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My birthday wish: Hope in action


Despite Sendong, GMA, Corona, Ampatuan and the Piolo/KC break-up, I’m amazed that 95% of Filipinos see 2012 as a year of great expectations. Undoubtedly, its more fun in the Philippines as I turn 62, where the outlook is positive and the mood is heroic.

Like today. I’m here in Iligan on my birthday with Gawad Kalinga heroes from all over Mindanao to help build homes and restore the lives of the victims of Sendong. This is hope in action.

Watching them, I can only say what a gift to be Filipino, living in the Philippines, surrounded by hope-builders and solution-seekers as we get closer to our dream of Filipinos ending poverty together by 2024.


The mood here contrasts with the pessimism in developed economies in the West that are going through recession, where many find it hard to cope in a bad economy as their hope is anchored mostly on money. Maybe this is the reason why I was invited to speak about our brand of hope at the public session of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland next week.


In the Philippines, our spirit is soaring not merely from wishful thinking but due to a real silver lining in the horizon – that the bad things from old habits and mind-sets are starting to challenge us to discover the good that we can do together and result in our stronger resolve and collective action never to allow them to happen again.

I believe its clear to many now: the Filipino is awake… our appointment with history is here… we will seize the moment.


The downturn in foreign economies and upturn in ours signal one thing for me – there is great wealth to be created in the Philippines and great talent in our people to do it… if we are willing to work just as hard and persevere just as much at home for love of country as we would for money abroad.

If we have faith in ourselves, life can be much better for us here: massive corruption can, and will, be purged out of our system, elections will be honest and peaceful, justice will not be bought and sold, warlords will be just ghosts of the past, human life and rights will be respected, we will work and prosper and live with honor.

HSBC recently predicted that the Philippines will be the 16th biggest economy in the world by 2050. The potential can be real if we strongly believe and care enough for the next generation.


It will happen if we treat every Filipino as family that we will not abandon, not a threat or an enemy to fight with.

In my visit to my 99 year old mother in Bacolod Cit y last Sunday, she whispered in my ear ” make every house you build in Gawad Kalinga a home of love.” Bishop William Navarra reinforced this in his homily later about the power of love in GK that bridged the social gap in Negros.

True development follows an intense love of country and neighbor spirit where stewardship is practiced and our human resource is not wasted – even idle squatters have great potential to be productive and creative if they have dignity and hope.
A robust economy is attainable and our prosperity is inevitable if our fundamentals are right. Let me name three.


First, is to understand that nation-building is character-building. It takes a people with strong values and solid character to build a great nation.

By destiny, a President with the least interest in politics and the most resolve to lead by example was chosen in 2010 to give back to us what we have lost – the boldness to be honest, the guts to admit and correct mistakes and the courage to be different and make a difference.

We cheered his “no wangwang” policy, his 1 billion peso Pagcor coffee expose, his political will to jail the corrupt, his demand for judges to be ethical and just… and… his giving up the desire of his heart by selling his Porsche and keeping his sex life at Coke Zero level. That is sacrifice. That is character. That is leadership.

PNoy is the leader that matches our nation’s hope with radical action. My wish is for us to match his political will with our courage to care.


Second, is that we gain global credibility if we are trustworthy.

It is good to know that there is solid basis for the 95% optimism, for the 83% support in the fight to make things right in the Supreme Court, for our stock-market to be the strongest in Southeast Asia, for our currency to be stable at 43 Pesos/1Dollar, for our inflation to be low, for our BPO to boom, for overseas remittance to be high despite recession and debt woes abroad, for our credit and investment ratings to go up and for Bloomberg Hongkong to declare the Philippines as the economy to watch in Asia.

The bottom-line of the growing confidence on us is our demand for honesty from ourselves starting from the top.

It is not just the Chief Justice who is on trial in the impeachment – it is all of us who have been compromised by a corrupt and unjust system. We need to come clean in the eyes of our children.

They must see that now it pays to be honest in the Philippines and those who are not, must pay.


Third, is that we will match hope with action, generosity with self-reliance.

