Making Heroes of Our People

Alex Lacson
Speech at the World Vision International
Taal Vista Hotel, Tagaytay City
13 August 2006

Delegates of World Vision from all corners of the world, directors and officers of World Vision Philippines, ladies and gentlemen, good evening.

According to Rick Warren, author of the world’s bestseller book “The Purpose-Driven Life”, the number one of the five (5) biggest problems in the world today is poverty of spirit, or spiritual emptiness.

            According to him, the 4 other biggest problems of our world today are – corrupt and self-serving leadership as the second, poverty is third, disease is fourth, and illiteracy is fifth. But according to Warren, these 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th biggest problems in the world today are merely products of the number one problem – which is poverty of spirit.

            Mother Teresa, in 1986, said the same thing too. She said that “We think sometimes that poverty is only being hungry, naked and homeless. But the poverty of being unwanted, unloved, and uncared for is the worst poverty.”

            I could not agree more with Mother Teresa and Rick Warren. Indeed, the most terrible poverty in the world today is not the lack of food and money among so many who have very little or nothing at all, but the lack of love in the hearts of a few among us who have so much. It is the absence of love in the hearts of those who have powers in their hands. It is the kind of poverty that is only found in the hearts of men. It is this poverty in the hearts of the few in this world who has allowed the many in our midst to suffer in hunger, disease, illiteracy, and abuse in the hands of others.

            If we will look closer at the things happening in the Philippines, and through the various stages of our history as a people, we will readily see that it is this same poverty of spirit in the few among us which has made us what we are today, a country of two worlds – the world of a few who have much and the other world of so many who have so little.

            We were colonized for 333 years by a foreign power whose people in the Philippines, instead of preserving and enriching our cultural foundations, enslaved us, called us names, and ruined and suppressed our spirit as a people. When this foreign power left the country at the end of the last century, she passed us on to another foreign power who, instead of making us strong so we could stand on our feet after almost 4 centuries of enslavement, did not do much to build the structure so we could be strong. When another foreign power attacked and occupied our lands by force, many sons of this foreign power raped our daughters and women, killing those among us who preferred death than painful memories of abuse on their loved ones.

            But when finally we became free as a country, many of our leaders who were supposed to lead us as a nation and people became self-serving and corrupt leaders. It is true that for some brief moments in our history, there were indeed leaders who were true to their oaths and promises. But these occurred every once in a long while. That’s why our country had Manuel L Quezon over 80 years ago and Ramon Magsaysay more than 50 years past.

            Today, if we look around us in this country, we still see the same poverty of spirit among so many of our leaders, from the lowest layer to the highest echelons of our government and society.

We see this poverty of spirit among our government and political leaders, in their lifestyles, in the way they use their powers and privileges, and especially in their graft and corrupt practices as reported in the newspapers.

We see this poverty in the hearts among many business people in our country whose large companies earn so much every year but who pay very little salaries to their people and employees. We see this among business people who declare so much profits every end of the year, but more than 90% of whose employees could barely afford the basic necessities of a comfortable family life.  

We see this poverty of spirit among many of our judges and justices who seem eager to lend “justice” to those who can buy and afford it, but not to those who have no means to attaining justice.

We see this among many of us who no longer stop on the road nor open their car windows to extend a helping hand to a beggar in the street, because of our mistaken belief that these beggars belong to syndicate groups.

In fact, if we look closely enough, we see this poverty of spirit in so many sectors of our society.

This poverty of spirit is the root cause of our people’s misery. This is the root cause of our country’s enigma. For the poverty of our whole country started in the poverty of our hearts. It started in the poverty of hearts of those who hold power, of those who have much, of those who have the advantage, of those who have the access.

            How should we address this problem?

            Where do we start?

            I have always believed in starting small but solid, in starting with a few good men. I have always believed that we can start with ourselves, because ourselves is always a good start if we want change in this world. I believe that we can start with a small but fiercely committed good men of ourselves. And we can build that small group of a few good men of ourselves by bringing into the group our families, neighbors, officemates and friends.

            The objective is to make most, if not all, of those around us to agree to and support our idea of solution to the problems in our country.

            And what is that solution?

            There is no other way. The solution should start in the hearts of men, especially in the hearts of a few good men who are willing to keep the spirit alive and aglow, in fisted resolve, amidst our apathetic and materialistic society which is increasingly becoming morally decadent.  This is a solution that springs from the ultimate source, the people. For truly, the ultimate solution could only come from the people. Throughout history, the people have always been in the forefront of change and social transformation. From the most violent modes of change in society – such as revolutions and civil wars – to the most peaceful mode such as peaceful elections where good leaders are voted to office, the people are always there, playing a key role in the change and transformation.

It is along this line that, I believe, the crucial ingredient for our success in the country could be through Good Citizenship, or Good Humanity for the world.

            Good Citizenship is about a people becoming responsible citizens of their government, as well as becoming generous and caring members of their society. It is about a people performing their duties to their country, as much as it is about a people caring for the young and the weak among them, the old and the sick in their community. Good citizenship is about awakening and enriching that spirit of love and generosity in the hearts of our people. It is about our people doing a little more for our country and our fellowmen.

Good humanity on the other hand is really about good citizenship, not for a specific country, but for the world as a whole.

            In June 2005, I published this book entitled “12 Little Things Every Filipino Can Do To Help Our Country.” The heart and soul of the book is really about Good Citizenship.

My idea in writing this book is just really to provide the Filipino people with the “tools” they can use to help our country. Each of these 12 little things maybe likened to a hammer or a saw, or a broom and a dustpan that every Filipino can use or employ to help our country. Every time a Filipino follows one of the 12 little things in the book, every time he uses one these 12 “tools”, he becomes a carptenter of our country. He becomes a builder of our nation. He becomes a hero of our country. And I believe that this is what we need in the country today. We need to make heroes out of our people by making them active participants in the task of nation-building.

