To the Best and the Brightest of our Youth!

Alexander Lacson

Induction Ceremonies
Pi Gamma Mu International Honor Society (Social Science)
University of the Philippines, Diliman
2 March 2009

I am truly honored by the invitation to speak to you today. There are two reasons why I feel very privileged.

The first reason has to do with the truth that I never imagined in my entire life that I would be invited as keynote speaker by an international honors society like Pi Gamma Mu. Graduating with honors in college was not among my top priorities. For nine (9) years that I was here in U.P Diliman, I was always a working student, trying to make ends meet with the little money I earned, to add to the little money that my sister sent me from her earnings from her work in Japan. In my family, we had no tradition of academic excellence. My father finished high school only. My mother was a public school teacher who spent all her life teaching Grade 2 pupils in different public schools in Kabankalan, Negros Occidental. Both of them never had honors at school. My 8 brothers and sisters never had honors in elementary, high school, much less in college. Academic excellence was never a topic in our family’s dining table. Truly, it is an extremely high honor for me and my family to be the keynote speaker today of Pi Gamma Mu, the world’s oldest and preeminent honor society in social sciences. I only wish that I would be equal to the task and be able to meet your high expectations of me.

The second reason why I feel honored by your invitation, I hope you will find it clearly in the message I will share today.

Let me start with a short story.

Nine (9) years ago, in 2000, my wife and I almost left our country. At that time, many of our relatives and friends were leaving the country in search of the so called “greener pastures” abroad. At that time, a sister and a brother of mine, with their respective families, already migrated abroad. Another brother, the youngest in our family, was also applying for migration to Canada, with his entire family. They eventually left a few years later. I guess my wife and I were also tempted, so we also seriously thought of migrating to the US or Canada. But after talking about it for several months, we decided to stay. My wife and I decided to raise our 4 children in the country and live our lives here.

            However, there was always one question that kept on worrying me – “What if our Philippines does not progress in the next 20 or 30 years?” What if, 20 or 30 years from today, our Philippines will be in a situation worse than it is today? Will our country be able to give justice to my children if an act of injustice is committed against them? Will our government be able to protect the rights and freedoms of my children? Will our country be able to value the talent and hardwork of my children, in the same way that other countries value the same level of talent and hardwork?

            To this day, these questions still linger in my mind. As a parent, like your parents, I dream of a Philippines that is beautiful in its progress and prosperity, because there is peace and justice, but moreso because there is enough for every Filipino and his family; a country where no Filipino is left behind in the streets suffering in poverty and misery, because there is a culture of familihood among our people, because we as a people commit ourselves to the noble idea that we are our sister or brother’s keeper. Like your parents, I dream of a Philippines where the dreams of our children, however high they may seem, are always possible to attain, because we have a government that builds a society that allows it to be so; a country that gives full value to the talent and hardwork of our children, as they are valued in other countries for the same talent and hardwork; a nation where our children could attain the fullness of life as they conceive it to be; a society where there is equality in opportunities to things essential, regardless of power and influence, of gender and religion.

            When my wife and I decided to stay in our country, I also started looking, although gradually, for ways on how to bring about that dream Philippines I had in mind. I was looking for a way to bring that dream into reality. I wanted to be part of the solution. So I started looking for a piece of the solution that I could perform, a piece that I can deliver.

            But the problems of our country seemed so huge and daunting. Perhaps like many of us, I did not know where to start. I did not know what to do.

Then in July 2004, there was a public announcement made that our country was facing a serious financial crisis. There was a dramatic call for every Filipino to help the country. A number of Filipinos took that call seriously. On my part, I remember asking myself what I could do to help the country. After thinking about it for a few days, I decided to contribute my best talent – which is writing. And in the following weeks and months, I buried myself in writing. Seven (7) months later, I finished this small orange book.

For the title of the book, I chose “12 Little Things Every Filipino Can Do To Help Our Country.” Admittedly, I had fears that people may not accept these “little things” or “small acts” as a way of introducing change to our country, considering especially that it is in the nature of man to be impatient, to look for instant answers, for big solutions, for immediate change, for dramatic reform. But I was heartened by the story of St Therese who believed in performing “little acts” everyday in attaining her dream – her dream of living a holy life. St Therese believed that it is very difficult to live a holy life or to achieve holiness. What she did was to try doing it one act at a time, one day at a time. She tried to live a holy life one day at a time. St Therese said that these “little acts”, if performed with great faith, will bring us closer to holiness. Today, hundreds of years after her death, St Therese continues to inspire hundreds of millions of people in the world for her formula of “little acts” to her dream.

