We must embrace innovation

Speech of Senator Pia S. Cayetano
Bridging Innovation between Israel and the Philippines
Photo exhibit, November 28, 2022

Good afternoon, everyone, and a warm welcome to all our guests, especially Ambassador of Israel to the Philippines, His Excellency Ilan Fluss. Thank you so much for coming to the Senate and embarking on this amazing, I don’t want to say introductory, but amazing strengthening of our partnerships, particularly with innovation as the focal point.

And I’d like to make special mention of our guests who are here to show full support, not just for this initiative, but for the coming initiatives and programs on innovation…

DICT USec. Jocelle Sigue; DOST Usec. Lea Buendia; Dean Lizan Calina of DAP; and of course, our own Senate Secretary General Renato Bantug Jr.

So let me give a very short description of my work. Last Congress, three-and-a-half years ago, the Senate, for the very first time, put up a Senate Committee on Sustainable Development Goals, Innovation, and Futures Thinking. This came about because of my own studies on futures thinking and my long-time participation in then the Millennium Development Goals, which then turned to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and of course my interest in innovation. So this is the 4th year that the Senate has a committee of this nature.

And our goal is to track where we are with our SDGs, prepare for various futures, and shift our mindset to futures thinking as a major policy reform.

Many times in government, and not just in the Senate, we are confronted with situations which require immediately putting out the fire, and that prevents us from really innovating and investing in long-term solutions, including innovative solutions. So the goal really is every step of the way, we apply futures thinking, so we explore different outcomes – good, bad, worst, best – and then we prepare for all, but obviously we try to move in the direction of the outcomes we really want for our country.

So innovation and futures thinking can support government policymaking in the following ways:

•Better anticipation to identify and prepare sooner for new opportunities and challenges that could emerge in the future.

•Policy innovation to spur new thinking about the best policies to address these new opportunities and challenges

•Future-proofing to stress-test existing or proposed strategies against a range of future scenarios

There’s a lot I can say about this. We have a session at 3 o’clock. We have an interesting speaker that I’d rather hear, other than give a lecture on SDGs and futures thinking. But let me just highlight food security, which is an issue in the Philippines of more than 100 million Filipinos.

I think I was a child [when] we were made to memorize certain data about the Philippines, including the population, and maybe Secretary Bantug, you can refresh my memory, we are roughly from the same era. Weren’t we children around the time our population was 40 million? Oh see? So we both memorized the same, 40 million. So it went up to 60, 80, and now over 100 [million]. And how do we efficiently feed, nutritionally feed, because we can feed but not nutritionally feed, over 100 million Filipinos on a day-to-day basis? So even when we talk about, hear news about children who go to bed hungry, who have less than 3 meals a day, I can almost guarantee that the one or two meals they have are not even necessarily healthy meals.

Anyway, I am forcing myself to move out of that topic just in the interest of moving on. On healthcare, I am a health policy advocate and legislator. I chaired the Committee on Health for around a decade. And I now handle the budget of the Department of Health. So it is a passion of mine. For those who don’t know me, my inspiration for being a senator is because I had a father who was a senator and who died in office from liver cancer, but my youngest brother donated his liver. So this was a cutting-edge innovation then, I don’t know how common it is now. So my younger brother gave two-thirds of his liver. And that was the only time that I realized that, ‘oh you can donate a liver. You can share your liver.’ It’s not something I was aware of because we’re usually aware of kidneys. You have two kidneys, you can give one. Apparently, you can also share your liver, so my brother shared two-thirds of his liver to give our father life.

But before that life-changing event, I had a child who had Trisomy 13, a chromosomal disorder that as they say, is not compatible with life. And so at the end, no health innovation to date can maybe improve the quality of life of children who are survivors of this or living with this condition. But unless they discover something that can change the chromosomal concerns that happens in a child with trisomy, there is not yet an innovation that can change it. But it gave birth to my interest in health, and eventually my becoming a senator focused on healthcare and innovation.

Again, I have much more to say. I’m Asia-Pacific Chapter Chair of UNITE Parliamentarians for Global Health. I have always been a strong advocate for global partnerships, which is exactly why I am here today, and I continue to try to learn from our neighbors both regionally and worldwide.

Water sustainability is also very close to my heart. So you’ll never forget my birthday, it’s on International Water Day [March 22]. You can look it up. But that’s my birthday…

So there, let me end this, because I am excited to look at the photos, as the Ambassador said, these may just be photos, but these will give us a glimpse of what Israeli innovation can do, and maybe one of our dreams is to have an interactive museum, where not just photos, but we can have children and even adults learn about it through more interactive means, whether it’s bringing in more footages or tactile materials that would make it exciting.

Let me end on a very happy note. Before my life as a senator, I was an entrepreneur, I am a lawyer by training, but I am a passionate entrepreneur, and one of the businesses I brought in, I was a young mother so obviously I was inspired by being a mother and having babies and wanting intelligent babies. I bought products made by an Israeli company called TinyLab. I don’t know if it still exists, but I met them in a US children’s trade fair, and their product was, it may not have been digital at that time, this was probably circa, turn of the century, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002. But the products were infant and child development products, using research that shows that infants can see contrasting colors.

We grew up in a time where we show pink to baby girls and blue to baby boys, and they are all pastel colors. Well it turns out that the infants’ eyes are not fully developed, and so what they see are contrasting colors like black and white. So I was one of the first mothers who invested. And my mom, being a preschool teacher, made my babies their own black and white cards. And eventually, I found this company, TinyLab, which had all these fun and innovative products for infants.

Anyway, like I said, let me end on that happy note. Hello, and I welcome our dear colleague, who recently celebrated his birthday, kung hindi niyo pa nabati, batiin niyo, Sen. Robin Padilla.

So I end on that note, I am very happy that our colleague has joined us. I think we should never be afraid of innovations. We should never be afraid of using our intelligence, our intellect to explore what is out there. God gave us a brain, and I always say, let’s use it. So on that note, I am excited to have the ribbon cutting commence. Thank you. #

Senator Pia Cayetano and Ambassador of Israel to the Philippines, His Excellency Ilan Fluss, lead the opening of an exhibit at the Senate entitled, ‘Bridging Innovation between Israel and the Philippines.’ Joining them are: Nir Balzam, Deputy Chief of Mission, Embassy of Israel in Manila; Or Haviv of leading Israel technology innovator Arieli Capital; Senators Sherwin Gatchalian and Robin Padilla, and Senate Secretary General Renato Bantug Jr. The exhibit showcases Israel’s leading role in global technological innovations. (Senate PRIB)
Senator Pia Cayetano welcomes to the Senate plenary Ambassador of Israel to the Philippines, His Excellency Ilan Fluss and Arieli Capital’s Or Haviv.

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