This is the second of four columns where I share excerpts of my commencement speech last December 18, 2022 delivered at the Ateneo School of Government graduation ceremony.
As many of our graduates are government officials, including a plurality of military and police officials, I shared lessons from my stints in government,
In 1996, I became a young undersecretary appointed by President Fidel V. Ramos to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.
I had no political and not even personal connections to FVR and to then DENR Secretary Victor Ramos, who was also from Pangasinan but not related to the President.
But Secretary Ramos or VOR as we called him gave me an offer I could not refuse.
Join us at the DENR and you can implement your ideas about environmental protection and mainstreaming human rights, community based natural resources management, and the rights of indigenous peoples into government policies and decisions.
His offer came with a bonus – I would be assigned to lead the climate change response of the Philippines.
I had just finished my doctoral dissertation on climate change in Yale Law School and I was eager to try out my ideas on how to address globally and domestically what was then an emerging problem.
And so in December of 1997, I was the lead negotiator of the Philippines in the Kyoto Protocol negotiations in Kyoto, Japan. I was even appointed as a facilitator in one of the most contentious issues of the conference – on forest and land use emissions.
I worked with the great Filipina diplomat Bernaditas Muller, who died in 2018, and together with the right mandate from FVR and VOR, we positioned the Philippines to play an influential role in Kyoto.
While we were in Kyoto, US President Bill Clinton called FVR to asked for our help in concluding a good agreement. Weeks after the Protocol was adopted, Clinton actually called Ramos to thank him for the role our delegation played in Kyoto.
Twenty-five years after Kyoto, what was known as COP 3, I continue to work on climate change.
Just last November, with Fr Jett Villarin, SJ, and a team from the Manila Observatory, we went to Egypt to attend COP 27 in Sharm El Sheikh. This was my 23rd Conference of the Parties, missing only four.
Today, the state of the climate has become a crisis, an emergency, with the Philippines one of the most affected.
We are still fighting to achieve climate justice and while we succeeded in COP 27 to win a decision on loss and damage funding, emissions continue to grow and we are hurtling to catastrophic scenarios for our planet and country.
In my climate work, and in my governance work in general, I have learned that four Cs are paramount: competence, creativity, consensus building skills, and commitment over the long haul.
Whatever government office or field of work you are in, the dramatic moments are few and not so often. It’s the daily grind — the patient progress you make on your assigned tasks and targets, and the knots you untie one problem at a time — that matters.
Our governance problems are complex but they do not require rocket science to solve.
From FVR and from this school, you learned to do things thoroughly and excellently, with complete staff work and always uniting stakeholders to have a common goal.
Do not forget either the basics of servant leadership. Lead by example. Be transparent and participatory. Be compassionate. Be innovative.
Stand up for what is right. I was red-tagged even then, accused of being a communist and an environmental terrorist
But FVR did not believe that and gave me many important assignments. Even after he left office, this best president we ever had treated me as a favorite, “bunso” (youngest) of his Cabinet.
One of the best things I have done when I was dean of the Ateneo School of Government was to help incubate in our campus great organizations like Ashoka Philippines, the Institute of Social Entrepreneurship in Asia, Government Watch, and the Affiliated Network for Social Accountability in East Asia and the Pacific.
I am especially proud that we supported and continue to support Tina Llamzon and Edgar Valenzuela in their work to grow the Ateneo LSE Of-Life global network.
This training program, which had its latest graduations in Russia, Germany, Spain, is now in more than 20 countries and we have around 4,000 alumni among our overseas Filipinos.
We are now in fact offering the program in Central America and the Carribean. Indeed, the LSE of Life is a gift of Ateneo de Manila to our diaspora.
In sum, we have had much success in the Ateneo School of Government.
I credit Dean Ron Mendoza with how he steered the school in the last six years. He has increased our student population and has succeeded in positioning the Ateneo Policy Center as an influential research organization.
Before me, there was our founding Dean—Dina Abad—who laid its foundations. We built on each other’s work.
I am sure our current Dean—Randy Tuaño—will do the same and bring the school of government to even greater heights of effectiveness and relevance.
The essence of good governance is that it is sustained and inter-generational.
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