Why I Chose Philippines

Alex Lacson
Aboitiz Future Leaders’ Summit
Waterfront Hotel, Cebu City
2 August 2008

Tunay po na isang malaking karangalan para sa akin ang maparito ngayong araw sa harap ninyo, para magbahagi sa inyo ng maikling mensahe tungkol sa Pilipino at sa ating bayang Pilipinas.

Magandang umaga po sa inyong lahat.

I stand before you today as one among you, a private citizen and an ordinary taxpayer. In short, I stand before you today as someone who has not much power and influence in our society, except the powers that I hold in such capacity – as a private citizen and an ordinary taxpayer.

But I speak before you today as someone who has a deep faith in the Filipino – someone who believes that the Filipino has so much potential for greatness, someone who believes that the Filipino is beautiful, someone who believes that the Filipino and his family deserve a beautiful country, someone who believes that the Filipino and his family deserve a beautiful future in their own land.

            Eight (8) years ago, in 2000, my wife and I almost left our country. At that time, my wife and I were seriously thinking of migrating to the US or Canada. But after talking about it for several months, we decided to stay. We decided to raise our family in the country and live our lives here.

            In the past 8 years, many friends and acquaintances have asked me – “Why did you choose to stay? Why did you choose Philippines?”

Before I give you my answer to that question, let me share with you one of my highest beliefs in life. This will provide the proper context for my answer to the question.

I firmly believe in what the Bible says – that there is a reason for everything, that there are no accidents in this world. Therefore, I firmly believe that it is not an accident that I am a Filipino, that there is a beautiful reason why I am a Filipino. I firmly believe that I am a Filipino because it was my Creator’s plan to make me a Filipino.

            This is one of my highest beliefs in life. It sounds very simple, but for me, it is not. Because from this belief, I base many of the crucial decisions I make in life for myself and for my family – like the decision I made to live my life in our country and to raise my family here.

            Having said that, let me now answer the question – “Why did I choose to stay in the country? Why did I choose Philippines?”

The first reason is this – I was born here. This means that Philippines was the country given to me by my Creator. It also means that I was given to this country by my Creator. I did not choose Philippines as the land of my birth, but it is my Creator who chose it for me. For me, I take it as a clear sign that it is here that my Creator wants me to stay and live my life. For me, I take it as a clear sign that it is this land – the Philippines – that He wants me to call my home on earth.

The second reason why I decided to stay in the Philippines is this – I firmly believe that it is here that I can attain the fullness of my life. In many portions of the Bible, God is likened to a sower, a planter of seeds. When I was born in this land, I take it as a clear sign that God planted me in this land. I have great faith in my Creator. I know that He knows everything about me, and everything that is in this world, including the Philippines. I know that my Creator knows what is best for me. So when my Creator planted me in this specific part of the world, He knows that it is here, in this land, that I can best grow and fully live my life. My Creator knows that it is in this land that I can attain the fullness of my potentials, and the fullness of my life. Therefore, as a plant, I firmly believe that it is in this land where I should grow and live my life.

            The third reason why I chose to live my life in the Philippine is this – I firmly believe that I am here, in this specific part of the world, because it is here that our Creator wanted me to belong. It is among the Filipino people that God wants me to be a part of. If God wanted me to belong to the American people, He would have put me in America. If God wanted me to be a French, He would have caused me to be born in France. But He did not, even if it was in His power to do so. Instead, God put me here, as a Filipino, because His plan is for me to be among the Filipino people. He wants me to belong to the Filipino Family.

            The fourth reason why I chose to spend my life in the Philippines is this – God knows that the Filipino today needs a lot of help. He knows that our Philippines needs a lot of help today. I firmly believe that you are here today, in this particular part of the world, as a Filipino, precisely because God sent you here as part of the solution of the problems of the Filipino nation. God sent you here as part of the answer to the problems of the Philippines. I believe I was sent here by my Creator to be part of the answer too. We are the people that God sent to help the Filipino today. We are the people that God chose and sent to help the Filipino in this time and age. We are therefore part of the solution that we have been looking for.

            I believe that when God gave the Filipino to us, He also gave to us the faults, the defects, and the warts of the Filipino. But God wants us to find a cure to all these faults and defects. God wants us to elevate the Filipino to his highest potential. I believe that God wants us to elevate the Filipino to a stature of greatness and beauty.

            It is for this reason, my beloved countrymen, that I have developed a deep sense of love and faith in the Filipino. It is for this reason that I fully agree with Ninoy Aquino when he said that the Filipino is worth dying for. It is for this reason too that I believe that the Filipino is worth living for. The Filipino is truly worth all our love and sacrifices.

