Apr 1, 2007

"The Filipino Spirit is Rising"

This speech was delivered by Tony Meloto, the visionary and driving force behind the Gawad Kalinga movement, during the 2007 commencement exercises of the Ateneo de Davao University. The university awarded him with a Doctorate of Humanities, Honoris Causa. His speech challenged the graduates for patriotism and heroism.


"The Filipino Spirit is Rising"
Antonio Meloto

2007 Commencement Exercises

Ateneo de Davao University

Today, I feel intelligent. Not only am I addressing some of the brightest
minds in Mindanao, but I am also being honored by this prestigious
university with a Doctorate in Humanities, Honoris Causa. This is the first
doctorate that I have received and I am accepting it in all humility and
pride as a recognition of the nobility of the cause and the heroism of the
thousands of Gawad Kalinga workers that I represent. Thank you Fr. Ting
Samson and Ateneo de Davao for bestowing the highest academic degree on a
man who was born without a pedigree- the "askal" (asong kalye) who went to
Ateneo and came back to the slums to help those he left behind.

To a person like myself who did not excel in Ateneo in my pursuit of a
college degree, receiving this Ph. D. is extremely flattering being fully
conscious that my principal role in this movement is to be the storyteller
of the many who put in the sacrifice and the hard work and yet have remained
mostly unrecognized. It is also exhilarating because it builds on the
growing global awareness, triggered by Gawad Kalinga and other movements
that have not given up on our country, that the Filipinos can and will build
a squatter-free, slum- free and hunger- free Philippines by committing their
collective genius, passion and strength towards restoring the dignity and
the potential for excellence of the poor, the weak and the powerless.

The Filipino spirit today is rising wherever he is in the world. He is
starting to discover that he has the power to liberate himself from being a
slave of the past… that he can remove the label stuck to his soul as a
second class people from a third world country… that he can correct the
scandal of history of being the most corrupt in Asia despite being the only
Christian nation, until East Timor, in the region.

In the right setting the Filipino has proven that he can be law- abiding,
hardworking, honest and excellent.

Over the years, I have not met a Filipino beggar in my travel to the US,
Canada and Australia…not a single beggar that I have seen or have heard of
out of more than 2 million Filipinos in the US; many Caucasians, Afro-
Americans and Latinos- yes- but no Filipinos. Clearly, it is not the nature
of Filipinos to beg if he is in the right home and community environment.
The mendicant culture in his native land is man- made and artificial and can
therefore be unmade and corrected if we give him back his dignity which is
his birthright as a son of God.

In the same vein, we know that the Filipino is not lazy. Time Magazine in
its 2006 article on Happiness identifies the Filipino as one of the ethnic
groups in America least likely to go on welfare. How many of us know of
friends and relatives who would take on two or even three jobs in pursuit of
their dreams for a better life. Hardworking when motivated, resilient when
tested- that is the Filipino…that is us. It is no surprise therefore that
the average income of the Filipino- Americans is higher that the US national
average; the former slave is now richer than the master in his master's home
country.

We must believe that we were designed for excellence. World- class Filipino
doctors and nurses are healing the sick of America and Europe. Our sailors
dominate the seas in every mode of marine transport for commerce and
pleasure providing every imaginable form of service- and often always, they
are the best navigators, the best chefs, the best entertainers. Thriving
economies in Asia carry the mark of Filipino managerial expertise in their
start-up stage. Filipino CEOs, CFOs, COOs captain top multinational
corporations carrying on the proud expat tradition of SGV's Washington
Sycip, PLDT-SMART's Manny Pagnilinan, P&G's Manny Pacis and many others.

Sadly, we are top of the line, crème de la crème, the best of the best
elsewhere in the world except in our homeland. While the Jews and the Arabs
were busy building abundance out of their desert, we were busy creating a
desert out of our abundance.

Let us put a stop to our inanity and hypocrisy. Let us stop cracking jokes
about our shame and misery. Instead let us celebrate with our hard work and
integrity the return of our honor and pride as a gifted people, blessed by
God with this beautiful land. Let us honor every great deed, every
sacrifice, and every kindness that we extend to our disadvantaged and needy
countrymen.

Let us put an end to our lamentation. We have suffered long enough. For 400
years, we have been gnashing our teeth, blaming one another, stepping on
each other and yet have the temerity at the end of the day to ask God why
this is happening as if it was His fault. It is now time to hope, to care,
to work together and to rejoice.

Yes, we will rise as a nation if we nurture this emerging beautiful spirit
of the Filipino and cultivate an intelligent heart. How? When we show our
love for God by being our brother's keeper- giving land to the landless,
homes to the homeless and food to the hungry. This is about love and justice
in a country where the majority of our people are landless, millions of them
living in shanties and slums and 17% of them experiencing hunger in a rich
and fertile land. This is not about charity but about authentic Christian
stewardship and nation- building.

We will rise as a nation when rich Filipinos will consider the poor as an
heir, like our youngest child, equal in worth and dignity with our own
children, deserving an equal share in our children's inheritance. A
beautiful spirit and an intelligent heart consider the poor as family, see
the face of Christ in them, and see the paradise that every slum community
can become. That is why every GK home is beautifully painted and the
standard of landscaping of every GK village is Ayala Alabang or Ladislawa in
the case of Davao.

