Honesty crusade excites OFWs

/ 01:12 AM July 01, 2012

GAWAD Kalinga volunteers in New York formed the first human marching Philippine flag during a parade on Madison Avenue on June 3. Lester Echem/Contributor

TORONTO—“A new revolution is rocking the Philippines.” This was the message I announced to audiences in the United States and Canada during a series of activities launched by 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 President Aquino is about liberation from the grip of endemic corruption and the cycle of poverty that drove many of the most educated and skilled Filipinos to seek their fortune abroad.

Mislabeled people


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 rebrand  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 hardworking people and strong moral governance.

Businesss responds positively to transparency and accountability.

After only two years with an honest President, the Philippine stock market is the most stable in the region. Our 6.4  gross domestic product (GDP) in the last quarter was second only to China. We are now 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.


This radical optimism towards the homeland, after years of self-exile and self-bashing, pervaded the air of rejoicing at the successful Gawad Kalinga (GK) Hope Ball (June 2) and the Independence Day parade (June 3) at the Big Apple where GK volunteers formed the first human marching flag along Madison Avenue.

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. Mr. Aquino’s visit to meet President Barack Obama caused 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 and a GK volunteer, 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.”

Undervalued country

At the round-table meeting he organized 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 … ”

“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.

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

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 blindsided 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 realized I am a Filipino born and raised in America … ” said GK-USA chair 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.”

“The Filipino does well here and gives back to those he left behind … ” GK Canada chair 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.

“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,” said pediatrician Linda Punzalan of Port Arthur, Texas.

“I want to sell my house in Staten Island so I can do more medical missions in the Philippines and help out in the Enchanted Farm.” That’s from my Ilocano host Dr. Tony Buendia, another successful doctor still practicing 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 organization 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 Avenue after the parade.

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 clubhouse 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 kids who have left their big nest in Missasauga to find their place in the world.

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 The Filipino Channel 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 spouses or on our tax declarations. But it is a mind-boggling beginning that calls for great rejoicing and dancing in the streets.

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TAGS: Filipino, Gawad kalinga, Independence Day, Migration, OFW, Tony Meloto
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