            When I say these, I do not in any way look differently or look down on those who decided to work abroad. I am sure there is a good reason for that. I am sure they will serve a different purpose.

            But I stand before you today as someone who has mixed feelings about the Filipino. While I love and am proud of myself as a Filipino, I am at the same time sad for the Filipino today.

            Please let me explain.

            In the 1950s and early 1960s, the Filipino was viewed by the world as among the very best of Asia. According to some World Bank reports at that time, the Filipino was considered as one of the most respected, one of the most adored, one of the best admired and looked up to in the whole of Asia. Around that time, some 40 years ago, our Philippines was ranked as one of the best countries in Asia, second only to Japan in terms of economic performance. Manila was like Singapore and Hongkong combined. Manila was the choice venue for big international events in Asia.

However, from the middle 1960s up to  1986, records show that our Philippines started declining and was overtaken by at least four of our neighbor countries — first by Hongkong (which was separate by China at the time), second by Singapore, third by South Korea, and fourth by Taiwan.

In 1986, Marcos was removed from Malacanang by the first People Power Revolution. He was replaced as president by Cory Aquino, followed by Fidel Ramos, then by Joseph “Erap” Estrada, and finally by Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo today. From the first People Power Revolution in 1986 up to today, 2008, it has been another 22 years for our country. Unfortunately, during the last 22 years, our Philippines was overtaken by at least 3 more of its neighbor countries – by Brunie, Malaysia, and Thailand.

Today, practically all economic analysts say that, perhaps, in the next 3 years or so, our Philippines will also be overtaken by Vietnam. You know why they say so? Because, according to them, the signs and indicators are there already for Vietnam to overtake our Philippines, and these signs are clear and irreversible. There is nothing we can do about these signs.

As we can see, the decline of our beloved Philippines occurred only in the last 40 years of so. What happened to our beloved country in the last 40 years? What happened to the Filipino in the last 40 years?

Today, I am not here to tell you the reasons why our Philippines deteriorated in the last 40 years or so. Instead, I am here today to try to answer the question – Is there something we can do about it as a people? Is there something that we, as a people, can do to help the Filipino? Is there something that we, as a people, can do to help this country that God gave to us as a people?

It is in this context that I am truly glad to be with you today, because I came here today to share with you two (2) ideas that, I believe, are the main essential ingredients for the Filipino and our country to attain progress and prosperity. These 2 ideas are all based in history, so it is quite easy for you to check the veracity of these ideas.

I:  GOOD LEADERSHIP

The first idea is GOOD LEADERSHIP. Why is good leadership an essential ingredient in attaining progress and prosperity?

The answer is simple. If we look at world history, it has a very clear message to all of us. Every country in the world that has attained progress and prosperity was able to do so only by virtue of good leadership. There is no country in history that was able to achieve progress and prosperity thru bad or immoral leadership. Only by good leadership. Only thru good leadership. On the other hand, the decline of almost all nations in history – those who were once mighty and prosperous – was caused by bad leadership. The fall of the Roman Empire was caused by a morally decadent leadership.

If we look at the Bible, it speaks of righteous or good leadership from cover to cover. It is full of stories of leaders who, by virtue of righteous leadership, brought prosperity and greatness to their peoples during their generations. In the Book of Proverbs, it is stated there, in very clear words, that only righteousness will save a people, that only righteous will exalt a nation.

In fact, the Bible tells us that the best type of leadership is the one exemplified by the Good Shepherd, who has many sheep, one of which was missing. The Good Shepherd left the sheep that were accounted for to look for the one missing. He went into the wilderness, to look for the one that was lost.

As a people who believe in God, we should look for a leader who will have the heart and mind of the Good Shepherd, a leader who has the heart to look after the least of our people, the last of our citizens, the lost among our brethren. A kind of a leader who will ensure that no Filipino is left behind in the streets to suffer in poverty.

John F. Kennedy said – “the greatness of our nation shall be measured by the way we treat our weakest citizens.”

All this only means that, if we also want our beloved Philippines to progress, if we want the Filipino to be prosperous, we as a people must keep on looking for good leaders for our country and people.

