too big to fail”. When these big
banks get into trouble, the Bangko Sentral comes running to help them.

On the other hand, the small rural and cooperative banks that cater to the agricultural sector, are reportedly subjected to strict regulations and persecutorial audit. When they run into trouble, the BSP also comes rushing, but to close them. In fact, during the last 18 months, 21 small banks were closed by the Bangko Sentral Ng Pilipinas.

5.) The big businessmen who control the banking system pay only 5% interest per year for their capital, probably even less. On the other hand, poor farmers, fisherfolk, and small entrepreneurs pay as much as 10 to 20% per month. Is it any wonder, therefore, that the poor gets poorer while the rich get richer? I believe that there is nothing wrong with the rich getting richer, but the poor should also have access to resources to improve their quality of life.

With this huge disparity in cost of capital, how can even the best Filipino farmers compete with their Thai and Korean counterparts? This explains why most Filipino farmers are now senior citizens and growing older.

I still have to hear of one Filipino parent who advises his or her children to become farmers. Have you?

6.) Then there is the issue of our rotten electoral process. This, I submit is the mother, the root if you like, of corruption in our country.

Many candidates spend millions of pesos to buy votes, pay off election officers and goons to win. When these politicians get into office, they steal to recover their investments, and steal much more, to prepare for the next round of cheating?

Unless the electoral process is reformed, I believe we will never be able to significantly reduce corruption. Rent-seeking, smuggling, illegal gambling, illegal drugs, kidnapping, and other crimes will continue, sad to say.

7.) On education, our country continues to be left behind. No Philippine university ranked among the top 300 schools in the world, according to a recent survey. Korea and Singapore on the other hand, ranked among the best in education, which explains why they are among the most progressive countries in the world.

We can go on ad infinitum to analyze poverty in our country, for the problems are too numerous. But it is enough that we delve tonight on the most critical ones.

The important question is… what should be done to address these problems? Can the Filipino people hack it? And what could be the Rotarians’ role?

I believe that if the Thais, the Koreans, the Malaysians and our other neighbors were able to do it, we too, can! We Filipinos deserve better!


I submit that three things are absolutely necessary to institute systemic and structural reforms that will result in an equitably progressive nation. . .

1. A leader who knows how to use the powers of his office to attain his objectives;

2. A visionary leader who will use the powers of his office for the good of the great majority of the people, and not to favor rent seekers and special interests;

3. A vigilant and steadfast citizenry, including dedicated CSOs and NGOs who are determined to fight for their rights and for what is right!

From the recent impeachment of no less than the Chief Justice, our President has demonstrated his capability to use the powers of his office. We now have a Leader who can be single minded in pursuing what he wants, and get what he wants!

What some sectors used to deride as a “student council administration” has proven to be a most powerful Presidency. Without declaring martial law, PNoy has attained vast influence, if not effective control over the two other branches of Government apart from the Executive. Included of course, are the Police, Armed Forces, and regrettably, even a significant sector of the Media.

So, we can say that the first requisite for systemic reforms has been adequately met. We just have to make sure the other two are complied with, as well.

1.) We must help ensure that the vast powers of the President are utilized for the common good and not for a select few. We must advocate for policies and programs that will address the problems identified earlier and more.

If we look closely we will realize not surprisingly, that these programs are three of what have been identified as Rotary’s SIX AREAS OF FOCUS. Disease prevention and treatment, economic development and livelihood, basic education and literacy.

2.) One of PNoy’s campaign promises was to implement Universal Health Coverage (UHC), for all Filipinos! Happily, this is something being vigorously pursued by the President of PhilHealth, Dr Dodo Banzon. But will he get the needed funds? Will the healthcare stakeholders support the shift to preventive healthcare which is more cost effective but
which many health professionals oppose?

Let us strongly support the President’s UHC program and its full implementation.

3.) Regarding livelihood and economic development, we must reform the financial system so farmers and SMEs can have access to credit, and not rely on the pernicious 5/6 usurers!

Structural straightjacket that impedes and limits success of Coops and small banks must be eliminated. We must lobby for support structures to protect small depositors in banks that lend to farmers, fisherfolk, and SMEs.

4.) Electoral reforms are a condition sine qua non for our nation’s progress. As has been pointed out, there must be an effective system to limit election spending. Cheating should be minimized, if not eliminated.

We should insist on having reasonably honest and competent officials at the COMELEC. What happened to former Commissioner Gus Lagman does not inspire much confidence. Here was a recognized IT expert of good repute who tried to institute reforms, and he was removed from office.

The PCOS issue is a case in point. The COMELEC is pushing for the purchase of the second- hand machines whose glitches have not been corrected.

As the highly esteemed Cebu Rotarian and Columnist, Bobit Avila wrote on his column at Philippine Star today, those PCOS machines can be used for massive electronic dagdag bawas if tamper-proof digital security codes are not properly installed. He asked: why are those PCOS machines ” being rammed down our throat?”

Someone in a recent forum which I attended said, that there might be millions of reason for that. The present Chairman will reportedly retire when these PCOS machines are bought for 1.8 Billion Pesos despite serious objections from experts. You might recall that his predecessor also retired after those computers where purchased for 11
Billion Pesos for the 2010 elections.


In Thailand, CSOs and NGOs teamed up to influence and support Thaksin Shinawatra when he first ran for Prime Minister. They agreed on a development agenda. At that time, Thailand was still recovering from the ill effects of their currency crisis.

When Thaksin won as Prime Minister, he delivered on his promise. Immediately upon assuming office, he launched a nine-point development program, highlighted by the Universal HealthCare program and the Village Renewal Fund. The tremendous impact of these programs have been explained earlier.

Rotarians are more influential than what most of us think, admit or believe. Let us not stand idly by. Let us be vigilant and steadfast!

Apart from participating in the successful polio eradication campaign, Rotarians like you have achieved so much in delivering humanitarian services. We now just have to effectively pool our resources to address the most important problem facing us: widespread poverty.


Let us help PNoy institute genuine reforms in government and society. To achieve this, it is essential that we provide a counterbalance to the rent- seekers influencing the President for their selfish interests. We must relentlessly fight for the common weal.

We must strive to create a TIPPING FORCE that will ultimately bring about needed reforms in our country!

Thailand had Thaksin, Korea had Park Chung Hee. Singapore has Lee Kuan Yew, Malaysia had Mahathir. Could PNoy be the leader we have been waiting for in the Philippines? We certainly hope so! Let us pray that he succeeds because the consequences of failure could be disastrous.

I do not propose that things will be as easily done as said. The challenge is daunting. But we will never succeed unless we try!

And who can better initiate this huge undertaking than Rotarians who genuinely care about this only country we have.

The people of Cebu have shown in many ways how to achieve progress. I say that perhaps there is no better place to start this campaign for systemic and structural reforms than here in this great and progressive Province of Cebu!


Let us help build an equitably progressive society that we deserve. A nation respected by other nations. One we can all be proud of!!!

Mabuhay Ang Cebu Rotarians! Kaagapay ninyo Ang Manila Rotarians!

Mabuhay Ang PILIPINAS!

Daghang salamat kaninyong tanan!


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