            To my complete surprise, in less than 6 months from its publication, the book became a national bestseller. Today the book is 4th in the Bestsellers List of National Bookstore, and is now on its 9th printing, as many companies, schools, organizations and individuals order copies of the book in bulk. As its author, I received numerous invitations to share its message in different parts of the country, including abroad. In the last 3 years, I have averaged over 200 talks and speeches in a year.

            In the past 3 years, I have had bouts of doubts. It was easy to get discouraged

            While the title of the book is “12 Little Things Every Filipino Can Do To Help Our Country”, in my talks and speeches, I refer to it as “Small Acts of Patriotism” or “Small Acts of Heroism” we can do for our country.

Based on the warm reception that our people give to the book, I could sense that there is a hunger for this kind of patriotism – a kind of heroism that parents are willing to teach their children, because it is a type of heroism that does not kill the hero. It is a kind of patriotism that finds application in our daily lives. It is patriotism in small packages, in bite-size. It is heroism that every Filipino can handle anytime of the day. Maybe this is what appeals to many of our people. Our people want to do help our country. They want to do something. They want to consider themselves patriots and heroes of our country, but perhaps they just don’t agree with the radical or extremist expression of some of our people.

Perhaps this is the way we should offer good citizenship to our people. For truly, good citizenship is nothing but really just small acts of patriotism we can do for our country.

It is very interesting how people translate into action the ideas they gathered from the book.

            For instance, there was this story that came out in the front page of Philippine Daily Inquirer last February 14, 2009, Valentines Day. The story is about some 2nd year high school students of Munitnlupa Science High School in Muntinlupa City. These 2nd year high students, averaging 14 to 15 years old, also government scholars, decided to adopt 2 scholars in Palawan. Apparently, two years ago, their history teacher (Ma. Celine Callado) was able to read the book “12 Little Things” and discussed the book with the students when they just started as first year high school. The teacher challenged them to do one thing from among the 12 little things. The students decided, by a vote, to adopt 2 scholars in the province under the program of World Vision. Last year, they did all sorts of things to raise the funds to keep their 2 scholars at school. This year, for the Valentines Day, they sold flowers and chocolates at school. In addition, they offered to take the photos of the crushes of their classmates and friends, for a fee. This one became the bestseller. The students were able to raise in one day the whole money they would need for the whole year for their 2 scholars in Palawan.

            Truly, this is one of the most heartwarming stories I have read about the book, one that makes your spirit soar.

            There are other stories, of course, like the story of a rich businessman who offered to adopt 100 scholars after a talk I gave before their group in 2006. There was also the story of the franchisees association of the one of the biggest food chain in the country, which offered to adopt 2,300 scholars after they’ve read about the book. Many school and university papers have made their own versions of 12 little things – Ateneo de Manila University came up with “12 Little Things Every Atenean Can Do For Ateneo and for the Country”. St Paul College, Xavier University, Isabela State University, and Urios University made their own versions of the 12 Little Things. Many schools and universities have also included the book as required reading for their Citizenship Training courses. In some airports and highways in the provinces, there are huge posters and billboards about these 12 little things to help our country, posted by people most of whom I do not know.

            I truly hope I do not sound as if I am bragging or boastful in sharing all these things with you. Because truly, that is not my intention. My intention is this – I want to let you know that we should have faith in what we are doing for our country, however small it may seem in the eyes of other people. In the last 3 years, I had seen greatness, in various sizes and shapes and colors, from our many of our people. Many of them thought they were just doing small things. But when they these little things with great love and great faith, their small acts started producing big results. The little things or the small acts that we do, if performed with great faith, will slowly but surely help in bringing about the big change we all want to see in our country. Let these small acts of patriotism be our testament that we are willing to help our country everyday, through daily deeds. Let these small acts of heroism be our testament we are not giving up hope on our country and on the Filipino.

            But what I am doing now, and what I have done so far, are nothing compared to what others are doing and have done. I am hardly the best and the most qualified in what I do. Many others have been doing better and greater things for many years now.

