Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Suzy Unas — Making it in music lounge circuits - Manila Bulletin 07.18.2006

(Suzy is a daughter of Brother Rollie and Sister Mabee Unas.)

Many would think that singing in music lounges is an easy task. And this is why newcomers take their music lounge stint as their stepping stones in building their musical careers. Well, in a way, performing in a music lounge is quite easy, but newcomers shouldn’t take it so comfortably or easily that they neglect to dwell on the thought that the first step to anything is the most important, the most vital.

For Suzy Unas, beginnings are of prime importance. That is why she always endeavors to do her best in anything she does, especially when she embarked on her singing career two years ago, in 2004. "I never thought I’d seriously consider singing to be my career," Suzy said over dinner at Dulcinea Morato. But of course she knew she had a fine singing voice.

This 20-something fair-complexioned charmer took up Hotel and Restaurant Management at UP but when she was in high school, she had started taking up voice lessons. "Then, I would sing in school affairs. But singing took the backseat when I became sort of an athlete. I played volleyball in school." Something that could have put her in great shape. (To maintain her good physique, Suzy goes to the gym, the same gym I go to everyday and where my wife Cathy and I met Suzy.)

In 2004, someone urged Suzy to try out to be a lounge singer at the Richmonde Hotel in Ortigas. She liked the experience, and learned to love singing enough for her to resume taking up voice lessons and in 2005, she went full-blast in her singing career.

These days, Suzy fills up her calendar with a five-day a week stint in various music lounges. Mondays, she sings at the Intercon; Wednesdays at Calesa Bar in Hyatt Regency Manila; Thursdays at the Celebrity Lounge of Broadway Centrum; Fridays at the Lobby Lounge of Hyatt Hotel & Casino; and Saturdays at Boulvar Music Lounge of Manila Pavilion Hotel. Tuesdays and Sundays are Suzy’s days-off.

She may have a fulltime singing stint these days but Suzy said she keeps on learning, not only new songs, but on how to deal with different people and cope with situations that may arise anytime.

"Different lounges have different characters because of the people who go there," Suzy explained. "For instance, Boulvar Music Lounge is to me the most challenging. Because people go there not necessarily to hear someone sing. They go there to talk business most of the time, to have a drink in a quiet atmosphere and if they have their way, they’d rather you stop singing and go home. So it’s a big challenge to make people notice you and listen to your music."

It’s a totally different experience at the Calesa Bar, Suzy shared. "Because working at the Calesa Bar is more demanding, knowing that people go there to listen to good music because it’s a place known for good music."

She has learned a lot eversince she started her solo singing career two years ago, but she’s still learning, Suzy stressed.

In two years’ time she thinks she has achieved something just by making her presence felt in the music lounges she performs in. But she dreams of bigger things, like being able to record an album someday. "I’d like to prove my mettle in recording. But at the moment, I’m not expecting too much. Kasi I might fail and that would be painful. So I just do my best everytime I perform."

How about showbiz? "Well, why not if the opportunity knocks? If it comes, it comes. I’ll cross the bridge when I get to it."

Well said from a pretty music lounge singer ON THE RISE!

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Typhoon "Florita"

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

little georgie sez:

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

“Building a Nation from the Ground Up…The Gawad Kalinga Initiative”

Asian Development Bank
Leadership Enhancement and Advancement Program
Effective Implementation of Strategic Plans and Programs
ADB Headquarters – 9 to 10 May 2006, Manila
“Building a Nation from the Ground Up…The Gawad Kalinga Initiative”

Gawad Kalinga has grown to be a movement of nation-building because it dared to hope amidst an environment of cynicism.

In a country known for its corruption and its poverty, Gawad Kalinga is awakening and inspiring heroism in people beaten down by disasters of history, politics and natural calamities.

Barely 3 years since the launch of its bold campaign of GK777 (700,000 homes in 7,000 communities in 7 years), Gawad Kalinga is being recognized by the government, the business sector, the Church and the media to be a powerful force of change.

With over 700 communities built nationwide, touching the lives of 70,000 families and partnering with over 300 LGU’s and 100 corporations, GK is rapidly transforming the physical, social and cultural landscape of the Philippines.

What drives the flourishing spirit of GK may be summed up in four things :

First, the movement is fired up by a grand vision that awakens the dying spirit of patriotism that lives in every Filipino. That is why advocates, partners and volunteers of GK work and move with a passion and a love for the Philippines that is infectious.

Second, GK presents a striking perspective on poverty and human behavior that surprises even the most stalwart of skeptics. Its insights strike deep within because they inherently ring true while questioning the very tenets that the modern world has been built upon.

Third, GK breeds a radical culture. The spirit, the passion and the commitment of its people - the way they move and the way they act – while rooted primarily on Christian values remain generally relevant and true on a universal level because of shared values of nobility and humanity.

And finally, its operational success can be attributed likewise to the fact that its inspiration moves equally from the ground up. From the very beginning, the major shifts and major directions of Gawad Kalinga have been led by experiences and realizations from the ground.

A Grand Dream

The problem of poverty in the Philippines is massive and that is why GK faces it with an equally grand vision of a slum-free, squatter-free Philippines.

It is a powerful vision matched by an aggressive action plan through the GK777 campaign.

Launched in October 4, 2003, GK 777 is a quantifiable goal that aims to reach a critical mass tipping the scales to genuine poverty reduction in the country.

It likewise sets the stage for a concrete and visible manifestation, as homes and communities rise nationwide, of a transformation of the physical and social landscape.

The birth of a vision

GK started out as a youth program of Couples for Christ in December 1995, at one of the biggest squatter re-location areas in Metro Manila – Bagong Silang, Caloocan City.

A group led by Tony Meloto, inspired by the call of Christ to serve the poor, initiated a weekend camp among the youth with hopes to rehabilitate gang members and drug addicts raised in the slum areas – to transform them before they become the next-generation criminals of Metro Manila.

It was through their direct and constant contact with the youth and, concurrently, with the communities where they lived that they stumbled upon key insights that made them realize that they were facing an even greater challenge.

The group learned that no matter how intensive the rehabilitation of the youth, should they return to live within the same slum community, it would be difficult to expect a sustained transformation of their behaviour.

