Lets take a little diversion from the Fr. Tulabings and "Restoration" villages. I think maybe they'll need a little time for thinking and listening to their hearts.
Fr. Tulabing, I hope, will take a look at this blog, open his eyes and discern with the heart the Lord gave him. I am also hoping our hard hearted brothers who blocked entry at the Remarville GK site will look beyond greed, prejudice, and pride, and figure out that this issue goes beyond a mere name or title. I'm collecting documents, images, and evidence, but I'd like to give them some time to have a change of heart.
I draw your attention now to another speech made by Tony Meloto at the All Ateneo Alumni Convention that was held in Chicago, USA last July 5th.
By Antonio Meloto
July 5, 2008
All Ateneo Alumni Convention held at Hyatt Hotel, Chicago, Illinois, USA
Thank you Ateneans USA President, Dr. Jun Farrales, for inviting me. Greetings to Ateneo de Davao President Fr. Ting Samson, S.J., the man who made me look intelligent by giving me a PhD in Humanities Honoris Causa last year. Good evening to all co-alumni and guests. While this is a mixed age group of Ateneo Alumni, a gathering of the brightest and the best of our graduates of all ages who now call America home, the focus of this message is for those who are over fifty years old, if there are any around besides myself. I hope those below fifty listen well because there is a lot of inspiration and lessons to be learned from the journey of my generation.
Career-wise, most of us reach our peak at fifty. At that point, we are at the summit of our life in experience and influence. We who have traveled far and struggled hard to get there still have much energy left to fly, no longer for self, but for greater causes that can harness the expertise and resources we have built over the years.
I believe that this is the reason why I was invited to speak to you tonight. After building your American dream, the apple of your eyes now is the Philippines and you want to explore new ways of expressing your affection for her. Not that you have stopped caring or helping in the past, but most of you are eager to do it at this point when you have the time to really make a difference. What is clear to me is that the eagle is not too old or too tired to be a hero for our country. Many of you have passion for golf or basketball which is good for the body. I hope you can add to this the passion for nation-building which is good for your soul.
Being a hero to your family is no stranger to you. You have slaved long hours, endured the worst bosses on the planet, and survived the coldest winters in America that your body is not accustomed to for the love of family. That is heroism that every human parent is designed for, especially Filipinos. To do otherwise would be a betrayal of that nature. Filipinos in America have succeeded exceedingly well in that field of struggle – building the most comfortable nests that are probably empty when they reach fifty and raising children equipped with the best education and a sense of independence to make it on their own.
Now you have the freedom to retire and relax here to enjoy your success which you deserve or to extend yourself beyond family and beyond this country and share your success with the people and the places where it will matter most in the land of your birth.
We are inviting you to come home and be a hero to our people, to be hope to the hopeless, to visit the abandoned and the forgotten, to help us seek the least and the lost. Tonight, I honor those who have responded to this call and the many others who will follow.
We are inviting you to visit our Gawad Kalinga communities and discover what is good and true in the Filipino because every village is built with nobility and the greatness of the spirit of our people that inspire even foreigners to help. Many Fil-Ams and foreigners have come to build, others to experience and study the phenomenon, some for their masters and PhD dissertations. The recent builders came from Georgetown and Yale; six non-Filipinos from Loyola University of Chicago stayed for six months as members of the first GK Builders Corps. Something good from the Philippines is catching global attention.
Yes, this is an invitation for us to build a nation that we can all be proud of, raised not just by our collective genius but by our common resolve to stop living in shame as a people. Many Filipinos, starting with myself, are guilty for what our country has become, but feeling guilty alone will not bring a nation out of poverty. We have to convert regret to reform, concern to action, shame to honor. We have to raise Filipinos to be first-class citizens in the Philippines so none of our people will feel second-class anywhere in the world.
Wherever I go in the United States, I sense a longing here for our homeland. This growing nostalgia is opening channels for philanthropy and investment unseen before. Almost four hundred out of our 1,700 GK villages are funded and visited by partners and volunteers from the United States , and more are coming. Gawad Kalinga is bringing out the best in the Fil-Ams by showing them the best in our people at home.
They are inspired when they meet former istambays who give up vices and start to work, some even taking two jobs like Filipinos abroad. They now understand what many of us knew all along: the Filipino is not lazy when he is in the right environment. The problem of poverty in our country is not the lack of work but the lack of motivation to work when there is no hope or aspiration. GK provides them the environment, the values, and the motivation to be productive citizens. In our experience, poverty and corruption are behavioral, cultural, and moral issues before they are economic.