II: GOOD CITIZENSHIP

            The second idea I wish to share with you is the idea of Good Citizenship, which I consider an essential ingredient in attaining progress and prosperity. History shows that practically all the developed and prosperous countries in the world today, before they attained progress and prosperity, the people in each of these countries first learned to become responsible or good citizens. Before Japan became the most prosperous country in the whole of Asia, the Japanese first learned to become responsible citizens. At least a great many of them, including those in the business and professional sectors. Before America attained its prosperity, the leaders and citizens of America first learned the value of responsible citizenship. We see this same pattern in history in United Kingdom, New Zealand, Australia and most developed countries in the world.

            Clearly, history is showing us a formula to progress and prosperity. History is showing us that responsible or good citizenship is one such path to development.

In 1986, Mother Teresa said – “If you want to help others, do not wait for leaders. Do it on your own, person to person.” If we look closely at this statement, this is actually the best definition of good citizenship. And this is coming from a nun in 1986. It means that if we want to help our country, we should not wait for the president, senators, governors, mayors or barangay captains. As citizens, there are things that we can do on our won to help our country.

Pope Benedict XVI, in Deus Caritas Est, said – “The good Christian must also be a good citizens”. In saying this, Pope Benedict recognizes the fact that the duties of a good citizen are essentially the duties of a good Christian also.

All this means one thing – that to stay in our country, the land of our birth, is not enough. It is not enough that we are here. It is not enough that we choose to stay in our country. We must also be doers of good things for our country. It is not enough that you are a citizen, you must also strive to be a good citizen, one who is productive and responsible.

At this juncture, let me share with you the story of SONY, the Japanese Company which produces TV, digital cameras, among others. SONY was founded in early 1950s by five very patriotic Japanese. The vision the founders set for SONY was this – to elevate the stature and culture of the Japanese so that he will be made respectable in the world. These founders worked so hard to perfect the quality of their products. By 1980s, SONY became so popular in the world market that the word SONY became synonymous with HIGH QUALITY, while the name Japanese became synonymous with the term HIGH STANDARDS. By that time, the word SONY became almost the same as EXCELLENCE, and the name Japanese became almost the same as DISCIPLINE. As we can see, the 5 Japanese founders of SONY put their love for Japan and the Japanese so way above their love for wealth and power. That’s why the Japanese became respectable in the world, that’s why Japan today is the second biggest economy in the whole world, despite the size of its territory and notwithstanding the less abundant natural resources in the country.

We need the same patriotism from our business people, from our professionals, from our people in general. This is also what we need in our country today – a culture of patriotism, a culture good citizenship. A culture that will try to elevate the stature of the Filipino so the he could be made respectable in the world stage. This is one of the most essential things we need to develop in us as a people.

There is another story that I must tell.

This is part of the story of Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore. In 1959, Lee Kuan Yew became the leader of Singapore. At that time, Singapore was considered as one of the poorest countries in the whole of Asia. In fact, in 1965, Singapore was kicked out from the Federation of Malaya (name of Malaysia at that time) because of poverty and the unruly character of the Singaporean people in general. When Lee Kuan Yew heard of Malaysia’s decision to kick out Singapore, he and many other government officials cried openly in full public view. In particular, Lee Kuan Yew was caught on TV crying, in full public view. He was worried about the future of Singapore. He was deeply worried that his people will go hungry. But apparently, it was at this point that the great leader in the person of Lee Kuan Yew started to emerge. In a number of speeches, Lee Kuan Yew told his countrymen that Singapore, as a country, is a very small island. They have no forests nor mountains to speak of. They have no gold deposits, or iron or chromite or other mineral deposits. They do not have beautiful beaches or rich marine resources. So how could Singapore become a rich and prosperous country, Lee Kuan Yew asked? There is only one way, he told his people. Through discipline. Lee Kuan Yew challenged his people that if they learn to become a disciplined people, Singapore will become rich and prosperous. He said that if they learned to be better and more disciplined than the other peoples in Asia, Singapore will be richer and more prosperous than the other countries in Asia. When Lee Kuan Yew stepped down from power as prime minister of Singapore in 1990, almost 31 years since he rose to power, Singapore was already the second richest and most prosperous country in the whole of Asia, second only to Japan. He proved to the whole world that a small country that has no natural resources, could also become rich and prosperous, thru discipline and industry.  At that time in 1990, the Singaporeans also emerged as one of the most disciplined peoples in the world, according to a number of international surveys.

There is a saying that goes – “If you want to know a man, visit him at his home.”

