REMEMBERING ‘ONDOY’: LESSONS FROM THE PAST

Current Affairs

REMEMBERING ‘ONDOY’: LESSONS FROM THE PAST

No Comments 25 September 2010

The Philippines, a country often battered by storms, and prone to landslides, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, has been tried and tested by natural calamity many times over. But while the country should’ve been used to anticipating or dealing with the impacts of acts of God, a year ago today, it was caught unprepared for what experts say were the unexpected impacts of climate change. READ FULL STORY

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CHARICE: ASIA’S RISING POP STAR

Entertainment

CHARICE: ASIA’S RISING POP STAR

No Comments 20 September 2010

She’s already making quite a splash in America. Her U.S. debut album, titled simply ‘Charice’, was the first by an Asian singer to make it to the top 10 of the Billboard 200 album chart in May. This week she will appear in the season premiere of the popular TV series ‘Glee.’  READ FULL STORY

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TOILING FAR FROM HOME FOR PHILIPPINE DREAMS

Migration

TOILING FAR FROM HOME FOR PHILIPPINE DREAMS

3 Comments 18 September 2010

Mabini, Batangas — Mediterranean-inspired, pastel-colored houses dot the coast and hills of this rural town in the Philippines, dwarfing their traditional counterparts made of unpainted concrete blocks under roofs of corrugated zinc. The larger houses, barely inhabited, many of them empty, belong to overseas workers who plan to return here one day. READ FULL STORY

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FOR MANNY PACQUIAO, MONEY OPENS DOOR TO POLITICS

People

FOR MANNY PACQUIAO, MONEY OPENS DOOR TO POLITICS

No Comments 17 September 2010

Manny Pacquiao’s black Hummer was nowhere in sight. The parade that he was supposed to lead had already wound down in front of the town hall here. His seat, the seat of honor, stood vacant on a stage on which singers, three beauty queens and the province’s ruling political class sat waiting. READ FULL STORY

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SWEETER THAN BUKAYO, CHEESIER THAN KESO

Culture

SWEETER THAN BUKAYO, CHEESIER THAN KESO

8 Comments 14 September 2010

By Aby Yap

“Kahit siguro ipagtabuyan mo ‘ko, hindi ako aalis dito sa tabi mo. Dito lang ako. You know why? It’s because no one else will love you like I do.” — ‘Ang Stalker ni Rafael’ by Camilla

For those who aren’t familiar with Tagalog romance pocketbooks, Camilla might be a complete stranger. But for those who own libraries upon libraries of these novels, she’s the fairy godmother of the lovelorn Pinay in search of Prince Charming, bringing the promise of happily ever after.

One of the most prolific writers in her genre, Camilla (real name Armine Rhea Mendoza), writes for today’s most popular Tagalog romance novel brand Precious Heart Romances (PHR). Published by Precious Pages Corporation since 1992, PHR has even recently conquered the television, its romance tales brought to life by movie stars.

Writing Tagalog romance novels for the past decade, Armine, who got her pen name from a lady warrior in Iliad, discloses she can produce 30 manuscripts a year. And it was all inspired by a great-aunt.

Her Nanay Binya, she recounts, “had a staggering collection of Tagalog romance books from every publication available during the ‘90s,” a time when Armine was already writing for a magazine. But when her cousin encouraged her to try Tagalog writing, she started “stealing” books from Nanay Binya’s library to study how they were written.

In two days, Armine completed her first manuscript. However, it was rejected by the publisher who offered her an editorial job instead, which she accepted. After a year, she quit to write full-time.

Her manuscript finally became a book then. Later, her “bunch of kooks,” as she describes her heroines like Karen Kerengkeng, was also born.

But while Camilla enjoys celebrity status, Armine, graduate of Ateneo and De La Salle Universities, knows too well how her so-called “commercial literature” is negatively perceived.

She shares amusingly, “When my best friend, also an Atenean-La Sallian, found out what I wrote for a living, she started teasing me, telling me my book titles are cheesy, copying the blurbs, and sending them to me via SMS. Then, she started telling our common friends that my other name is Camilla. I could only retort by saying that jologs Camilla earns better than they do—combined!”