Our resident Pilosopo Tasyo from Ateneo Class of ‘69 remarked about this phenomenon in GK, “When it was clear to me that poverty was not primarily about economics, when it was clear to me that corruption was not primarily about law, it also became clear to me that despair perpetuates poverty, perpetuates corruption. I learned this because the entry of hope changes everything, as though hope were the light that transforms night to day. I learned that what Gawad Kalinga does, which is the most important, is to rearrange the ingredients of life so that hope can emerge with basis.”
Gawad Kalinga brings great hope to the nation because it inspires great generosity from an army of volunteers who help the needy when they themselves are in need. Many are building homes for the homeless when they themselves are still renting or living with relatives.
Gawad Kalinga invites trust because it inspires Filipinos to be trustworthy, even politicians. One truly bright spot in our country today is the emergence of young and capable leaders preparing their towns for investment and development by land banking and building sustainable GK communities and farms to address homelessness and hunger. This removes a major roadblock in our effort to scale up as lack of trust is oftentimes the excuse of many for not helping although the heart wants to.
To build a nation is to have direct impact on the lives of the poor, fifty million of them in our country as of the last count, and to influence those who have the power and the means to help them. The effort has to be visible, transformative, and empowering; otherwise, it will not be massive or sustainable. It can start with charity but it must be a work of social justice to even the playing field and to recognize that all Filipinos are equal in worth and dignity. It begins with the heart where love resides, but it must be sustained with excellence and stewardship. Without love, there is no justice; without justice, there is no peace. Despite our abundance in material resources and talent, our nation will not prosper unless we learn to love our country and work for justice for our people.
Philippine Daily Inquirer, in choosing me as Filipino of the Year in 2006, cited Gawad Kalinga as a gift from God to the Filipino people, which one day will be the gift of the Filipino people to the world. In receiving this award, it was clear to me that I was just doing so on behalf of the multitude of heroes who have made this miracle possible. It has not been my habit to speak about my role in a work that humbles me, but tonight I will give you a glimpse of my life as a late bloomer in social development who discovered that it is never too late to love country beyond self. Perhaps it will help you find new expressions of what it is to live for others.
The first fifty years of our life is an invitation for success; beyond that is an invitation for greatness. Success is to accomplish for self; greatness is to accomplish for others.
I come from Ateneo class ’71, AB Economics, the batch of Jun Ross, the more famous one among us in college who needs our prayers now in his battle against cancer. Please pray for his quick recovery so he can continue to fly with us. This year I turned fifty-eight, normally a good age to slowdown and reduce the amount of stress in a man’s life. But I am a restless fifty-eight. I am consumed with two goals at the second phase of my life. First, I dream that the Philippines will be the first Christian country in Asia that will rise from poverty. Second, I want my children to be among the first generation of Filipinos who will live with pride and honor in our country.
These are big dreams that have captured my heart at this time when my blood pressure is no longer stable without maintenance from Pfizer, and my psoriasis is uncontrollable without the aid of Wyeth. I mentioned these two pharmaceutical companies because their CEOs are Ateneo graduates and close friends who are concerned with my health and those of the poor in our Gawad Kalinga communities.
They, too, are not too old to dream of a better life for our people. Unlike most of you, my being Atenean was more by destiny, not by privilege of birth. It was Fr. Thomas Steinbugler, SJ, the Dean of Admissions forty years ago, who broke convention and changed history by opening the door of the Katipunan campus to ambitious young men like myself from public schools who had no pedigree; only big dreams and the determination to build a better life than the one we had.
More than the equipment for success in whatever career path I chose, Ateneo planted in me the seed of what it is to be Filipino and Catholic – to be a man for others.
As part of the scholarship package, I worked as a porter in both Cervini and Eliazo dorms with other scholars like respected columnist Conrado de Quiros. In my four years at the university, I was accepted as a friend and equal by everyone who knew that I came from the lower class and a different background. It was my first taste of a non-discriminatory, inclusive community in what was a traditionally exclusive environment. It was liberating for someone like myself who always felt second class in Bacolod City where I came from. The rich were not unkind to me, but somehow I never felt I was an equal to them. I did not blame them either. Somehow I knew it was not their fault that they inherited a way of life where human value was measured by the size of one’s land or the sound of one’s name.
My time at the Ateneo was also a period of societal change. The dark clouds of the First-Quarter Storm were brewing in the campuses, and there was growing unrest in the countryside. Jesuit Fr. JJ Jesena, my guardian and relative by affinity, shocked the public and upset the landed aristocracy of my home province with his revealing and disturbing book on the miserable life of our sugarcane workers; the sacadas of Negros . What was disturbing to others was normal to me because I grew up with them.
All the social conscientization of the time plus my deep admiration for friends and martyrs, Emman Lacaba and Ed Jopson, were not compelling enough for me to drop my ambition and join the cause. I was the young eagle then who was eager to fly away because I had nothing to give back to those I left behind in Negros . There was no reason for me to go home. I had no land, no money, no pedigree. There was only massive hunger and insurgency waiting for me.