It was imperative then that the solution involves the entire community and hence the mandate was raised to the transformation of slum environment, community after community, town after town.

The underlying 5-point strategy

To achieve its vision of transforming slums, Gawad Kalinga has mapped out a simple strategy of development in building its communities.

Land for the landless. It is the aim of GK to provide security of land to each poor family. The poor are driven to squat in the cities and in rural areas because they do not own land to build their own homes. Without security of land, the poor will continue to live under the threat of an uncertain future, bereft of hope, dreams, and aspirations that they could work for.

Homes for the homeless. By building beautiful, sturdy homes, the basic unit of society - the family may now be built on solid ground.

Food for the hungry. A hungry man is an angry man. It is GK’s goal to provide each of its GK communities with a food sufficiency program through either backyard or communal farming and food processing.

Water for the thirsty. The lack of flowing, clean water may lead to unsanitary conditions and debilitating diseases that strike down primarily the young. GK engages the local government and its other partners to provide a dependable water system for its communities as an integral part of its community health program.

Light for those in darkness. It is both a practical and a pastoral tenet by which GK communities are built on. With adequate physical lighting, living conditions are transformed – children can properly study at home and people can walk the streets without fear. It is also about a community-based child and youth development program where the potential of every child and every youth reaches its full fruition.

Provocative Insights on Poverty

What strikes you with Gawad Kalinga is not the colorful houses – in fact, it is these same houses that usually make people dismiss it at first glance as a simple housing project – but instead, it is the insights that it raises about poverty, society and culture that is something quite revolutionary.

GK presents a unique perspective on poverty … that poverty is not an economic problem --- but one that is spiritual and behavioral.
The problem of poverty is not about a lack of moneyas much as it is a loss of human dignity.

The poor may not have steady financial resources to support their basic needs but what permanently cripples them the most, disabling them from rising from poverty, is the loss of human dignity. Once stripped of their dignity -- forced to live in conditions quite close to that of a pig pen, people start to live like pigs. It is then that standards of living decline, value systems crumble and chaos rules.

Poverty is most debilitating to the men who are reduced to living like animals (becoming predators) when they are de-humanizedand stripped of their natural male nobility.

Men, by their very nature, are meant to be hunters and protectors of their families and, most especially in the Philippines, men are expected by society to be the providers. Caught in the cycle of poverty and being unable to deliver as he is expected to, Filipino men lose all motivation to be productive members of society and instead turn towards vices of drinking, gambling, mendicancy and some, even turn to a life of violence to regain their primacy over society.

The cycle of poverty is rooted in the divisiveness of our nation.

The Filipinos are an intelligent and talented people but most have been pursuing the path of individual gain and achievement without a conscious effort to work for the common good. For decades now politics, religion, socio-economic class and ideology have divided the country. Further, driven by ambition, self-interest, pride and the need to provide for their children and their family beyond their need, those who have material wealth have turned a blind eye to a great many others who are in need. The Filipino has lost his inherent culture of bayanihan, its culture of working together as a community for the greater good.

Our acts of charity only succeeded to raise a country of beggars.

Because we only pity the poor, we give a pittance.

Despite being the only predominantly Catholic country in Southeast Asia, the Philippines sadly remains to be one of the poorest. 400 years of sermons have made the Filipino people pious and dutiful Catholics and yet far removed from the teachings of Christ in caring for the poor. Giving alms has become an escape route from genuinely loving and serving the poor as Christ did.

That is why GK’s attack to poverty is quite revolutionary. It does not address poverty through a financial solution. It addresses poverty through environmental and social engineering. And its work is not a work of charity but a movement of nation-building.

GK focuses on the restoration of the dignity of the poor by building colorful GK homes in beautiful communities. From flimsy shanties of bleak grey rusted iron sheets, motley brown used plyboards and tattered tarpaulins and plastic, GK builds for the poor sturdy structures painted in bright colors of hope. From unsanitary surroundings, GK brings them to clean, beautifully landscaped communities. From bare survival in pig pens and chicken coops the poor now turn to a quality of life equal to upscale subdivisions. By providing them with a middle-class environment the poor start to have middle-class dreams and aspirations to work for.

Where most interventions target women and children, for GK the initial intervention is through the men. GK raises the men to their inherent nobility and productivity by getting them to build homes for their family and for their community. GK puts man’s natural brawn to good use – turning him away from destructive activities in society and instead leading him towards building for his neighbor.

The success of a GK community is hinged on the improved quality of life of the entire community rather than the economic or material standards of living of an individual. Through its various programs, GK aims to renew the culture of bayanihan in its communities. GK breaks the current culture of individual gain and instead envisions a strong united community that builds together, plants together, harvests together and rises together – believing that no one will be left behind.

Through GK, Filipinos are transcending differences to come together for nation-building. GK unites by not discriminating in terms of politics, religion or ideology. In Muslim Mindanao, GK has forged friendships and partnerships in 20 communities where Christians and Muslims build together, live together and rise together.

Breaking out of the usual fund-raising mentality, GK focuses on building strong partnerships.

In GK, everyone is welcomed not as a donor but as a key stakeholder… a committed and passionate partner in re-building the nation.

Through a creative formula of counterparting, GK has been able to forge strong multi-sectoral partnerships that bring together individual resources (financial, human and extraordinary) to effectively fill in gaps.

In the model of Kalinga Luzon, the national government through National Disaster Coordinating Council and the Department of Social Welfare and Development provided a 50/50 share of the funds with GK for the construction of homes.

The local government secured the land, provided site development and the use of heavy equipment. Other groups come in to drive the programs on-ground.

A Radical Culture

The program of development set by Gawad Kalinga while inspiringly revolutionary may not see fruition if not for the radical culture and value system that inspire its workforce of caretaker teams, volunteers and full-time workers. Guided by values that are primarily rooted on Christianity, the people of GK fuel the growing movement by leading with integrity and inspiration. It is what sets GK apart from other equally altruistic organizations. It is also what makes the movement strong and steadfast in its passion and commitment.

Bayanihan. Inherent in the Filipino culture where people work together for the common good – it has now gained renewal in the world of GK, demonstrated literally through the bayanihan chains during builds. The spirit of bayanihan however remains powerful everyday as everyone from all sectors continues to come together for the work of nation-building.

