by Tony Meloto
GK GLOBAL SUMMIT 2012
June 12, 2012
Celebrating Philippine Independence
(Photo Credit: Brenda P. Milan)
"A new revolution is rocking the Philippines!"
This was the message I announced to audiences on my current visit to the United States and Canada for a series of activities in Gawad Kalinga to celebrate our Independence Day.
It is the revolution to regain our honor as a nation by demanding a high standard of honesty from our top leaders and citizens unseen in the Philippines before.
While the 1986 People Power was a peaceful struggle to break free from the tyranny of absolute power, the new People Honor Revolution waged by PNoy is about liberation from the grip of endemic corruption and the cycle of sustainable poverty that drove many of the most educated and skilled Filipinos to seek their fortune abroad.
The buzz was about the impeachment wherever I went.
The unprecedented conviction of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, the first in our history and unheard of in any democratic country in recent years, is a loud declaration to the world that many Filipinos will no longer accept passively the label that we are the corrupt man of Asia.
By simply making honesty the highest measure of leadership and good citizenship, we can gain global trust, open the floodgates of investments and re-brand the Philippines as the new wonder economy of Asia.
The Filipino brand will mean top quality ethical products, good business climate, unmatched hospitality, happy and hard-working people and strong moral governance.
Business responds positively to transparency and accountability.
Only after two years with an honest President, the Philippine stock market is the most stable in the region, our 6.4 GDP in the last quarter was second only to China. We are one notch below investment grade after several credit upgrades. While the dark clouds of recession and depression hover over Europe and America, the light is shining through our emerging landscape.
Definitely, the grass is getting greener and the sky is becoming bluer in the Philippines.
Gawad Kalinga joins Filipinos in the Independence Day Parade in Madison Avenue
This radical optimism towards the homeland, after years of self-exile and self-bashing, pervaded the air of rejoicing at the successful GK Hope Ball (June 2) and the Independence Day parade (June 3) at the Big Apple where Gawad Kalinga volunteers formed the first human marching flag along Madison Ave. It was the same spirit that energised the GK Global Summit 2012 in Toronto the following week (June 8-9). Pride was no longer in the singular achievement of Manny Pacquiao or Jessica Sanchez or indignation over their loss but in every Filipino hero participating in nation-building.
>>> Read more about the human flag in "Fil-Ams take over Madison Avenue"
Gawad Kalinga, by building over 2000 communities through the sweat and tears of over a million volunteers from various sectors, has shown that the Filipino is now in the game to win, not just a perennial spectator or fan.
The nobility of sacrifice for country in the GK way of "padugo" - bleeding for the cause - is bringing out what is honorable in our people.
GK is a mind-changer:
From a country-basher the Filipino learns to be a nation-builder.
From a love of power and money he learns the greater love for the poor and his country.
Our greatest challenge is for more Filipinos to learn that integrity is more powerful than money.
CAPACITY FOR GREATNESS
"The result of the impeachment conducted through a true democratic process gained for us the admiration of the global community. President Aquino's visit next week to meet President Obama is causing excitement in DC." This was the message to us of Philippine Ambassador to the United States Joey Cuisia at our table conversation as he himself could not contain his amazement at the size of the crowd at the GK Hope Ball, many of them doctors and nurses, more eager to help the country now that there is clear proof of decency in governance.
Christopher Thornley, the Canadian Ambassador to the Philippines, was no less enthusiastic in declaring his optimism the following week at the GK Global Summit in Toronto. "I have great affection for the Philippines and a big admiration for GK - they bring out the best in people," was his sincere comment from a first hand experience as a volunteer with his 11 year old son in the Telus, Sunlife and Manulife GK villages in Metro Manila.
>>> Read Ambassador Thornley's speech at the GK Global Summit 2012
At the round-table meeting he organised with a dozen Canadian corporations and institutions - notably Sunlife, Blackberry(RIM), Bombardier, SNC- Lavalin, York University - the mood was upbeat from the top executives present. Their comments were mostly encouraging:
"The Philippines is the undervalued economy of Asia..."
"The effort of the present Philippine government to curb corruption will attract more Canadian investors..."