            Please let me cite some of them here.

            Tony Meloto of Gawad Kalinga and CFC is one shining example of a great Filipino of our era. Meloto found an application of his Christian faith by building houses for the homeless. For the past 15 years, Meloto truly lived and spent his life with the poorest of our poor. He brought along with him his wife and children. At some point in time, some residents of squatter areas even called his daughters “kaplog” or prostitutes in ilonggo. But Tony and his daughters took all that without bitterness and continued their work – a work they truly believe is God’s work. Today, more than 15 years later and together with CFC and thousands of nameless supporters, more than 40,000 GK houses have been built for 40,000 homeless families nationwide, changing the lives of these 40,000 families, giving hope and joy to the children of these 40,000 families.

            Nene Guevarra of Synergeia is another great Filipino of our time. Through her Synergeia foundation, she is able to work with the mayors and community leaders of more than 250 cities and municipalities in the country to work on improving the quality of education and increasing the literacy rates of our youth in the countryside. Today, Guevarra, thru the Movement for Good Governance, is building a mass base of 10 million voters nationwide who will help bring about good leaders by 2010.

            Governor Among Ed Panlilio is yet another example of a great Filipino of our era. His story is familiar to us. Just a few days before the last day of filing of certificate of candidacy, when it looked certain that Pampanga will have no other option but to choose from  the lesser of two “evil” candidates – one of who was known as the wife of the alleged jueteng lord in the country, while the other was known for the alleged brazen corruption in the lahar quarry – when no one in Pampanga dared to challenge the two “evil” candidates, Fr Among Ed Panlilio summoned the courage, including from defeat and character assassination. He took a leave from his priestly vocation and offered himself as an alternative. He gave his people a reason to hope, a reason to fight.

            At this point, you may wonder why I am telling you the stories of these great Filipinos of our time.

            The reason is simple. These people were like you when they finished college. Tony Meloto graduated with honors in college. Guevarra graduated summa cum laude in college. Among Panlilio also achieved academic excellence while in the seminary. Tony Meloto, after perhaps saving enough for his family, turned his back away from a high paying corporate job and started spending his life and energy for the poorest of our poor around 15 years ago, when he was at the prime of his life’s productivity. Nene Guevarra, despite being a high caliber and a very accomplished accountant, is devoting so much of her life and energy improving the quality of education and literacy rates of our people especially in the countryside. Among Panlilio could have just kept his silence and perhaps someday he would have been a bishop. But no, Among Ed Panlilion spoke his mind, took off his priestly garment, and took the life of an ordinary citizen once more and challenged the two formidable political clans in Pampanga. And the voice of righteousness emerged victorious in Pampanga.

            The reason why I am sharing their stories is this – our country needs a lot of people like them. And we need them now. If some of them emerge, please let us support them. If some of them emerge from your group here, please let us support them.

            Do not stop or kill a good a idea that may come your way. Our country needs a lot of good virus today, like the virus of patriotism – specifically small acts of patriotism or heroism for our country. In 1977, Ninoy Aquino said that – “In this age of darkness, there are two ways of spreading light. You may either be a candle in the dark, or a mirror that can reflect its light.” In this case, the mirror becomes as important as the candle itself in spreading light in the darkness.

            Today, as ever, our country needs all the heroes and patriots it can get from among its sons and daughters, wherever they may be in our archipelago or in the world today.

            For the problems our country and people face today are no less grave than the problems Andres Bonifacio and Jose Rizal faced under the Spanish rule. Our problems today are no less important than the problems Ninoy Aquino and Evelio Javier faced during the times of Martial Law.

            Today, as in Spanish time and Martial law time, the lives of many of our poor people are made very cheap by those who have power. Today, our people’s taxes continue to be stolen and used for personal enrichment of certain government officials. Today, many of our people’s votes continue to be stolen during elections. Today, our democracy continues to be stolen from our people. Today, many of our poor people could not get justice for the injustices committed to them, just like during Spanish rule and Martial law era. Today, many of our people work like modern slaves to employers and companies, some owned by our own people, many abroad. Today, violence and force are stil being used on many of our people, not only in our country but in many parts of the world.

            Today, our country is in one of the worst paradoxes ever.