Servant leadership. Contrary to the predominant culture of leadership in the country where those who lead gain supreme priority over all others, in GK leadership takes a humbling posture of serving the very least – the poor.

Even in the Kapitbahayan, the neighborhood association in every GK village, the type of leadership passed on to the community is best captured by the tenet “Una sa serbisyo, huli sa benepisyo” (First to serve, last to benefit.)

Padugo. Literally meaning to bleed, this unique value requires one to give of oneself until it hurts. GK started out from the padugo of members of Couples for Christ. The first sixteen houses in GK Baseco were borne from pockets of the CFC which eventually served as the inspiration that started bringing in the partners. Now there are over a thousand homes up in GK Baseco. Padugo is a way of ridding the country of the culture of begging and instead directing its people to help themselves, to build from their own resources initially in order to inspire people to give of themselves.

Heroism. GK believes in the inherent heroism and nobility in everyone. Bawat Pilipino Bayani! (Every Filipino a hero!) It is a challenge to every Filipino to live as heroes for their country and their people by first seeking change and driving greatness in oneself and thereafter witnessing to inspire change and greatness in others.

Honoring and engaging the good in others. The country is caught in a vicious cycle of blame -- politicians, journalists and other pressure groups continue to blame and bash each other for the problems of our country.

Instead GK suggests a new culture of honoring. To inspire powerful change it is imperative that we honor the good example of others. That is also why GK works with everyone, it does not take sides in political parties or discriminate against corrupt officials. It does not judge others by their past mistakes but instead engages them in order to correct the mistakes of the past.

Stewardship and excellence. GK calls for a new culture of caring and sharing – a culture driven by a responsibility and accountability for what is happening in the country and what is happening with the poor. It will be a new culture of stewardship that ensures that everyone is seen in equal dignity and raised to a standard of excellence, where no one is left behind. Stewardship requires that the potential for greatness of everyone is brought out and utilized.

Dynamics from On-Ground

The bulk of Gawad Kalinga work and its workforce is on-ground -- its caretaker teams, its community organizing and its program volunteers are on-site every single day. The work continues to grow from insights, learnings and mistakes that are culled from experiences within the GK communities. The heart and soul of the work can only be found in the transformed communities – that it is inherently impossible for the work to move and grow without being driven by inspiration from the ground.

So while the vision is being driven from the top, it takes inspiration from the movements of the spirit on-ground. Further, strategies and ideas reach its natural death should it fail to find a natural place on-ground. This is a dynamic relationship kept abuzz by the healthy pressure from both ends of the spectrum.

To manage its on-ground operations in a growing network of sites, partners and volunteers, GK follows four simple guidelines in the implementation of its programs. They are the same guidelines shared with volunteers who wish to implement a specific program in a specific site – aiming to break down the daunting task of transforming communities.

Doable. Simplicity is key. Proposals/programs must be bite-sized for better management and implementation. Programs must initially be successful and manageable on a micro-level before it can succeed to effect a change in the macro level.

Visible. The work of transformation must be visual to be able to convince. GK is in the business of show-and-tell, that is why it is essential to showcase. A before-and-after demonstration has always proven to be powerful. It likewise builds credibility for the work.

Quantifiable. Because we represent a concrete vehicle for change, we produce concrete results-- number of homes and communities built, number of hectares of land given, number of Sibol kids reached.

Replicable. A multitude of successful micro-communities make-up a powerful macro model. It is thus essential to template in order to cascade successful learnings to other communities. The success for instance of the model of Kalinga Luzon was easily replicated for the rehabilitation work of Kalinga Leyte.

A Future Full of Hope

The Filipino is simply asked to honor his birthright, to make his love for his country and his people one of the leading drivers of his life. This is what Gawad Kalinga is awakening – it is what the Filipino has forgotten in the quest for his own survival, it is what has driven him to find opportunities elsewhere. But his individual success, wherever he is, will never be enough.

He may lead companies, be at the zenith of his career… but as long as his country remains third world he will be looked upon by the world as second class. It is inevitable that the Filipino, to rise, raise his country and his people out of poverty.

Four things that GK asks from every Filipino:

Never stop hoping for our country

Never stop caring for our people

Demand greatness of oneself as a Filipino

Inspire greatness in other Filipinos

What started out as a simple need to love the poor has blossomed into a rallying point of hope and unity for an entire nation. It has likewise produced a powerful and dynamic template to break free from the debilitating clutches of poverty that is enslaving third-world countries.

Gawad Kalinga is now in Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, Cambodia and India. It will soon build in Timor-Leste and in South America. The inspiring force that has borne (and continues to drive) Gawad Kalinga can be attributed to the four key factors discussed in detail above…and yet one cannot fail to recognize that it is the triumph of the human spiritrooted on a solid and intense faith that consistently works through it all.

It is what feeds the life force of its workers and what strikes partners as extraordinary, both Filipinos and non-Filipinos. It is where the boldness, the passion and the love flow. It is what makes every GK community evidently alive and filled with hope. And it is what the Filipinos, through Gawad Kalinga, have to offer to the world.

This paper was presented to ministers, senior and middle level executives in the government, private sector and civil society of the ff. countries : Federated States of Micronesia, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Palau, Solomon Islands, Timor-Leste.

The Highways of Mindanao
by Jose Ma Montelibano, INQ7.net - April 28, 2006

TRULY, the most dangerous highways are in Mindanao, even for Muslims. They do not seem to be. Safe and dangerous highways usually look alike. But the presence of checkpoints, the number of checkpoints, and the bunker-like structures beside them define the kind of highways they are.

In another dramatic gathering, thousands of Christians, Muslims, and Muslims drove all the way from various points in Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao in a caravan that included several hundreds cars. Destination: Camp Abubakar.Gawad Kalinga (GK) has just celebrated its second HOPE event, HOPE meaning Highway of Peace. Communities from the poorest of the poor among Muslims, “lumad” [indigenous peoples] and Christians are being built by Gawad Kalinga across Mindanao.Former conflict areas where fighting was once the fiercest now host communities built by friendship, by Filipinos who defy religious, political and historical prejudice.