"Its more viable to put up a business hub for Asia in Manila where the cost of living is lower, competent executives and skilled workers are available and everyone speaks English..."
"Filipinos are outstanding citizens in Canada - they are our biggest immigrants in the last two years, surpassing the Chinese and the Indians..."
"Now Canada has to compete with other countries to attract the most qualified Filipinos to come..."
Not to fault Canada but the brightest and the best from the Philippines are being harvested by rich countries that did not spend to raise and educate them. It would be wise that they invest not just in business in the Philippines but also in the education of our poor if they see Filipinos as their first choice for future immigrants.
Our country is a gold-mine of human treasures but many are still covered with dirt in the neglected slums and in the abandoned countryside waiting to be discovered and polished for their true value to come out.
A SEASON OF HOPE
This is my first visit to North America in nearly half a century where the mood everywhere I went, both among Filipinos and foreigners alike, is positive and hopeful about our often battered country, not only by natural calamities but by bashing from Filipinos themselves.
It is an astounding paradigm shift to those raised with a colonial mentality like me to hear that our country is becoming an attractive proposition for visitors and investors due to the rise of Asian economies and the slowdown in the West.
FINDING THE LOST FILIPINO
Tony Meloto speaking at the Gawad Kalinga Global Summit 2012 Gala Dinner in Toronto
(Photos by Brenda P. Milan)
When I first landed in California in 1966 as a 16 year old American Field Service scholar I was totally captivated by the technicolor world of Hollywood and the endless fun of the Beach Boys. I came back a year later to study in Ateneo as an "amboy", hiding my Ilonggo accent - and my past, as a poor boy from a public high school in Bacolod City - with an exaggerated American twang to show the "coños" in the campus that I spoke better English than them. One year in America helped erase my insecurity from a lack of pedigree in the premier university of the Filipino elite.
I guess I was an addict to anything American or imported then. Made in the Philippines never seemed good enough.
Over the years it has always been for me - and for many Filipinos like me - that everything was right in America and everything was wrong in the Philippines. We exaggerated our faults - our politicians were corrupt (there were bigger crooks in Wall Street), our poor were lazy (adding insult to injury to those who were denied justice and opportunity), our traffic was crazy (LA is worse!)...which blind-sided us to our many good qualities and potential to be a great nation. Sadly, we simply gave up on ourselves early, bashed ourselves unreasonably, accepted poverty as our fate and played bad politics as the only game in town.
Somehow I understood why people left and their skepticism over my lack of pragmatism for staying when I regained my soul as a Filipino and my decision not to give up on our country because of Gawad Kalinga. Ending poverty in the Philippines was a pipe dream for most in the beginning of our nation-building journey.
HAPPY TO BE HOME
These last ten days however the mood was refreshingly different, although it had been slowly changing in the last ten years for a growing number of believers in our radical optimism about the motherland.
I was affirmed by many hopeful statements made and new insights gained on this trip.
"I realised I am a Filipino born and raised in America..." GK USA Chairman Tony Olaes acknowledging his deep connection to his roots "and my business success here means nothing if I cannot help the Philippines in nation-building."
GK Canada Chairman Pidoy Pacis addresses the participants of the Global Summit;
Tony Meloto speaking with Saladmaster International Inc. President Keith Peterson
(Photos by Brenda P. Milan)
"The Filipino does well here and gives back to those he left behind..." GK Canada Chairman Pidoy Pacis spoke about the success and generosity of Filipinos in his Saladmaster team who donated a GK village in his hometown in Pototan, Iloilo.
>>> Read more in "Saladmaster International Inc Turns Over 14 New Houses to GK Pototan"
"There is no life for me here now. The United States has been good to me but my children are gone, my home is empty, I have just sold my clinic and plan to live in the Philippines where there's a bigger purpose waiting for me," from pediatrician Linda Punzalan of Port Arthur, Texas.
"I want to sell my house in Staten Island so I can do more medical mission in the Philippines and help out in the Enchanted Farm," from my Ilocano host Dr Tony Buendia, another successful UST doctor still practising in Pennsylvania, as he shared his new career scenario with us over blueberry pie dessert that he baked in his plush home.