Cheese biz

Malou Medina, editor of My Special Valentine pocketbooks under Bookware Publishing Corporation, admits that 90% of their readers are 13- to 50-year-old females belonging to the C, D, and E markets. Consequently, their stories follow a strict romance formula, which requires happy endings, because it guarantees huge sales.

“It’s a form of escape. Majority of Filipinos are poor that we project our hopes and dreams onto the pocketbooks we read,” she explains. “That’s why bidas are all so good-looking, rich, and smart. They can’t die too.”

But it doesn’t mean that their stories all have the same damsel-in-distress and knight-in-shining-armor characters and rags-to-riches plots typical of romance novels.

“We’ve long moved on from these storylines because readers now want the protagonists to be palaban,” remarks Malou. “It’s the conflict between these characters that makes up for that kilig factor, so we inject interesting scenes, characters, dialogs, or new angles to old plots.”

Some readers—high school and college students, housewives, professionals—also submit manuscripts to them and get paid PhP4,000-PhP7,000 if accepted. Malou even recalls a male teenager from Mindanao who snail-mailed his 50-page back-to-back handwritten manuscript, which they published.

But while the Tagalog romance novels genre has a strong ground in the publishing industry, it still has major challenges to resolve. One is piracy, which isn’t at all exclusive to film and music.

“We’ve seen scanned copies of our pocketbooks concealed under different book covers, titles, and authors being sold in Divisoria,” Malou relates. “It’s a very alarming situation, but we’re taking up arms against book piracy.”

Secret ingredients

Writer Apple Masallo already has three published novels. Her ideas, she reveals, usually sprout from watching Asian TV series and cartoons, but most of her story scenes come from her own experiences or other people’s.

Apple began reading Tagalog romance novels in high school, when she used to read as many as five a day. She says she gained a lot from these: good entertainment, wider vocabulary, and relationship perspectives.

Since romance novel readers are mostly women, Apple believes the genre is unmistakably female. “Writers write what their women readers would appreciate, what could boost their female egos. Thus, the storyline wherein the hero goes crazy over a woman—that’s what’s kilig for us,” she opines.

Draftsman Paul Sevilla would rather keep his identity unknown, though, since no one knows that he writes. He originally intended to write suspense, action, and comedy, but the lack of market for these genres discouraged him. Thus, he settled for romance writing.

Very few men enjoy reading Tagalog romance novels, says Paul, so publishers require male writers to use female pseudonyms. He understands that female readers prefer female authors and that it’s women who know women best.

But he’s all out for indulging the readers’ expectations, Paul adds, especially since Tagalog romance novels just mirror the roles that women and men play in society, where the bida as a loving wife willing to sacrifice amuses the audience.

“Women are weaker and submissive, more likely to be housewives; while men are more powerful, smarter, and stronger. That’s the reality of life—it’s a man’s world,” he concludes.

Sweet truth

Maria Teresa Cruz San Diego, aka Maia Jose and Tisha Nicole, knows the powerful potentials of her medium. Aside from authoring a hundred Tagalog romance novels for nearly two decades, Tessa is also a mentor-trainer for Star Cinema’s Basic Film Scriptwriting and a freelance writer-editor for local and international NGOs.

She remembers how venturing into this genre started out only as an experiment to expand her paycheck. After studying Tagalog romance pocketbooks, she came up with her first manuscript in three weeks. It was immediately published by Books for Pleasure Inc., which owns Valentine Romances, for which she wrote exclusively until it closed down in 2002.

Her bestsellers gave way to unthinkable plots like fantasy romance and crucial messages on political, ecological, and gender issues. For a women’s NGO, a series tackling prostitution, mail-order bride syndicates, and white slavery was released. A romance pocketbook that encourages mothers to participate in the government’s breastfeeding program also came out.

Tessa’s emphasis has always been respect for the readers. The challenge to the writer, she states, is to make the novels just as accessible, understandable, and enjoyable to a high school graduate as to a doctorate degree holder.

“Very few of our people read literary books. It’s a reality that there are more readers of Filipino romance novels,” she argues. “If all good writers stick to high literature, what’s left to the mass market readers but junk? We writers owe it to the readers to write for them and give them choices.”

Thus, as happy endings aren’t far from possible in real life, so is cooking up worthwhile romance literature peppered with the realities of love and life—one that’s truly Pinoy flavored. (This updated version first appeared in Ilustrado magazine.)