However noble and heroic Gawad Kalinga's intentions and actions are, the risks remain in place. GK communities in Datu Paglas, Buluan, SK Pendatun, Upi, Kidapawan, Tacurong, and now, in Tugaig, Barira, which served as the headquarters of the secessionist Moro Islamic Liberation Front under the late Hashim Salamat, are safe. Not only that, they are friendly and hospitable. But traveling the highways of Mindanao to get to these GK villages can be a test of faith, especially at night. And no one knows this better than the people of Mindanao themselves.

The Second HOPE gathering at Camp Abubakar last Sunday, April 23, was a testimony to the determination of Christians, Muslims and lumad to rediscover not only peaceful coexistence but active cooperation.

Hundreds of vehicles carrying thousands of peace builders trekked hundreds of kilometers from different origins and braved the danger born from horror stories about traveling across several provinces in central Mindanao. Many couples brought their young children with them, as if to teach them by example that Filipinos are brothers and sisters whatever their religion, tradition, and political preferences.

Camp Abubakar itself is a recent symbol of great conflict because of the bombings and fighting that it experienced in 2000. It also stands as a monument of courage and aspiration of a people seeking to correct historical anomalies and live out their belief systems. With colorful Gawad Kalinga villages brightening the mountainous landscapes of Barira, Camp Abubakar is becoming a new symbol of friendship and respect.

Mayor Totoy Paglas started the journey of trust when he consented to try the Gawad Kalinga program in his municipality, Datu Paglas, despite knowing that GK was an initiative of a Christian renewal community. He allayed the fears of Muslims that Christians are out to convert them and staked his leadership on the stated pro-poor objectives of Gawad Kalinga. His trust has been justified with GK villages spread in four areas of Datu Paglas.

Beyond being affirmed, Totoy Paglas experienced being a source of inspiration to neighboring Muslim leaders, several of whom followed his example. Surrounding towns now host their own GK villages and use these as prime models for uplifting the quality of life of their poor. The bold response of Mayor Alex Tomawis to use GK as his main mechanism to rebuild his devastated town is reaping outstanding results. Many residents who fled during the hostilities in 2000 are back and GK has built more than 200 new homes for them.

More local government units in Muslim Mindanao have approached GK to work out future partnerships. GK is only too willing to help because the fraternity of Christians and Muslims is its priority objective in Mindanao. If the pace of GK in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao is not as fast as it would like, it is simply laying the groundwork for future partnerships, groundwork for personal friendships with partners-to-be.

Building highways of peace means building friendship villages where Christians and Muslims of Mindanao work together to bring their poor towards a brighter future. The spirit of “bayanihan” [community collaboration] strengthens the bonds among all stakeholders of Gawad Kalinga; it also fosters an environment where collective productivity will find opportunity to be taught, to grow, and to be the basis of sustainable development.

It is common knowledge, and a common plaint of Muslims, that Muslim Mindanao is an area that has been left behind. Unless special, maybe even unconventional, focus is given to them, highways across Mindanao will stay dangerous.

It is not easy to transcend deep-seated differences which have been constantly provoked by violence. It is not easy for a minority to forgive the majority, especially when that majority stands accused as having occupied the ancestral domain of the minority. It is not easy to forget the atrocities committed by all sides, even when most of those ugly crimes were not sanctioned by the leaderships of the contending parties. It is not easy but it is necessary. It is necessary for peace, it is necessary for progress it is necessary for the survival of a fledgling nation.

There are those whop profit from the misery of others. These profiteers or manipulators will place roadblocks in the pursuit of a peaceful and thriving Mindanao. Greed and lust for power will be the worst enemies of those who seek to reach out in friendship, and to those who wish to accept the invitation for fraternal cooperation. But what needs to be done must be done if that elusive unity of one people can be given a chance to rediscover itself. Many have taken the first courageous steps, those who dared dangerous highways to offer their hands in friendship. Let us join them, and make Mindanao’s highways a symbol of a people reborn.

GK Director Exhorts Nation's Scholars
"Scholars of the Country, Heroes for the Country"

By Antonio P. Meloto - April 22, 2006
Given at the University of the Philippines (U.P.) Commencement Exercises National College of Public Administration and Governance

Thank you very much for inviting me to this very important day in your lives. I did not go to school here at U.P. but two people very close to my heart finished here. My dad graduated here in Business Administration 68 years ago and my second child finished Theatre Arts here in 2003. I’m very elated, as this is the first U.P. graduation I’ve attended and it somehow lessens the guilt of not attending my daughter’s graduation because I put more importance on my mission to the poor.

When I was invited by Dean Alex Brillantes to be your speaker I asked myself what could I possibly say to some of the brightest minds in the country, scholars of the country, many of whom want to go into public service. I am not a politician. Since 1996, I vowed not to take on any political position, whether appointive or elective. I just wanted to serve the poor. I wanted to help the poor by caring for the least of my brethren as a Christian who was challenged to follow Jesus all the way to the slums. I wanted to learn how to care for the weak and the powerless who were victims of history and a political system that they thought they were helpless to change. So I speak before you as an ordinary Filipino who has discovered the potential of every Filipino to make a difference and to bring about meaningful change by learning to trust one another and to work together for the common good.

Going back to my father, he lived a remarkably simple life although he was the contemporary in U.P. of two powerful people – former President Ferdinand E. Marcos and Ambassador Roberto Benedicto. I remember the times when he would talk about these two popular men and I often wondered to myself why he was happy to be a nobody – contented with his life as a public school teacher and later on as an accounting clerk who could hardly provide for six children. One thing about my father, he was scrupulously honest, although frankly, I would have been happier in those times for him to be more compromising so we could have more comforts in life. At age 81, he died without ever owning a piece of land… or building his own house… or driving his own car. He left us with nothing except his good name, the respect of his friends and the many lessons he taught me. The greatest one I learned is that the political power of Marcos and the business empire of Benedicto failed to bring our country out of poverty and to make life better for our people. It is not political power or wealth that builds a nation. Power and wealth are mere consequences of a strong nation. A strong nation is built by a strong people -- people who are determined to work hard, people who are willing to sacrifice for one another and the common good and most importantly, people with integrity.