It is my belief that the Filipino, in general, will not truly become world-class in the eyes of the world, if his home – his country – does not become world class. I believe that if we do not learn to discipline ourselves as a people, the Filipino – the name that represents all of us – will not become world-class in the eyes of the world. Yes, truly, there will be individual Filipinos who, by their own talent and merit, will achieve great things and reap honors for themselves and for our country. But these achievements will remain in the level of the individual. They will be seen as more of an exception than the rule, the lucky few among the many. Unless and until we are able to elevate our home – our country – to a world class status, the Filipino, in a collective sense, will not be viewed by the world as a world-class citizen.

All this means only one thing for all of us – that while we aspire for greatness in your profession or business endeavors, we must also aspire to become great patriots of our country. While we love ourselves and our families, we should also love this land God gave to all of us as a people. While we aspire for a world-class status for our personal talent and merit, we should never leave behind our country. We must simultaneously aspire for a world-class status for the home of our race.

Good citizenship is really about love. It is about love of the Filipino. It is about love of this country that God gave us us a people. It is patriotism. It is heroism.

            At this point, please let me briefly advertise my book. This small orange book entitled “12 Little Things Every Filipino Can Do To Help Our Country”. For it is this book that gave me a small name in our country today. This book is the reason why I am in front of you today.

The message of this book is really about love. It is about patriotism and good citizenship. It is about small acts of heroism – that’s why they are titled little things. Most of these little things would not cost you money. They would only need a change of attitude, a change of heart on our part whenever we do these 12 little things.

            Very briefly, perhaps in one (1) minute, please allow me to share with you what this small orange book has done and achieved.

            This book was first printed in June 2005. For its printing, I only ordered 2,000 copies. But these 2,000 copies were all sold out in 7 weeks, or less than 2 months. Today, this book is already on its 8th printing, with 10,000 copies each printing. The book also made me very busy in giving talks and speeches as many people and organizations ask me to share it message. In 2006, I was invited to give almost 300 talks and speeches. There were days that I was a speaker for breakfast, for lunch and for dinner on the same day. In 2007, I gave more than 200 of them. This year of 2008, I still receive a lot of these invitations every week. These invitations came by word of mouth, without press release or promotion on my part. Late in 2007, a businessman from Colombia who happened to get a copy of my book, wrote me to ask my permission if he could print a similar version for his country, Colombia. So today, there is now a Colombian version of this book. In July 2008, a writer of the largest newspaper of Vietnam emailed. He also asked for my permission if he publish a Vietnamese version of the book for his country. So before the end of this year, there will also be a Vietnamese version of this book.

            This book has also allowed me to do two important things I had long wanted to do. First, with the proceeds of this book, I was able to help in the construction of a chapel in Barangay Pinaginpinan, a poor barangay in Negros Occidental. When I was in that place in 2001, I noticed that the people there did not have a chapel for worship. So during Sundays, the people would go to the next barangay to hear the Sunday mass. I was touched by that. So I made a silent promise to myself that I would help in the building of the chapel in that place. For me not to forget that promise, I wrote it on page 56 of the book. So when this book started making money, I also started setting aside funds for the chapel. In the early part of 2007, we completed the money, so we helped in the building of the chapel. The chapel was blessed on May 12, 2007. Because of the money from this book, we are also able to send scholars to school. As of today, this book is supporting 38 scholars, 11 of whom are in college. One of them graduated magna cumlaude and valedictorian last March 25, 2008 in Negros Occidental.

            But you know why this book became a national bestseller? It is not because of me. Instead, it is because of the love for our country by so many Filipinos. In the past 3 years, I personally realized that there are so many Filipinos who love our country, and they want to do something to express such love. When heard of these little things, many of them immediately embraced and practiced these little things.

  • Antipolo (billboard, stone markers like the 10 Commandments)
  • Muntinlupa HS students
  • 2,300 scholars for one of the biggest food companies
  • 100 scholars for one family, Tagaytay Highlands

These are the 12 Little Things –

1) Follow Traffic Rules. Follow the Law.

2) Always ask for an official receipt.

3) Do not buy smuggled goods. Buy local. Buy Pilipino.     

 4) Always speak positively about us and our country, especially to strangers.

5) Respect your traffic officer, policeman, soldier and other public servant.

6) Do not litter. Throw your garbage properly. Segregate, recycle, conserve.

7) Support your church.

8) During elections, do your solemn duty.

9) Pay your employees well.

10) Pay your taxes.

11) Adopt a scholar or a poor child.

12) Be a good parent. Teach your kids to love our country and our fellowmen.

These 12 Little Things contain the values of discipline, integrity, love for family, love for our neighbours, love for our country, love for the Filipino, among other things. For our country to prosper and become world class, these are some of the values that our people must possess. I am sure too that these are the values that you want to see from among yourselves in this hall.

