This is Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles’ speech to the rank and file employees on their 4th national convention on Sunday, February 6 at The Tent City, Manila Hotel.

Rank and File employees of PAO, our dear Public Attorneys––defenders of the country’s poor and the marginalized in society––magandang umaga po sa inyong lahat.

Una sa lahat, ang aking pasasalamat sa pagkakahirang bilang isa sa pinarangalan ngayong araw na ito na inyong “ika-apat na National Convention.” But while I am grateful for the honor and privilege of this recognition, I believe it must be stressed that those who truly deserve to be awarded every day are the underpaid, overworked, and often under-appreciated Rank and File employees who have chosen to use their education, their skills, and their knowledge of the law to defend those who cannot defend themselves.

Palakpakan po natin ang ating mga Rank and File Employees ng PAO. Maraming salamat po sa serbisyo publiko.

It was President Ramon Magsaysay, Sr. who said that “he who has less in life should have more in law.”

Higit na kaalaman. Higit na pagkakataon na maipagtanggol ang sarili. Higit na lingap at alalay ng pamahalaan upang pantay na maiharap ang sarili sa anumang usapin ng batas at katarungan.

Yet, getting more in law will never be just a matter of the government providing the poor access to legal representation and counsel. In a larger, more developmental sense, it is about creating a government that elevates the welfare, condition, and aspirations for the future of the poor in our midst. A policy environment that gravitates toward laws and policies that give the poor a fighting chance not only in law, but more importantly, in life.

The Philippine Development Plan for 2017-2022 of the Duterte Administration envisions a future where “every Filipino enjoys a matatag, maginhawa, at panatag na buhay.” A life that is stable, comfortable, and secure for every citizen.

And this is achievable if we are able to lay down the foundation for inclusive growth, a high-trust and resilient society, and a globally-competitive knowledge economy by 2022.

That is why of the over 500 bills I have authored in Congress, a considerable number of them are dedicated to introducing reforms in sectors that need the support of government the most.

An example is House Bill 01352 in 2016, which seeks to “protect the welfare of informal workers in all economic units in private and public by transitioning them to formal employment and providing support to micro, small and medium sized enterprises towards decent and productive employment.” Another is House Bill 00732, the goals of which are to protect the rights of internally displaced persons and to penalize acts of arbitrary displacement. To help give our country’s youth a better chance to pursue their dreams, I likewise co-authored the Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education Act, which provides free tuition for the students enrolled in our state universities and college.

Today in my new role as Cabinet Secretary, I work hand in hand with my colleagues in the Cabinet fo ensure that the programs, policies, and plans of the Duterte Administration serve the interests of the poor and powerless. These include efforts to promote the welfare of land reform beneficiaries, farmers, rebel returnees, and the victims of natural disasters. As well as prioritizing food security and water security particularly the marginalized sectors.

Trinabaho natin ang mga batas at programa na ito kasi marami sa mga kababayan natin kailangan ng kakampi sa iba’t-ibang sangay ng gobyerno. Kailangan nila ng kakampi sa lehislatura, kakampi sa ehekutibo, at kakampi sa hudikatura. This applies when it comes to our criminal justice system; the needy require someone to stand by them, and that is the role that PAOs play.

It was also President Magsaysay who said that “the little man is fundamentally entitled to a little bit more food in his stomach, a little more cloth on his back, and a little more roof over his head.”

I believe that the less fortunate among our people are entitled to a little bit more than that. In our age, the little man should get a little bit more of information, of education, of a chance to prove his worth as a stakeholder in nation-building. The little man should be able to lift himself up in our time, to be bigger and better than he used to be. Big enough to be able to defend himself.

This, I believe, is the essence of governance—that the governed, ultimately, would be able to look after themselves. To feed themselves and their family. To know and enjoy their inalienable rights as citizens of the land. To be able to dream and act on those dreams. To be able to tell themselves: “We are not small anymore. Therefore, we will matter to our country and make a difference for those left behind, like we were before”.

Sa ganito pong diwa, tinutulungan ng Public Attorneys Office ang pinakamaliliit sa atin. Hindi lamang pagtatanggol, kundi pagbibigay-lakas. The PAO, in making itself available to the displaced, abused, and marginalized, is in fact, not only defending the defenseless––it is empowering the weak and telling them: “Your government is here with you, and will always be with you to lift you up until you can stand on your own two feet. And when that time comes, try and give back to your country—to your family, to your community, to society.”

Alam ko po na hindi biro ang araw-araw na trabaho bilang mga tagapagtanggol ng bayan. Bilang mga empleyado ng PAO, alam kong malayo at mahirap ang pinagdadaanan ninyong lahat para maging ganap na tagapagtanggol. Namuhunan tayo ng pera, pagod, puyat, pawis at dugo.

Katulad namin mga abogado noong kami ay mga law students pa, we spent nights pouring over tons of books and legal documents. More sleepless nights preparing for the Bar exams. Tapos pagpasa mo ng Bar, ganun uli, pero imbes na readings, pleadings; imbes na magbasa ng sangkatutak na kaso, kailangan maghanda para sa sangkatutak na kaso; imbes na maghanda para mag recite sa prof, kailangan maghanda para humarap sa huwes. Kayong mga empleyado ng PAO, para na rin kayong mga abogado.

At the end of each tiring day, you probably ask yourself, “why am I doing this?”

Allow me to answer that for you.

Nandidito kayo dahil natutunan nyo sa magulang nyo magpahalaga sa mga bagay ng higit sa katumbas ng salapi o gantimpala. Natutunan nyo sa mga paaralan nyo na walang hihigit pang pag-ibig kundi sa pag-ibig mo sa bayan. At natutunan nyo kay Kristo na mahalin ang kapwa, tulad ng pagmamahal mo sa sarili.

Naniniwala ba kayo na nandidito tayo sa mga dahilang higit pa sa sukat ng salapi at kayamanan? Na kasaysayan at tadhana ang nagtakda nang ating paghaharap at pag-iisa sa sa araw na ito?

Nandidito ka….nandidito tayo….sa pamahalaan…sa paglilingkod-publiko dahil nauunawaan natin na kung wala tayo, wala nang iba. Kung hindi ikaw, wala na. Kung hindi ngayon, kailan pa?

Brave and tireless men and women of the Public Attorneys Office, I salute you and thank you all for the service you render the Filipino nation; marking salamat po, at mabuhay po kayoing lahat!

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