U.P. has produced many people with integrity like my father. And it is this value that I want to highlight for those of you who want to go into public service or any field of human endeavor. Integrity is what we have lost as a people. We no longer trust our institutions. We lack confidence to succeed in our own country. We have lost the respect of other countries. Integrity is what we have to regain. Intelligence, competence, talents, skills we have in abundance because we are a gifted people but they are meaningless without integrity.

My father almost failed in me when I took the path of selfishness, wanting only to help myself gain the wealth and power that I never had. I compromised the values and integrity that he taught me to achieve my personal ambitions. But God intervened in my life in 1985 when I joined Couples for Christ and discovered a beautiful plan for me, for my family and my country. My family and I cannot grow at the expense of others but in fact achieve it by helping others find their own security and quality of life. Our selfishness has created the mess that we are in. Worse, we are caught in a vicious culture of blame. Yes there is basis for blame. Many politicians have not kept their promises… many of the rich have not shared their wealth… some Church leaders have failed to practice what they preach… many Filipinos have abandoned their country… and even the poor have been criticized for not working hard enough. At the rate we are blaming each other, everybody is to blame. We all had shortcomings and we all made mistakes. But blaming alone never solves the problem. It does not build homes for the poor. It does not feed the hungry. It does not restore human dignity. It destroys friendship. It poisons the spirit. It kills hope. Instead of looking for fault in others let’s look at ourselves –- what we have done wrong, what we have failed to do. We need to change…but for me, change begins with myself.

We have destroyed so much of ourselves and our country that me changing myself is not enough… that you changing yourself is not enough. We have to inspire change in many others… and, we have to change together. Change will not come easy, that’s why we need to encourage and we need to honor all the good examples around us. We need to invite everyone to come on board. Poverty is so massive that our response to it cannot be small. We cannot rebuild this country if we do not engage every sector of society including government. It is counter-productive to judge all government officials as corrupt. In dealing with dishonest men, just be honest. We cannot change people if we make them our enemies. Engage them and bring out the best in them.

While many are accustomed to the path of blame, we have to discover a new path, build a new culture of honoring those who do good.

In Gawad Kalinga, we work with National Government agencies and over 300 mayors and governors and we have been inspired by their sincerity and their determination to help the poor in their towns and provinces. Last year, we discovered a lot of outstanding local government officials in our effort to rehabilitate victims of calamities and conflict. The popular image of politicians as trapos and corrupt has not often been our experience. In working together, most of them have shown sincerity, deep concern for their constituents, and honesty in their dealings with Gawad Kalinga. If we maintain our integrity in dealing with them, they can be encouraged to respond to us in the same way.

We have partnered with over a hundred corporations and many prominent families and individuals. They are not the insensitive, selfish, greedy people many have always painted them to be, when they are given the chance to show their concern and express their generosity. Many of them have adopted Gawad Kalinga as their opportunity to make a difference, and many more will do the same because of their example.

The past year here in Luzon,we needed 400 hectares to 40,000 homeless families who lost loved ones because they lived in dangerous areas. We thought it would be hard to find land for relocation but in 2 months we were able to raise 507 hectares in 12 provinces. We found out Filipinos were generous if they became believers.

The religious sector is likewise not indifferent. A number of churches are responding with boldness to the call of nation-building by restoring the dignity of poor Filipinos. Bishop Soc Villegas took the initiative to build the Cardinal Sin GK Village for the informal settlers in Punta Sta. Ana; Bishop Precioso Cantillas is helping in the rehabilitation of landslide victims in Southern Leyte; Archbishop Ramon Arguelles is providing Church land to informal settlers of Lipa City; and today, CBCP President and Archbishop of Jaro, Angel Lagdameo, is opening Church land in 5 vicariates to host Gawad Kalinga communities for the poorest of the poor including many Church workers. The Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches had not been less generous when they partnered with Gawad Kalinga together with National Disaster Coordinating Council (NDCC) and Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) in building new communities for the typhoon victims in Luzon. And now, the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints, more popularly known as the Mormons, have volunteered their services and offered their expertise and resources in providing water systems in GK communities all over the country. We are seeing a miracle in progress as different churches transcend their differences to work together to build a nation by helping the poor rise from poverty. This emerging unity is an affirmation of the Gawad Kalinga spirit of non-discrimination in the choice of whom to help and working with those who want to help. Muslims and Christians alike can still help each other.

Tomorrow I am flying to Camp Abubakar. Five years ago there was an all out war that destroyed an entire Muslim community. Over one thousand families of our Muslim brothers and sisters lost their homes. Tomorrow we will see 200 houses rising from the ashes of war. Together with Barira Mayor Alex Tomawis, DSWD and SMART, Christians and Muslims are building peace and friendship by building peaceful Gawad Kalinga communities in Camp Abubakar. This is also happening in 20 Muslim communities in Mindanao.

Millions of Filipinos have left the Philippines and we thought they had deserted us. But then again, this is not true. They have not forgotten. They have not stopped loving the motherland. Many are not just giving resources to build homes and villages but are actually coming home to help build them themselves. The Kampampangans helping Pampanga and Tarlac… the Batangueños helping Batangas… the Bicolanos helping Bicol.. and many more helping the provinces and towns of their birth. They are making true the words of Isaiah, “Your sons and daughters will come home to rebuild your broken cities.”We gave life to the spirit of negativity, pessimism and divisiveness in our country and succeeded in convincing ourselves that we are hopeless. When we are in an attack mode in pursuit of even the noblest causes, the natural reaction is to defend and fight back perpetuating an environment of conflict. We need a more radical response to our present predicament. Radical means to be different and to be passionate. Passion for change is oftentimes fueled by anger but passion that is more powerful is fueled by love… Love for God & country… Love for God & our poor countrymen. You can still be radical by following the path of love and the path of peace.

The University of the Philippines has always been known for being radical. It has produced outstanding men and women who risked their lives, their families and their future to fight injustice and corruption… most of them driven by a sincere desire for change. Despite the long history of militancy however, this university that has produced some of the most powerful leaders, politicians, businessmen and prominent advocates of many causes has not lifted our people out of poverty and our country out of corruption.

Is it possible for U.P. to champion a new brand of radicalism to what we already know? One that entails engaging all sectors of society without judgment or discrimination, following the path of peace and the true spirit of bayanihan (to be a hero for one another) to concretely find solutions to our problems.