The book is also about people empowerment. When people realize that there things that they can do to help our country — many of which are just simple things like the 12 little things in the book – they become empowered citizens. They become empowered Filipinos, individually and collectively as a people.

I have likewise made the effort to incorporate in each of the 12 Little Things in the book the Greatest Commandant of God according to Jesus Christ, which states – “Love God with all thy heart, mind and soul, and love thy neighbor as yourself.”  There is love of neighbor, for instance, whenever you follow traffic rules, which is the 1st Little Thing in the book. There is love of neighbor too whenever you adopt a poor child as scholar, which is the 11th Little Thing in the book. Thus, for me, these 12 Little Things will not only make our people good citizens, it will also make them good Christians and good citizens of the world.

Indeed, approximately 10% of our people in the Philippines today are abroad, either working or permanently residing their. It is also true that approximately 3,500 of our people today leave our country every month for all kinds of reasons, but foremost of which is to seek for a greener pasture or a better future abroad. Many of our women who work in various countries abroad as domestic helpers or nannies are often abused in varying forms. The war in Lebanon today fills our country’s newspapers these days with despicable stories of abuse being perpetrated against Filipina women by their foreigner employers. Some of these stories have made my wife cry not once but a number of times.

            But though our country is down today and many of our people are abused, it is also true that around 40 years ago, in the 1960s and years before that, our Philippines ranked as one of the bests in Asia. According to World Bank records during that period, our Philippines at the time was second only to Japan in terms of economic performance. Our country was number one in the whole of Southeast Asia. At that time, the Filipino as a person stood tall and proud among the great peoples in the world, respected and admired.

            This only means that if had been great before as a nation and as a people, we could be great again. This is now the challenge for our people, especially for our leaders.

            When the book was published in June last year, I was surprised myself with the kind of reception people gave to it. Initially, my wife and I printed only 2,000 copies, unsure as we were on how the public would respond to it. But the first 2,000 copies sold out in less than 8 weeks. Today, we are into our 6th printing, and many groups, companies, schools, church groups, movements, foundations and individuals continue to order copies of the book in bulk and volumes. The book became a popular gift item among many Filipinos during birthdays and similar occasions.

Since June last year, the book has received excellent reviews from readers and leaders alike, and has been circulated many times in the internet. It has been featured in all the major newspapers in the country. It has also been reviewed, analyzed and commented upon by most of the newspaper columnists in the country. It has also been featured in a number of school newspapers in various schools. It has also been featured in a number of talk shows in different TV stations, including in a popular game show “Game ka na ba?” hosted by Kris Aquino. The recently concluded “Pinoy Big Brother – Teen Edition” also used the book as its theme during the first week run of the show.

            A number of national organizations have also adopted the book and its message of promoting Good Citizenship among Filipinos. Among these organizations are the National Laity Council of the Philippines (under CBCP), Galing Pilipino Movement, Ang Bagong Pinoy Movement, Ang Kapatiran Party, Philippine Book Talk Society, Dilaab Movement, Barog Pilipino, Yaman Pilipino, Yabang Pinoy, Global Pinoy, Philippine National Training Institute of PNP, and Philippines Jaycees. The Philippine National Police Academy (PNPA) has also adopted the book as part of its training program.

            I have also received numerous emails from Filipinos, many of them from abroad, who told me how they were touched by the book, and how some them cried after reading it.

            Why I am saying all these things to you?

            It is not about me. Nor is the book about myself.

This is about the so many Filipinos who are hungry for change in this country. This is about the many Filipinos who thirst for progress and prosperity in this country. This is about the many Filipinos who want to help the country, those who want to become heroes for our country by doing the little things that they could do on their own, without fanfare, to help build a better future for our nation. This is about so many Filipinos out there, many of whom are silent and live simple lives, but who care deeply for our country and its future. There are so many of them around the country.

In fact, I did not know that there are so many of them. I did not know that there are so many good Filipinos in every corner of our archipelago who want to lend a hand to build a better Philippines. I did not know that there so many of our countrymen who want to be heroes of our country, and could in fact become heroes of our country.

            This is about those Filipinos, who count in great numbers, who could become heroes of our country through Good Citizenship.

            This is therefore about those many Filipinos who are willing to become heroes of our country through “small acts of heroism”.

            In the 1980s, Mother Teresa said if you want to help other people “Do not wait for leaders. Do it alone, person to person.”  This phrase from Mother Teresa best captures the essence of Good Citizenship and Good Humanity.

            One of our national heroes in the Philippines, Ninoy Aquino, said in 1977 – “In this age of darkness, there are two ways of spreading light. You may either be a candle, or the mirror that reflects it light.”

Dear delegates, I am giving each one of you a free copy of my book so you may bring it home to your respective countries. If after reading the book, you find it applicable and useful in your own country, please do not hesitate to copy the book’s concept. I fully give you the right to copy its concept and for you to write your own version for your own country. That way we can be a candle and a mirror to one other.

            Like the members of the World Vision Family worldwide, I consider myself a warrior of peace and an ambassador of love, as all followers of Jesus Christ should be, according to the Bible.

            I truly thank the World Vision Family for all its work and commitment in my country. I sincerely thank the group for the hundreds of thousands of beautiful lives they have created out of our poor children. I hope I would be able to help the group in its mission in the Philippines.

            May God always bless all of you, and sustain all of you. But most importantly, may He always keep all of you.

            May God allow you to live your lives for as long as you want, and may you not want for as long as you live.

            And may the force of love be always with each one of you and the World Vision Family. Thank you.

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