"Do you have a place for a young investment banker in your organisation to handle the social venture capital fund for GKCSI (Center for Social Innovation)?" was a straightforward question from a 23 year old recent Harvard graduate now working for Morgan Stanley in Wall street who followed me to Madison Ave after the parade.
>>> Learn more about the GK Center for Social Innovation
Even my best friend from college who has a comfortable life in Canada was proud to tell me over steak and beer dinner at his club house that he and his wife are "happy to be Filipinos again" as dual citizens after 25 years in Ontario working as a vice president of a Canadian bank and raising two grown-up kids who have left their big empty nest in Missasauga to find their place in the world.
The plenary sessions and workshops during the GK Global Summit 2012
(Photos by Brenda P. Milan)
HAPPY TO BE HONEST
So much to take in and process and so much to do with so little time for a senior citizen like me.
But right now I just want to enjoy this awesome moment of inspiration.
Many here are excited but do not fully comprehend the mind-blowing outcome of the impeachment that they watched religiously over TFC and the new image that the world is beginning to see - that the Philippines can be the land of the honest - of trustworthy lawyers and judges who cannot be bought, of politicians who will follow their conscience and businessmen who pay the right taxes and have a big heart for just causes.
The possibility of ending corruption is a big attraction for Filipinos abroad to come home and those who are here not to leave.
This will not remain merely wishful thinking if we don't allow the cynics and the critics to have the last say. It will entail huge perseverance from all of us to purge corruption out of our system, beginning with a simple resolve from us men - who are generally more dishonest than women - not to cheat on our spouse or on our tax declaration. But it is a mind-boggling beginning that calls for great rejoicing and dancing in the streets.
LIVE WITH HONOR
Integrity is a big legacy from PNoy that we cannot afford to squander, no matter who succeeds him in 2016. It should in fact be the biggest consideration in our choice of future leaders.
Filipinos in North America have shown that they can live with honor through honest hard work.
They belong to the top bracket of taxpayers among the ethnic groups in the US and Canada. They declare and pay the right taxes for their hard-earned income.
Together with other Asians, they now belong to the least poor. Filipinos when properly motivated and compensated will work long hours and take on several jobs to achieve quality of life. Poverty is not his destiny if his spirit - and his environment - is right.
Filipinos have the lowest rate of homelessness among ethnic groups in the streets of America. It is not his nature to be a squatter.
Corporations like Tim Horton, Canada's better version of Starbucks, prefer Filipinos in their staff - 70% of them - because they can still smile despite the early morning long queues in dead winter.
Filipinos are a happy people despite the big sacrifices and the bad storms in life.
Celebrating in the GK Global Summit 2012 Gala Dinner
(Photos by Brenda P. Milan)
FIGHT FOR HONOR
As I prepare to leave for South Korea today for one last speaking engagement before I see my family again, I can hardly move my 62 year old bones from nearly two weeks of intense activities to spread the good news about our struggle for self-respect. But hope keeps my heart young and purpose gives me the energy to cope.
One thing is clearer to me as I get older: The fight for honor must begin with me.
I cannot expect integrity in others if I do not demand it from myself first.
I cannot live with honor as a Filipino if I compromise my values or allow the corrupt to steal and cheat and choose not to do anything about it.
I cannot live with honor as a Catholic if I treat the poor as a beggar like Lazarus worthy only of scraps from my table or a squatter deserving only of a shanty for a home.
My fight for honor is a fight I cannot afford to lose for the sake of Filipinos coming after me.
I cannot die with honor if I do not fight for honor.
Yes, I love the thought that my grandchildren will be known by the world as Filipinos who come from the land of the honest long after I'm gone.
The Gawad Kalinga Global Summit 2012 took place in Toronto, Canada on June 8-9, 2012. Dedicated to the eradication of poverty through the restoration of human dignity and a culture of caring and sharing, the event hopes to share the GK community development template and engage like-minded individuals and institutions to help end poverty, the GK way. Through the Summit, we hope to share the GK way with global citizens to reach out to poor communities and help end poverty where it exists.
You too can be part of the Gawad Kalinga family! To partner with GK in its mission to end poverty or to take part in this powerful show of force for nation-building by volunteering, please email email@example.com.