Our Philippines is known in the world as first and only Christian nation in Asia for more than 400 years (until East Timor became one in 1999), but why is is that we are also perceived as the most corrupt country in the whole of Asia and one of the most corrupt in the whole world? Our Philippines is considered as one for the richest countries in the world in terms of natural resporuces, in fact the 5th richest country out of 212 countries in terms of gold and other mineral deposits, but why is it that our country is also considered as one of the poorest in the region? Why is it that more than 80% of the wealth and riches of our nation are owned and enjoyed only by around 5% of our population? Did not our Creator give all these wealth and riches to all our people, not only to a few of our people? Is it our responsibility as a people to build a government that can make it happen? Is this a responsibility that God gave to us as a people – to perfect our government, to use our government as an instrument to pursue God’s plan for us as a people? The Filipino is one of the most talented, one of the most skilfull persons in the world today, but why is it that he or she is also one of the most abused in our time today? Why is it that, according to a TIME magazine article dated 24 Novemver 2008, almost 10 million of our Filipino youth today are growing up without a father or a mother, because the mother or the father has to workd abroad, because our country could not provide works to them.

            Last year, our beloved University of the Philippines celebrated its 100th anniversary. Records show that, of the last 100 years, the office of the president of our country was occupied by U.P. alumni for a total of 46 years. Then why is our beloved Philippines in such a mess today? This is not my question. This is the question of the keynote speaker invited by UP during the centennial celebrations last year. His name is Washington Sycip, founder and chairman of SGV, one of the largest accounting firms in Asia.

            Today, more than ever, we need an education that will not only focus on personal advancement or personal success. For that would be a shallow and incomplete education. We need an education that will incorporate patriotism as its integral part. An education that will value the whole more than any of its parts. An education that will put high premium to our unity more than our individuality, but without choking anyone’s aspirations and creativity. An education that will value harmony despite our diversity. In short, an education that can make us whole – as a people, as a family, as a nation.

            Today, more than ever, our intelligence needs to have a heart. The intelligence our country needs today is intelligence that cares for others in our society, intelligence that builds and not destroy, intelligence that unites and not divide, intelligence that heals and not aggravate, intelligence that can help us become one family as a people, intelligence that can bring progress not only to ourselves and our families, but also bring genuine prosperity to the least and the lowest of our people. We have to be wary of that kind of intelligence that a former American President warned us about – intelligence without morality. For intelligence by itself is attractive, to business and to government. But intelligence without morality is actually one of the biggest menaces to our society and to human cizilization.

            Today, more than ever, our country needs all the heroes and patriots it can get from all its sons and daughters. Our country needs new patriots who are willing to shed the wounds and the bitterness of the past that divided our parents and grandparents. Today, our country needs new patriots who would view and love themselves as Filipinos, first and foremost, but without forgetting they are also Cebuanos, Visayans, Ilocanos, Davaoenos, Ilonggos, among others.

            The challenge for our youth today is this – What will be your story? How will you use your intelligence today and tomorrow? What kind of Filipinos will you be? What kind of leaders and citizens will you be?

            My beloved young countrymen –you are the hope of our fatherland, according to Jose Rizal. La esperanza dela patria. You, who are considered as among the best and the brightest among the Filipino youth today, must know the solution to our country’s problems, and must act on the solution.

Andres Bonidfacio, Apolinario Mabini and Jose Rizal fought their own battles against the enemies of our people during their time. And they fought their battles valiantly, offering their lives in the process. Ninoy Aquino and Evelio Javier fought their own battles during their time, against the darkness of the dictatorship.

            Today, my young countrymen, we are faced with a battle to fight, in our own time, in our own generation. This is a battle to fight for those who are too poor to fight for themselves, too young to insist on their rights, to illiterate to know the difference between right and wrong.

            This is our moment. This is our time to fight our own battle. I hope you will all rise up to the occasion and help in the fight. We can fight with our intelligence, we can fight by our numbers as the youth. We must be that generation that can find the solution that evaded our parents and grandparents. We must strive to become the best and the greatest generation of Filipinos in the history of our country. For truly, the greatness of our tomorrow depends largely on the greatness of our dreams and courage today as a people.

            Let us fight for genuine change!

            Let us all fight for our dream Philippines!

            Let us all fight to make the Filipino great not only in the eyes of the world but moreso in the eyes of our Lord. God bless all of you, my dear countrymen.

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