Instead of putting down, can we try building up? Instead of fighting, how about helping? Instead of being first, how about not leaving anyone behind? Most of all to the bright and rich… the poor who could not attend UP, could we come back for them? Let us not leave them behind.

Even as we exercise our right to speak up and even criticize what we believe is not right, can we as vigorously honor what we see is good? Can we build and restore this country, where no Filipino is an enemy… where we will rise together because the weakest and the powerless among us will not be left behind?Are you radical enough for this? Let me answer for you.

Yes, you are. This brand of radicalism already exists in U.P. but not recognized and honored enough. U.P. has Pahinungod which has done a marvelous job of stirring the spirit of volunteerism but it needs to be mainstreamed, sustained and embraced as a way of life. U.P. has given birth to many Non-Government Organizations (NGO) and cause-oriented groups that are sincere in their desire to help our country.

Three things that we need to recognize about being radical:

Working together to build peace in times of conflict is radical.

Fraternities fighting each other is normal. Fraternities working together… that is radical. When people unite, transcend political, religious and cultural differences and work together for the common good… that is radical. That is what Upsilon and Beta Epsilon, Beta Sigma and Alpha Sigma are starting to do in Gawad Kalinga. I honor Eric Pasion and those who started Gawad Kalinga Youth in U.P. for being builders of peace.Working for the good of others at the sacrifice of greater opportunities for self is radical.

When people leave their high paying corporate jobs to give their time to serve their country – that is radical. Melo Villaroman, U.P. Business Economics ’84, retired early at age 42 as Director for Business Development for Asia of Procter & Gamble based in Singapore. When offered a higher position in Europe or the U.S. he politely declined and stated that his country needs him now. Eena Kanapi, U.P. Political Science ’92 is another radical spirit who left her job as Strategic Planning Director of a multi-national ad company to help the poor. Both are full-time volunteers of Gawad Kalinga, both are sharing their expertise in helping their countrymen rise from poverty. Promoting the message of hope in times of despair is radical. Maria Montelibano, first graduate of U.P. AB Broadcasting, multi-awarded TV Director and media specialist is heading a global multi-media campaign to communicate the message that there is hope for the Philippines if Filipinos can work together until there are no more squatters, no more slums, no more hunger, no more crime… where there is dignity and peace for everyone in this country.

U.P. has produced a beautiful Filipino in my daughter, Wowie. She has put her love life on hold to host the sports-adventure show GamePlan that showcases the beauty of our land and our people and to volunteer for Gawad Kalinga, bringing her to the poorest and the most remote areas of our country.

Many from this university have helped us in this Revolution of Hope – Cris Vertido, Cheche Lazaro and thousands of nameless and unrecognized volunteers and partners throughout the country. We are excited with the offer of support of President Emerlinda Roman throughout the U.P. system nationwide and offer of help from Dr. Ledy Cariño and Dr. Alex Brillantes to mobilize UP-NCPAG for Gawad Kalinga. We know that many more from among you and your parents will come and help.

I am asking all of you now to do what I ask every Filipino to do --Never stop hoping for our country. Don’t stop caring for our people.

Demand greatness from yourself as a Filipino.

Inspire greatness in other Filipinos.

No nation in crisis ever achieved victory without its young warriors leading the battle. Do not wait to be as old as me before you start to help our people and build our nation. Begin now. Like others in my generation I am here to admit the mistakes we have made and share the lessons we have learned.

Our greatest mistake is that we keep leaving others behind, especially the weak and the powerless. Look at what we have reaped because of our neglect. And because we left them behind – this is the curse of poverty that you will inherit from us. For the last four years, you were the scholars of this country. This nation did not choose you to be her scholars so you can just help yourself. This nation chose you so you can help others. Don’t forget the poor -- the many others who will not have the privilege of a U.P. education. Go back to the towns and the communities where you come from and give land to the landless, build homes for the homeless and help grow food for the hungry. This is the foundation of nation-building. From there, it grows to productivity built from discipline and talent. Nation is not about business, it is about economy. Nation is not about political parties, it is about governance. Nation is not about projects and programs, it is about vision. Nation is not about power and position, it is about leadership.

Let me send you off with a prayer.

As you go your way now, may God almighty light your path and embolden your heart. May you be the joy and consolation of your parents for all their hard work and sacrifice, knowing that you will be the future full of hope. May you heal the wounds of our nation and restore the dreams of our people. May you be the new generation of heroes that will bring our people to the promise land. May God be with you every step of the way.

For four years you have been scholars of this country.

All your lives, be heroes for this country!

Congratulations and long life to all!

Gawad Kalinga Puzzles MIT Students
GKOM Manila - March 18, 2006

A group of students from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) the most prestigious technical school in the United States, came to the Philippines last January 6-22 on a mission to re-visit housing projects that were established in Tondo 30 years ago. But apart from completing their report, they unexpectedly stumbled across a most puzzling program that defied all the models of developmental housing that they have learned --- Gawad Kalinga. Vancouver, Canada, 1976. The U.N. convened the first ever World Urban Forum wherein the issues of informal settlers were first identified. The result of that forum was a competition among architects and other professionals from the housing sector to come up with models to help in the upgrading of slum communities. The winning design was implemented in two sites: in Lima, Peru and in Tondo, Philippines. Thirty years after, Professor Reinhard Goethert, director of the SIGUS program in MIT which brings students to various developing countries to conduct studies and impart their knowledge, brought a team of graduate students with architecture, engineering and urban planning backgrounds to re-visit the U.N. Habitat program in Tondo Foreshore and Dagat-dagatan, Manila.