When we build first world communities for the poorest Filipino, we give them
dignity and first world aspirations that will motivate them to dream bigger
and work harder with support and nurturing. A recent study of GK Brookside,
Payatas conducted by the UP Diliman College of Economics revealed an amazing
result – the confidence and self- respect of the residents, many of them
former scavengers, rose from 17% before GK to 99% after GK; 93% consider
themselves better off in terms of quality of life and 96% believe that their
economic situation will improve in the future. Clearly the spirit of the
poor is rising because those with the most share their best with the least.

This nation will rise if her sons and daughters abroad will see wisdom in
helping not just their relatives, which is an admirable Filipino trait, but
also the poor they do not know who need help the most.

Last night, I arrived from a 1- week trip to the U.S. for the world premiere
in Chicago of "Paraiso", the Gawad Kalinga movie, and to attend GK events in
Los Angeles and Las Vegas. The movie was a big hit but the bigger hit for me
was the phenomenal response of our patriots in America to help the
motherland by building self-reliant and sustainable GK communities. The UST
Medical Alumni Association of America Board was planning not just building
more houses but also hospitals and community health programs through Gawad
Kalusugan. USTMAA president Dr. Primo Andres is building a beautiful GK
Village for his wife, Sylvia in Panabo, Davao where she comes from as an
expression of his deep affection for her. Another Davaoeno, former Cabinet
Secretary Cito Lorenzo, joined me in booming Las Vegas to honor Filipino
entertainers and realtors who are investing in the rebuilding of their home
country.

Passion for the Philippines was evident everywhere I went. From successful
young San Diego businessman Tony Olaes who spoke about sleepless nights in
his excitement to help fund 20 new GK villages with his Filipino business
partners to the SouthCal Ancop Sikad Bikers pedaling to build Sibol Schools
and the Bayanihan Builders who are retired professionals in Los Angeles
repairing homes of neighbors to raise resources to build homes in Bicol, to
the 8 nurses in NorCal working extra shifts to fund their individual GK
villages. The Filipino exile is waking up and starting to unleash a stream
of Patriot Funds that will augment the OFW flow in fuelling the Philippine
economy.

Today, I am here to salute the beautiful spirit and the intelligent heart of
the people of Mindanao. Many of our volunteers here, like many in other
parts of the country, build homes for the poor when they themselves do not
own land or home. Christians here starting with caretakers from Couples for
Christ set aside fear and comfort to serve our fellow Filipinos in Camp
Abubakar and other Moslem GK communities. Your students are going out of the
classrooms to learn about life and love of God and country by serving in
poor communities. The LGU of Davao led by Mayor Duterte and many throughout
Mindanao are doing massive land banking in solidarity with our conviction
that no Filipino deserves to be a squatter in his own country. And many
families here are starting to understand that giving a part of their land to
give dignity and security to the landless and homeless poor is not only
right with God but also builds peace, triggers economic activity, improves
land values- creates a win- win situation for all.

And to you my dear graduates, what can I say? Congratulations of course for
finishing what you began and for joining the ranks of the elite few of the
Filipinos with a college degree. I thank your parents for their sacrifice
and for giving us sons and daughters who will steward this country better
than us.

You are entering adult life equipped with a degree from a respected
university at an auspicious time in the life of our country. It is your
destiny to reach maturity during this great season of hope, this exciting
time of awakening, this period of great challenge and heroism.

You have the choice and the opportunity to correct the mistakes of our
generation and build a future full of hope in this country. You can be the
new breed of political leaders who will gain your mandate through visible
and quantifiable performance, rather than mastery of the art of winning
elections through cheating and corruption. You can be the new captains of
business and industry who will work for profit with a conscience, expanding
the market base by wisely investing in developing the potential of the poor
for productivity. You can be the new elite of this country who will not be
happy to send your children to exclusive schools and live in exclusive
subdivisions if out of school street children are ignored and Lazarus
continues to live as a squatter outside your gates.

Who can stop us from claiming our Promised Land? Spain is not our master
anymore. America is not our master anymore. Japan is not our master anymore.
Our enemies are not the corrupt politicians, the greedy rich, the lazy poor,
the religious hypocrites and other convenient scapegoats. Our enemies are
not out there anymore. Our enemies are now within us.

We have compromised our values and tolerated corruption. We have lowered our
standard and tolerated poverty. We have sacrificed the truth for hypocrisy.
We have chosen convenience for vision, popularity for leadership…and have
chosen despair over hope.

Do we fight or do we run? Is there a King Leonides among you who will fight
for honor and freedom? Are there 300 Spartans among you who will confront
our enemies with extraordinary courage and love? Can you be the army who
will lead our people to victory following the path of peace? Are you the
generation of patriots who can shout to the world that no Filipino will
remain poor because you will not allow it; that no Filipino will remain a
squatter because you will not allow it; that no politician will remain
corrupt because you will not allow it?

If you are, then join us in Gawad Kalinga. Together, we can build a great
nation, first world in the eyes of God and respected by other great nations.

Godspeed to you our patriots and heroes. God bless our beloved Philippines.

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