So I stayed in Manila and tried to build a life, just like the squatters who flock to the city because there is no hope for them in the province. The big difference was that I had an Ateneo education while most of them barely had anything. I raised my family inside exclusive subdivisions; they raised theirs in squatter colonies outside my walls. Heaven and hell were just a few meters away from each other. Like most Filipinos, I found comfort in religion but had no time to give comfort to poor Lazarus outside my gate.
Oftentimes, we curse the squatters for making our world ugly, for the threat to our safety, and for being a burden to society. Yes they are…because we forgot to practice our Christianity on them. Our failure in social justice deprived them of land and home, of dignity and honor, of dreams an aspirations, to build a future in the towns where they were born. They are impoverished squatters in a country with so much land and wealth in the possession of a few.
It is the same migratory pattern like most of you who flew to the United States as poverty, corruption, activism, and militarization grew in our country. It is but natural for us to escape threats to our safety and comfort and to search for our oasis where we can thrive and prosper. No one has the right to judge anyone of you for leaving the country, as no one has the right to judge the poor for leaving their province to seek survival elsewhere.
Unlike them, you were driven by hope because you were designed to succeed while they were forced to leave out of desperation, oftentimes because of calamity, conflict or hunger. You prospered in the most competitive economy in the world with your strong motivation and great capacity for hard work, while the poor, who are congesting our cities, failed to make life better for themselves and for everyone else. They know how to fish, but the big city is no fishing ground for them. Our goal in Gawad Kalinga is to make life in the province more attractive for them not to leave and for those in the city to go back. And for those who do well to come home and help.
Like this eagle who flew back to Negros, In 2003, a young Englishman, who fell in love with GK, my country, and my daughter…in that order, gave my wife and me an unusual gift on our silver anniversary – one hundred homes to give to the poor in our respective hometowns. We built fifty homes for her in Concepcion , Tarlac, where she hails from, and fifty homes for the farm workers where I come from in La Carlota City. Today, there are thirty-two GK villages in nineteen towns and cities in Negros Occidental and more to open up…and more hacienderos giving land for homes and farms to the poor. I am finally home.
We are now calling on all patriots-in-exile in the US and Canada to come home and help us build our nation. The Philippines is claiming back her best talents on loan to other countries with interest. Please go back to your towns and provinces, not just to your families but to other families in need, not just with your balikbayan boxes but with your balikbayani hearts.
Our local heroes are waiting for you. The thirteen Blue Eagle GK villages in Quezon City, Bulacan, Nueva Ecija, Bicol, and Davao look forward to your visit and support. We have over 400 mayors and governors and thousands of volunteers and GK residents willing to match your heroism – love for love, sweat for sweat, skill for skill.
We need immediate help for Panay which was devastated by typhoon Frank last week. Relief agencies are all over the island easing the misery of 80,000 families needing food, medicine, and temporary shelters. Soon Gawad Kalinga will start building sustainable GK communities in relocation sites, safe from floods, landslides, and earthquakes. We will need a big army of heroes to do this on a massive scale in partnership with our town officials. We call on all Ilonggos particularly to help Panay and all of you to help the poor in the region where you come from. Let us not allow the Filipino to remain a victim in his country forever.
In this room are the natural leaders of an initiative that will raise the image of Filipinos from Third-World to one that many other countries will follow in order to confront and defeat poverty in their own respective homelands. It is in the hands of Filipinos privileged by wealth or talent to take leadership positions, but they can do so only if they have the heart of heroes.
It is only heroes who can rescue a failing nation and a suffering people. It is only heroes who will extend their power and resources to help others, beyond themselves and family. To love our family is a gift; to love the poor is grace. Caring for our family brings us closest to them; caring for the poor brings us closest to God. It is only the hero in you that I appeal to, to bring our people out of poverty and you nearest to God.
In the past, nations were built by young heroes in their teens because fighting for the motherland was their purpose in life. Their average life expectancy was short at thirty-five years old, war being their main business. Now our young are pressured with college, career, and family with little time to think about their country. Those who do are extraordinary.
So we call on those over fifty, who have fewer responsibilities, more resources, and longer life expectancy. Those at fifty today are at their prime, equivalent to a fifteen-year-old two centuries ago. It is to all of you that I make this appeal. Be a hero to the poor in our country.
Show the world that the eagle is not too old to fly. Use all your energy to lift our country out of poverty and our people out of shame. Make this your offering when Ateneo celebrates its 150th anniversary in 2009, in tune with its theme, “Building the Nation.” When we all do, our national hero and the greatest Atenean, Dr. Jose Rizal, will finally get his wish. And we would have been justified: With an Ateneo education comes great responsibility for God and country.
God bless the Philippines.