But through a sudden twist of fate, Mr. Goethert heard of Gawad Kalinga and thought of bringing the students to see this new model of building communities. Their arrival coincided with the GK Bayanihan Build in which 80 Filipino-American balikbayanis came home to the Philippines to volunteer in Gawad Kalinga communities and so the MIT students joined the group in the build activities in Baseco, Tondo. During the evaluation of their trip, the MIT students gave their impressions of the GK coming from a very technical perspective. Almost all the students thought that GK was inefficient because the workers didn’t even have wheelbarrows and they used people to move hollow blocks around. Another observation was that relationships were very informal because their was no agreed time when construction would start and the community organizers would not even know how many people would turn up for work on a given day. But despite their sound observations, the MIT students struggled to understand why the gardens and surroundings of GK Baseco were more vibrant and better tended than the other housing projects that were just a few meters away. They became even more confused when they arrived in the Shell-GK Village in Batangas and learned that the GK residents left their old 60 sq meter house in squatted land to live in a 20 sq meter GK house within the new community. The answer lies in the caretaker team, they were told. They caretaker team spearheads the values formation in village that restores the dignity of the poor people and teaches them to love the community. The GK team shared that efficient and sound physical structures alone do not make a harmonious and productive community but the values that people share that is the foundation of a successful community.

At the end of the day, it was their team leader, Professor Goethert who provided some insight into their trip. After listening to all the comments he said, “You have to look at it from the perspective of GK trying to build communities rather than houses. This is not a technical activity but rather about resolving issues within the community.” Finally, he added, “There is something different going on in this GK.” He expressed his desire to come back with a different team of students to study the conundrum that is Gawad Kalinga. Perhaps they will discover that there is something of value in the inefficient practices and the rule-breaking models of GK that is now transforming a whole country --- house after house, until there are no more slums in the Philippines.

The Unfairness of It All
By Jose Ma. Montelibano; GLIMPSES Article - April 7, 2006

Last Friday, I accepted an invitation to talk to a group of informal settlers who had been residents in the famous homes-along-the-riles of Metro Manila and nearby provinces..

This particular group, comprised of 600 families, had resisted attempts by government to relocate them to several areas in Bulacan under an NHA-run program. Their reasons are common to those like them, but two stand out. First, the relocation sites are too far from where they earn their livelihood. Transportation expenses would simply deplete the little they earn. Second, the amortization rates of their new homes are deemed too high for them to pay with consistency in order to avoid eviction in the future.

Their resistance earned for them the demolition of their homes. In desperation, with whatever they could gather from the debris of their former shanties, the informal settlers found a property owner who allowed them to use his facilities as temporary shelter. All of them were housed in a warehouse like sardines in a can, but they felt lucky nonetheless. The same property owner also acceded to negotiate and sell five hectares if the government's community mortgage program could accommodate the transaction.

When I arrived in the area which is now under negotiation for a community mortgage arrangement, it was muddy all around. It had rained that morning and the sight of mud and shanties again managed to provoke rage and drastic thoughts in me. I knew that all of them had muddy floors, leaking roofs, no water, no electricity. I knew they were living more like animals than human beings, and I wanted to cry right there and then.

The reason why I was invited was to represent the national leadership of Gawad Kalinga (GK). The informal settlers themselves had asked for the intervention of Gawad Kalinga. It seems that GK is a ray of hope for the landless and homeless poor. Although I serve as a mere volunteer for special projects, it had to be me to attend as all the leaders had their own commitments to follow.

From the beginning, I saw it was not going to be just a simple meeting. More than a hundred families were gathered aside from the congressman of the area and a town councilor representing the mayor. There was also an officer from the External Affairs of Malacañang. Apparently, he had kindly intervened for the informal settlers and it was apparent that they appreciated his presence. What was supposed to be a meeting turned out to be a gathering with a full program.

The invocation that was given by one of their leaders gave me a hint of the sentiments of the audience. Indeed, it appeared that they were not strangers to prayer and had all their heads bowed in respect. I believe they could not do much more but pray. I could not help but keep staring at the way their shanties were positioned neatly over what seemed like over a hectare of newly bulldozed and graded land, now muddy because of the morning rain. I could not help but look and become enraged at the way these poor Filipinos had to swallow indignities just to survive.

Meanwhile, the invocation became less prayerful and took n a more resentful and militant tone. It was obvious that the speaker was trying very hard not to be confrontational but could not fully disguise his pain and frustration. What was clear was that he was hoping for answers to their plight, and urged that no more promises which could not be kept be given to them that morning by any of those who were invited, including Gawad Kalinga. With that, I asked the emcee to remove me from the list of speakers. Gawad Kalinga did not send me there to make a promise, or to give an answer to their needs, only to assess the situation.

Personally, though, I did not wish to speak because I thought I could not contain the pain and anger I was feeling inside. I was afraid I would end up ventilating my own sentiments which then would have simply affirmed the unfairness of it all. I listened through the talk of the congressman who was himself showing signs of great anguish that he could not do more for them than what he was already doing. I learned that he had been sympathetic with the plight of this group of informal settlers and had himself joined them in protest action.

The program was shortened because I lessened their speakers by one and because two other congressmen and the mayor did not make it to the gathering. But a question-and-answer forum was initiated and I could not avoid answering questions as easily as avoiding giving a speech. And I could not help but assure them that Gawad Kalinga will try its best to appeal their case to national government and source out their needs as best as it can.

Before I left, though, one of their leaders, Rowena by name, talked to me about the pain that was eating her inside. Her voice was quietly firm and her emotions under control. She told me of the hardship that poor Filipinos had to undergo in a country that declares them squatters or without any right to be anywhere. No right to be anywhere, no birthright of security as a native of this beautiful but broken country, no inheritance of pride and dignity and simple privilege to lie in decency.

She spoke of her pain at being looked down as though she, and others like her, were not full human beings. She spoke of how even the barangay captain thought so low of them simply because they had nothing but shanties, and how he was deliberately slowing down their purchase of the property where they were situated by withholding his signature. She explained that kindness was largely missing from government except for one or two officials of the many they had to engage in the last few years. She described how Filipinos in position and power shabbily treated them, and prejudged them as thieves, liars, drug addicts. Man's inhumanity to man, I saw the effect of it up close.As tears slowly made their way to her cheeks, my own tears followed suit. I had to think of the millions of other poor Filipinos who were in the same position, and I thought I understood why so many could not help but express their sympathy in great rage and violence. Definitely, I, too, felt disturbed enough to be capable of more drastic action.