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PHYSICIST COUPLE SHOWING THE WAY

People

PHYSICIST COUPLE SHOWING THE WAY

No Comments 08 September 2010

Amid the grim education scenario in the Philippines, a bright light shines from the remote town of Jagna in Bohol province.  There, husband and wife Christopher Bernido and Ma. Victoria Carpio-Bernido, both physicists, introduced a way of teaching and learning that has produced amazing results. READ FULL STORY

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A GOOD PUBLIC SERVANT BUT A BAD POLITICIAN

People

A GOOD PUBLIC SERVANT BUT A BAD POLITICIAN

No Comments 04 September 2010

By Tonette T. Orejas

Fr. Eddie Panlilio trailblazed a difficult if not dangerous path in 2007 when he, a Catholic priest, answered calls for him to run as governor and end corruption and bad governance in Pampanga. His three-year term is over and his re-election bid last May was unsuccessful. His bishops and the Pope have yet to allow him to return to the active priesthood.

Planet Philippines caught up with the activist-priest recently for this exclusive interview. Among Ed just returned from three spiritual retreats since June determined and committed as ever to continue serving God and country.

What are your contributions or legacy to Pampanga?

I believe I brought back the original challenge of political leadership, that it is not self-service but it is a service to the community. We could have opted to work just lightly with a monthly salary of P31,000 but we really worked hard we did not mind about the salary. We did not mind about the perks and temptations to enrich ourselves. So it is possible to empower the people and not to be corrupt.

How did you manage not to be corrupt?

By leadership by example, by living simply and I told people that I would like to live simply and I would like to expect them to work and not to demand or receive bribes.

Weren’t you tempted because your salary is only P31,000?

No, because our work ethic has been this way for many years. Coming from the private sector, coming from the social action work, it’s just a matter of doing it again but in a different context so for me it wasn’t that difficult. The only time that I was offered money was the one that happened in Malacanang (in October 2007 right after the meeting of local officials with then President Arroyo) One of my priest-friends told me, ‘Ed you will be passing through two tests. One is about money. One is about women.’ I said where is the other one? It did not come along. (Laughs)

Did you realize how much money you “lost” because you were straight enough not to accept bribes, commissions?

I don’t usually ask that. I ask, ‘how much would the people lose if I subject myself to that culture?’

You must be a very tempered man. . .

It was not extraordinary for me because yun ang nakagawian eh. That’s what we have been doing.

Other legacies?

I exercised principled leadership. On the question of the Christmas bonus, I requested a budget of P10,000 each but then the SP approved P20,000. I could have given away P20,000 each just to please the people but I didn’t believe it was really helping the staff because we talked over this. In 2008 I agreed to the request that they would get that amount. But we agreed that in 2009, a portion of the bonus would be based on performance. The union leaders said they know that and they said they remembered that. But they were swayed by the politics of SP especially by the vice governor who put me in a very precarious situation of having to make it appear that I was to give in to them.

Aren’t you being too legalistic, making it hard on people?

There’s palabra de honor or being true to what we have discussed. Those who work harder should receive more and the others who did not work that hard would receive less. Also if we gave all, that’s like taking from the people’s money.  P20,000 is P40 million, because we have 2,000 workers, If you give in to them, if that’s rightfully theirs, it’s no problem explaining to the people.

Why didn’t you just accommodate so you won’t have headaches?

(Laughs) That’s the problem we have in Philippine politics. It has lots of accommodations and compromises. I don’t believe in that. I was even willing to lose the elections.

But did you realize you isolated many people with that kind of politics?

I know. But to me, I might be mistaken but I don’t think I’m mistaken, in the long run what is really important is to get the message across to them that we mean business here in politics.

Some say you lack administrative skills?

Could a person without administrative skills pursue and effect the elimination of corruption? But that was not my work alone. We worked collectively in the capitol.

You were not commanding.

I don’t. I worked within the context of a team.

Were there occasions when you got angry?

At one point I did. This was when an official of the Philippine National Bank did not want to honor the signatures of Attorneys Vivian Dabu and Aiza Velez because the SP did not want to recognize their appointments as provincial administrator and legal officer respectively. We could not take out money for the salaries of capitol workers or for projects. I ordered P300 million pulled out from PNB and transferred to the Land Bank of the Philippines because in the first place, the PNP was no more the government depository bank.