III: CONCLUSION

The product that I promote in this book – is small acts of heroism for our country. This is heroism in bite-size. This is heroism that every Filipino can chew and swallow. This is heroism in small packages. This is heroism that each one of us can handle. This is heroism that every person in our country, Filipino or foreigner, can do or perform to help our Philippines. This is the kind of heroism our country needs today. Good citizenship is performing small acts of heroism for our country everyday, like these 12 little things.

We need to bring this culture of heroism to the level of our families. Only by doing so could it become part of our culture as a people.

I believe that we have the power to make the Filipino great. I believe that we have the power to make our beloved Philippines, the country God gave to us as a people, beautiful and prosperous.

I believe in what Dr. Michael Beckwith said that “the power within us as a people is greater than all the power that is in the world.”

I believe that we have within us all the power that we need to become what we want to be as a people.

I believe that the greatness of our tomorrow depends largely on the greatness of our dreams today as a people.

I believe in the words of Og Mandino, a famous and bestselling author in the world, when he said that we have already within us all the essentials that we need for us to succeed in this world.

I believe in Ralph Waldo Emerson, one the great poets of all time, when he said that what lies before us, and what lies behind us, are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.

I believe that inside each Filipino, there is a spirit of greatness, that is perhaps only sleeping. The Filipino had been great before. The Filipino could be and should be made great again, in our watch, in our time, by our hands.

I believe that the real solution to our country’s problems is within us. It is in our hearts. It is in our love for one another.

I believe that, as a people, our highest ideal should be this – that God put all of us here together in this part of the world because it is His plan and desire for us to belong to one another, as brothers and sisters belonging to one big family – the Filipino Family – and therefore each one of us is entitled to a fair share of all our country’s blessings, bounty and beauty – being a child of God, like all of us, and no less than anyone of us.

Pagkakapatiran – this is the kind of love we need in our country. The kind of love that is based on the 2nd highest commandment of God – which is to love our neighbour as we love ourselves. Pagkakapatiran – this is what will make the Filipino great.

Believe me, my countrymen, the moment we learn to look at the Filipino people as one large Filipino family, the moment we learn to love one another as brothers and sisters belonging to that one big Filipino Family, the moment we learn to become our brother’s keeper – this land we dearly call as our beloved Philippines, the home of the Filipino people, will be well on its way to claim its destiny, which is to be among the stars, which is to be among the greats, not only in the eyes of the world, but more so in the eyes of our Lord.

To the question “why I chose I live my life in the Philippines?”, let me say this – It was God who first chose the Philippines for me. I just learned – with the full measure of my heart and my mind – to accept, appreciate and love what God has given me. That is why I chose to live my life in the Philippines – because this is the country God chose for me.

So my fellow Filipinos, my beloved countrymen, let us love these 7,107 islands that God gave to all of us. This is the country that our Creator gave to us as a people. This is where our God planted us a race. Philippines is the birthplace of our beautiful race. It is and will always be our home – the home of the Filipino Family.

But before I end my speech, I have 3 wishes to your generation – the youth of today.

First, I wish that you will do it better than your parents. I wish that you will love our country better than your parents and grandparents loved our country during their time.

Second, I wish that you will all aspire for greatness. From where you are today, elevate yourself to the level of being good. From the level of good, elevate yourself to the level of the best. And from the level of the best, eleveate yourself to the level of greatness. Always remind yourself this question – “Why settle for being the best, if you have the opportunity to be great?” Specifically, I wish that you will aspire to become the greatest generation of Filipinos in our history. Aspire to be that generation of Filipinos who are able to find a genuine solution to our nation’s problems. As pire to be that  generation of Filipinos who can bring our country to a new chapter, a new period – one where there is so much beauty and prosperity in our country.

Third, I wish that you will look at yourself better than the way your parents looked at themselves as Filipinos. I hope that you will truly believe in all parts of your hearts and minds that the Filipino is truly great and wonderful – because the Filipino is a child of a great God who truly wants him to be great. I hope that you will truly believe that, because God wants you to believe that, because it is true.

Finally, I wish that you will truly all be successful in your chosen fields of endeavors in profession, in business or in any enterprise, but at the same time, may all of you become great patriots of our beloeved country.

God bless you all, my dear countrymen. God bless the Filipino Family.

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About the Speaker – Alexander Lacson, 43, is the author of the national bestselling book “12 Little Things Filipinos Can Do To Help Our Country”.

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