Sendong reinforced our capacity to help ourselves after Ondoy.

It came at a loss of many lives and homes but it also made our country the home of many heroes who risked life and limb to save others. We compensated for our lack of resources with an abundance of caring, responding quickly without waiting for foreign aid, showing the world that we are just as able and responsible as the Americans and the Japanese in dealing with our own Katrina and tsunami.

But more than relief it is the awakening of many of our countrymen to look for lasting solutions to recurring problems that is significant: relocation of informal settlers in hazardous areas to safer grounds, removal of blocks to waterways, massive reforestation and end to illegal logging and mining.

In 2012, we will not just complain about the bad that others do but focus more on the good that we can do with others.


Yesterday, January 16, I received a precious gift a day before my birthday – the gift of solidarity. It was a divine hand that brought Secretary Dinky Soliman for DSWD, Ramon Ang for San Miguel Corporation, Fernando Zobel for Habitat for Humanity, and me for Gawad Kalinga to sign a covenant to build 5000 homes for Sendong victims with funds donated by San Miguel Corporation. SMC President Ramon Ang intends to add 5000 more this year.

Today, after I flew in on the dawn flight to CDO, blessings poured in on my birthday, starting with the beautiful homily in Iligan of Fr Savio about the gift of surrender which unleashes the generosity of God. This was followed by faith in action on the part of Iligan City Mayor Lawrence Cruz and GK Executive Director Luis Oquinena with the construction of the template for 3000 homes in the 16 hectare land donated by the LGU. In CDO, Xavier University gave 2 hectares that will be a safe community for 300 victims.

The highlight of the day for me was a sumptuous lunch at the GK Missionville prepared by former fire victims in Iligan, now empowered homeowners in a community that has become more beautiful and orderly after 9 years. I was overwhelmed by the hospitality and the affirmation that I am truly rich in love because the poor accept me as family.

I am blessed by the generosity of my wife, children and grandchildren who waited up to have a late dinner with me tonight after I flew back from Mindanao. They have accepted that serving others is my priority and I’m doing it out of love for them to have a better future.

Since it comes only once a year, let me express more birthday wishes before the day ends.

I wish for the energy to be up by 5 am tomorrow to be with our social entrepreneurs to complete this year the 1000 bed facility of our Enchanted Farm in Angat, Bulacan and to build more in 24 GK Village Universities nationwide. It is urgent to provide sustainability to our GK communities, spread the wealth in the country-side and give the kind of education that frees an entire nation from want.

I wish for single mom Celia who lost her home to Ondoy and her 9 year old girl to cancer to dream again now that they have a new home in Bulacan, where she has work and the 4 children are back in school. It is rewarding to hand-hold the weak until they can walk again.

I wish for GK worker Karl’s back to mend, for Joyh Adduru to come out of coma, for young widow Queenie Velasco’s heart to heal this year. It is the best time in the Philippines to heal others despite being wounded warriors ourselves.

I wish for peaceful sleep and sweet dreams for my wife whenever I’m away. I am blessed to have a good wife at home who looks after our children while I visit neglected widows and orphans in out of the way places.

I wish for my children to love our country and to care for our people with all their heart. It is important for me to raise children who will honor their father by making his dreams come true.

I wish for God to protect our President and all honest officials in government. It is a must to pray for and trust leaders who make themselves accountable to us.

I wish for Piolo and KC to be happy whoever they choose to love. The real stars are those who choose to love the poor and not break their heart.

I am writing this piece not just as a wish-list on my birthday but as a thanksgiving for heroes and friends like Tita Cory who have been the light of my path and the fire of my heart. As we remember her on her birthday this January 25 I just want to express my deepest gratitude to her for being the guardian angel of GK and the saint of democracy. The massive Bayani build of GK in CDO and Iligan will start next week on her birthday.


She opened my eyes to the gift of this bountiful country and to the privilege of being Filipino. In 1986, she showed me that faith is about surrender to a patriotic purpose as a supreme act of obedience to a divine will.

Like her I want my family and friends to say when it is time for me to go:


By Tony Meloto

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