Your critics portrayed you as a bad person and bad leader. Did these cause regrets in you?

No kasi pag ginawa ko ang isang bagay na pinaniniwalaan kong tama, kahit mali sa iba at kahit nagbunga ng masama. I don’t regret because I was well-intentioned. I could have committed mistakes here and there. In reality, I think this will be my first time to say this to anybody. Although I lost, I am being drawn more and more to like politics and to pursue a political career. I’m enjoying it. (Laughs) I’m enjoying it because I believe I am able to contribute something to the real growth of politics in the Philippines. Everywhere I go I meet some people who tell me that you’re giving us hope. What I do in Pampanga is being affirmed and people see the value of it.

Did you have any regret that you joined politics?

No. None. But I could have reached out more to my inner circle. I could have spent more time to dialogue with other politicians in Pampanga.

Does that mean you will enter politics again?

No, no, no. (Laughs) Ten days after the elections, I went on a personal retreat. I just stayed in my room for two days and before the Blessed Sacrament in the chapel. I went back to the reason why I entered politics and it is very clear to me that I promised the Lord I will be here on a temporary basis, that my original intent was only to be here because nobody wanted to go into politics in 2007 in Pampanga to provide hope. And all the time, after 30 years of being a priest, I realized that my real vocation is for the priesthood, not for politics. For priesthood in the service of politics for social transformation but not as politician and I said I promised the Lord and to me my electoral loss meant for me a message from the Lord to call me back to priesthood.

Would you say that politics tested your priesthood?

Yes. Napatunayan ko na yung values ng priesthood, yung values nang pagka-Kristyano natin ay puedeng gamitin at dapat gamitin sa larangan ng pulitika.

Does the church see it that way?

The church doesn’t see it that way.

What are your frustrations?

I don’t have any of that. But frustrations in terms of what I expected to do and outcome that I should have had, a lot. Like the plunder case I filed at the Ombudsman against Bong Pineda which hadn’t move in two years’ time. That’s a frustration in that sense na yung kinagalit o isang bagay na sayang hindi nangyari, yeah in that sense frustrations. Like in the plunder case against the Lapids. Yung SP who played politics in terms of the quarry, SP making an ordinance of the quarry that is not in consonance with national laws.

What about programs that you would have wanted to continue but didn’t?

I felt helpless in terms of eliminating jueteng in the province. Helpless because I didn’t get the support that I needed like the police director that I wanted. The police were in cahoots with politicians. I felt they did not want me to succeed in this crusade. Not only was I not given the police director that I needed but also binaboy yung sistema nang pagtatalaga ng provincial director. Kaya sabi ko galit ako kay Noynoy (President Aquino), kaming dalawa ni Padaca (former Isabela Gov. Grace Padaca ) na nandito si Verzosa (Police Director General Jesus Verzosa)  na binaboy o kasangkot sa pagbabababoy sa pagtatatalaga ng senior officer ng PNP na hindi man nanindigan against Interior Secretary Ronnie Puno. Hindi pina-experienced sa akin na umabot sa akin yung prosesong tama.

Bakit ka galit kay President Noynoy?
Because he retained Verzosa. To me that’s giving a wrong signal to the PNP leadership.

Can priests make good politicians?

(Laughs) To be blunt about it, do politics and religion mix? They should influence one another in a positive way. But in our present context, hindi nagbe-blend at this point in time. Like what we did in Pampanga. We didn’t ask for SOP (illegal commissions for government projects), jueteng money, illegal drugs trade money, and you fight the whole system and you’re fired up by your religious convictions. Since this is the kind of world of almost everybody in politics so they flush you out of the system.

Or is it that you failed to gel the two?

I think I was able to gel them. Yung alisin naming ang corruption sa paggawa ng mga kalsada at mga infra, hindi ba napaka-makatao nun, napaka-makaKristiyano nun? Siguro we can say values in politics do not mix with bad politicians. As Jesse Robredo (former Naga City mayor and now secretary of interior and local governments) say, we may be good public servants but bad politicians.

Was your victory in 2007 due to luck or because you were a novelty?