If there are many political, social and religious advocates who ask that Filipinos should not tolerate wrongdoing, I ask that they first insist on not tolerating poverty. A nation whose people think enough of others in great need and moves with determination to lift the poor out of their misery will be a righteous nation by simple consequence. I did not give a promise for Gawad Kalinga because it is not within my authority to do so, even as I know Gawad Kalinga that will help.But to myself, I did make a promise. As tears rolled down my cheeks, I made a promise. It is a personal one, a private one. It is a promise I can fulfill, a promise I will keep for as long as strength flows through my body. It is a promise to care, a promise to share. It is a promise to do what I can to be a better Filipino for poor Filipinos. It is a promise that I will try others to make as well, in the privacy of their hearts or in the light of the public eye. Let us promise. Let us not tolerate this kind of suffering anymore.

'Balikbayanis' rebuild country of their roots by Eline Santos, Philippine Inquirer - January 22, 2006 *

You might want to add a new word to your Tagalog lexicon: "balikbayani," a successful Filipino who has built a wonderful life abroad, and then comes home to rebuild the country of his roots.

Last Jan. 8 to 15, around 80 Filipino-Americans, including a few non-Filipinos, paid their own airfare and participated in the Gawad Kalinga Bayanihan Build.

Gawad Kalinga is a 10-year-old movement against poverty that started in the Catholic Charismatic community, Couples for Christ. What began as an experiment in building one home for one poor family has, in recent years, become a multisectoral effort in nation-building. The goal is to build 700,000 homes in 7,000 communities in seven years (by Oct. 2010). Currently, there are around 650 communities nationwide, with more sites being opened regularly.

The "build" began with a visit to GK villages in Baseco in Tondo, Manila. Afterwards, the bulk of the balikbayanis went to Bicol while 30 delegates spent their week in Isabela to build homes.

"You want to give back the blessings you have received," said Marietta Mayuga Pascua, a California-based grandmother of five, who helped out in Tumauni, Isabela.

Marietta and husband Tony sweated it out with fellow balikbayanis, full-time GK workers, future GK beneficiaries, volunteer construction workers, and even a mayor and his municipal officers. Volunteers cemented hollow blocks for the walls, dug up the soil for the foundation, painted, mixed cement, and helped pass along building materials to where it was needed. In some sites, such as Iriga, Camarines Sur, the guest builders also planted crops in the nearby vegetable garden.

Source of inspiration

The new crew may have felt like they slowed down the work because of their inexperience, but they were actually a source of inspiration for the people building with them.

"Natutuwa po kami (We are delighted)," said 45-year-old Armando Ramos, a beneficiary in Iriga, Camarines Sur. "Di pa rin nakalimot tumulong sa aming mahihirap. Di katulad ng ibang mayaman (They have not forgotten to help the poor, unlike other rich people)."

The balikbayanis were delighted with the whole experience as well.

"It's living out your faith, what you believe in and doing it for your country, your own roots. Double purpose: faith and patriotism," said Inoy Figueroa, who used to dislike coming home because of the heat, but came home to work in a GK site.

Inoy noted that after the "build," the respective volunteers adopted the GK village they worked in as their own, regardless of who sponsored it. By the end of the week, there were pledges to sponsor the pre-school in one site as well as proposals for a mobile clinic to go around GK villages in the same area.

Sense of self

For some of the volunteers, digging in the dirt was more than just building a foundation for a home. It was getting back to your roots, and getting a better foundation for a sense of self.

Ben Dichioso Jr. was born in Maryland, USA. He used to be ashamed of being Filipino.

"In America if you have an accent you will be discriminated against. You will be teased. As a child, no one wants to be teased so we hide. We're not Filipinos anymore. We blend and we mix," he said.

He lived the American dream and was a captain in the US Air Force, even receiving an award for combat engineering while assigned in Guam.

In 1998, he got sick and lost his job. His wife left him and he lost half of everything he owned in the divorce.

Stay rooted

"I asked myself: 'What happened?' I was at the top of my game and now I was living in the basement of my parents' house. I remember calling out to God, 'Lord, Lord I surrender. I can't do anymore.'"

Ben got his life back. Now, he is an enthusiastic GK advocate proud of his Filipino roots. On his train commute to work, he wears a denim jacket with his name and the GK 777 logo embroidered on it.

Whether people asked or not, Ben would find a way to talk about being Filipino and being involved in Gawad Kalinga.

"Don't take the path that I took. Stay rooted in being Filipino," he would tell the Fil-Am youth during talks on college campuses.

Kids can join, too

Daniel Espiritu-Paz was certainly a source of motivation for his fellow volunteers. The six-year-old did his share of the work-painting, cementing hollow blocks, and even taking his place in the cement brigade to pass empty buckets along the line.

Daniel was just one of the heroic kids in this movement as the Batang Bayani of Gawad Kalinga have three villages being built with the thousands of coins saved from allowances. Twelve houses were awarded to beneficiaries just last December in Nueva Ecija, where the first Batang Bayani village is located.

Don't forget

According to statistics from the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration, 685,485 Filipino overseas workers were deployed around the world from January to August of 2005 .

Marietta Pascua understands only too well the urge to leave. She herself left the Philippines in 1973. Despite a college degree, the money she was making was not enough. She found employment in a telephone company before putting up her own store for Asian goods, which she later sold. Her only piece of advice to those who want to leave: Don't forget who you are and where you came from.

Meaningful life

While many Filipinos pine for greener pastures abroad, 28-year-old Eleanor Chichioco is staying after the Bayanihan Build to work full time for Gawad Kalinga.

She worked three years in New York and had what many would consider a good life: Partying with friends, shopping, backpacking in Europe. And then 9/11 happened.

"Sept. 11 really jolted a lot of people including myself," said Eleanor. "All of a sudden you're going into the subway and you see the faces of all these missing people. You think - what does my life stand for?

"Proud to be PinoyGoing into ministry work for Singles for Christ, she eventually found her calling in the Philippines. Despite concerns about going to unfamiliar places around the country and overcoming the language barrier, Eleanor has no regrets.

"I don't want to work to escape ... People work so hard so that they can escape. What kind of life is that? I just want my life to be consistently meaningful every day," she said.

And Eleanor, together with countless others, found her life's purpose in building, not just houses for the poor, but rebuilding a nation with a renewed faith in God and a renewed sense of pride in being Pinoy.

* Published on page A1 of the January 22, 2006 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

as of 25 June 2006

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