How do you use technology/policy to improve citizens’ lives? Tell us about your role or organisation. 

The disruptions caused by the pandemic highlighted the importance of digital technology, which has become a vital tool for connecting people and institutions in the New Normal.

Digital technology made it possible for us in the Philippine Senate to carry on with our ‘hybrid’ sessions, where lawmakers could choose to attend our legislative proceedings physically or online. This allowed us to craft urgent policies to protect our citizens from the threats of the virus, and help various sectors cope and recover from the crisis.

It is our duty as policymakers to listen to our people and immediately respond to their needs in these trying times. My role as a senator is to make sure that we maximise the potential of technology and innovations to be able to move forward, and to turn the challenges of this pandemic into opportunities to help us build a more resilient and sustainable future.

What was the most impactful project you worked on this year? 

Most of our legislative agenda had been affected by the fortuitous pandemic situation. At the beginning of 2020, we found ourselves dealing with an unprecedented global health crisis that threatened the lives and livelihood of our people. As such, much of our efforts focused on creating a balance between protecting Filipinos’ health and safeguarding their economic well being.

As early as March, when the entire Luzon region was placed on lockdown, Congress immediately held a special session, wherein I sponsored the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act, also known as ‘Bayanihan 1’, in the Senate. It outlined the government’s comprehensive response vs. Covid-19, and provided funding for emergency subsidy programs for around 18 million poor Filipino families. We also recently enacted the Bayanihan to Recover as One Act or ‘Bayanihan 2’. I co-sponsored this in the Senate as well. The measure, which involves a multisectoral post-Covid recovery plan, seeks to continue our gains under the first Bayanihan law. ‘Bayanihan’ is the Filipino term for a sense of community and voluntarily helping one another, especially in times of crisis.

Furthermore, as Chair of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means, I would also like to report the Senate’s passage of the Corporate Recovery and Tax Incentives for Enterprises (CREATE) Bill. This is a landmark economic reform measure which took several decades to pass. The first attempt to lower our country’s corporate income taxes (CIT) and rationalise fiscal incentives was initiated more than four decades ago. As sponsor of the bill in the Senate, I defended CREATE in marathon debates that spanned nine months on the floor. I also held countless consultations with various business groups. The version that we recently passed on third reading seeks to immediately reduce our CIT rate from 30 to 25 percent for all corporations, and even lower to 20 percent for small enterprises, in order to give the business sector much-needed respite from the Covid-19 crisis. We also seek to reform our fiscal incentives system to attract more investors by offering tax incentives that are more performance-based and time-bound.

Apart from the passage of these key legislation, I also worked with my team on the establishment of a donation drive for Covid-affected Filipinos, as well as victims of the recent typhoons that hit our country. We established the Pilipinas in Action (PIA) movement in March 2020 to provide assistance to vulnerable sectors since the onset of the pandemic. We provided a means for people to help feed vulnerable families, provide meals and much needed PPEs for healthcare workers, and donate bicycles for frontliners who have limited means of mobility. And just recently, we started a donation drive under PIA to provide assistance to typhoon victims.

What is one unexpected learning from 2020? 

Covid-19 truly opened our eyes to the reality that we live in a VUCA world: Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous. This was one of the main takeaways from my discussions with experts and futurists as Chair of the Senate Committee on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), Innovation, and Futures Thinking.

I also learned that surviving and thriving in this VUCA world require that we shift towards a Futures Thinking mindset as a major policy reform. This is an avenue for different sectors to explore many ‘possible futures’ using strategic foresight, which allows us to make more informed decisions in preparation for all possibilities and unforeseen opportunities.

What tool or technique particularly interests you for 2021? 

I am particularly interested in getting more decision-makers on board with the Futures Thinking mindset. I believe this is an essential tool in achieving our collective goal of building back better and fostering a more sustainable recovery beyond the New Normal.

I also believe that embedding Futures Thinking into the country’s national policies will enable the government to be more prepared for future crises and emergencies comparable to the magnitude of the Covid-19 disaster.

What are your priorities for 2021? 

We have now moved onto the next phase of our Covid-19 battle: recovering as one nation. The goal is not just to survive the pandemic, but to make sure the country and our people will thrive in the future.

The Senate has just recently approved the national budget for 2021, and as Vice Chair of the Chamber’s Finance Committee, I was tasked to oversee the budgets for education and health, wherein I pushed for initiatives that will make sure our limited resources are allocated in ways that will help us achieve our sustainable development goals.

As for the urgent needs of our health sector, we want to ensure we allocate enough resources for the purchase of Covid-19 vaccines, which are expected to be available by next year. At present, our Department of Health has identified priority groups of around 24 million vulnerable Filipinos that need to be vaccinated, including frontline health workers, senior citizens, indigent population, and uniformed personnel.

Apart from the vaccines, there are other expenses we also need to consider: Cold Chain or Supply Chain – which keeps vaccines in tightly controlled temperatures before administered to a person; Training & PPEs for vaccinators; Needles, syringes & other critical equipment. These are things we have to purchase in advance, considering that the entire world is also trying to get hold of them during this global crisis.

There is also progress being made in therapeutic medicines that can be used for Covid-19 infected persons. We also want to pay attention to this because the virus will not disappear right away. So we should continue the ongoing WHO Solidarity Trials for these therapeutic medicines.

For our education sector, the initiatives we pushed for under our national budget were anchored on the principles of sustainable development & Futures Thinking, in order to support the youth’s learning during and beyond the New normal. I pushed for funding for programs such as early childhood education, printing of self-learning modules, special education (SPED) program, additional allowances for teachers, school-based feeding program, and the provision of registered guidance counselors who will support students’ mental healthcare, among many others.

My priorities for next year is to keep making sure that these initiatives and programs will be properly implemented for the benefit of more Filipinos, especially the most vulnerable members of our society: women, children, PWDs, the sick, the elderly, etc.

What advice would you give to women looking to start a career in GovTech? 

“The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.”  –  Alvin Toffler

Futures Thinkers say that it is not the smartest who will survive in the future, but those who can adapt faster. As such, my advice to all women aspiring to start a career in GovTech is to always be open to and ready for all possibilities. Learn to adapt, to embrace change, and to constantly upgrade your skills.

Apart from the hard skills that you will need for jobs of the future, there are four “soft skills” that futurists think every worker will need in ten years. These are the 4 C’s: Critical Thinking, Communication, Collaboration, and Creativity. Take the time to learn and develop these, and you will surely thrive in any field you choose to endeavor in.

Write a message for your future self.

I hope I was able to do enough today to help you prepare for all the possible futures you may find yourself in. I also hope you remain committed to applying Futures Thinking and strategic foresight as you continue to push for more policies that promote your long-time advocacies, so that succeeding generations of Filipinos, including my own children, could benefit from them.