It’s a novelty with a confluence of factors. We were three candidates in 2007. Kung tatlo kaming lumaban ngayonng 2010 baka nanalo na naman ako kasi tumaas yung boto. Tapos yun nga novelty plus sawang-sawa na ang mga tao sa bad governance plus the priest factor, nakatulong yun. Yung track record din. People in Lubao voted for me not because they knew me but they know TPKI (a non-government group in re-lending projects) and Sacop (the social action hand of the archdiocese of San Fernando, Pampanga).

Why did you lose in 2010?

I lost for a lot of factors. One is napaghandaan kami. I should really give it to the other camp. They really prepared and they really spent. I was told they might have spent P6 billion to P7 billion. Sabi ni Jesse (Robredo), we should be good in politics and also as public servants. Sabi ko baka Jess kung ikaw ang tumakbong gobernador sa Pampanga at ginawa mo sa Pampanga ang ginawa mo sa Naga baka matatalo ka rin. You know six months to one year before election the staff of Lilia Pineda was in every barrio. Walang ginawa kundi maghanap ng maysakit, pinagamot. Hindi ko alam kong matatalo mo ang ganoon.

What about the factors in your group?

I was taking my time. I was busy in governance and thinking perhaps that I can pull it through again. Everywhere we went, people were still excited about us. The enthusiasm was still there. And then, there’s a perception that we didn’t communicate to the people that we really did so much. We were ill-prepared.

As you saw Philippine politics through Pampanga, do you think this is beyond redemption? Do you think we are not going to change even with Noynoy?

I feel that vote-buying and cheating in Pampanga have ruined our society, our soul so much that it could be difficult to rise from but with Noynoy, two things: The hopes of the people are so high, nag-express ng pag-asa ang mga tao. People were very highly spirited and oozing with a lot of hope. Expectations are high too. Aalisin ang corruption. We really have to help him.

But as a former governor, do you think it is easy to remove corruption?

He can do something about it. Magsisimula siya at pipili siya ng tao sa Gabinite na hindi lang magaling at mahusay kundi tapat at matino. Dito lang sa Pampanga, this is a mirror of the country. We have a reform constituency, those who voted for me and for Noynoy. Hindi binayaran eh. So if that is about one-third of the electorate, we can start with those people.

Looking back, was it worth the sacrifice?

Yes, the main fact that I was besmirched I take it to mean I was good. Modesty aside, because if I were like them, they would not have done that. Like my expose on the P500,000 cash dole out in Malacanang, I just told what happened. But (Vice Governor) Yeng Guiao, pulitiko at mayor dito, sinisiraan ko raw si Gloria. Tignan mo ang dalawang anggulong iyon? Hindi ba kabaliwan yun. Hindi raw ako nagsasabi ng totoo.

Where do you go from here?

The return to priesthood is my target but that depends on the bishop and the Pope if they allow me in. But whether I go back or whether I am not accepted back, what I can contribute to nation building, to civil society building, I am willing to share.

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THE FILIPINO TODAY

Current Affairs

THE FILIPINO TODAY

No Comments 01 September 2010

By Alex Lacson

After the August 23 hostage drama, there is just too much negativity about and against the Filipino.

“It is difficult to be a Filipino these days”, says a friend who works in Hong Kong. “Nakakahiya tayo”, “Only in the Philippines” were some of the comments lawyer Trixie Cruz-Angeles received in her Facebook. There is this email supposedly written by a Dutch married to a Filipina, with two kids, making a litany of the supposed stupidity or idiocy of Filipinos in general.  There was also this statement by Fermi Wong, founder of Unison Hong Kong, where she said, “Filipino maids have a very low status in our city.” Then there is this article from a certain Daniel Wagner of Huffington Post, wherein he said he sees nothing good in our country’s future.

Clearly, the hostage crisis has spawned another crisis – a crisis of faith in the Filipino, one that exists in the minds of a significant number of Filipinos and some quarters in the world.

It is important for us Filipinos to take stock of ourselves as a people – of who we truly are as a people. It is important that we remind ourselves who the Filipino really is, before our young children believe all this negativity that they hear and read about the Filipino.

We have to protect and defend the Filipino in each one of us.

The August 23 hostage fiasco is now part of us as Filipinos, it being part now of our country’s and world’s history. But that is not all that there is to the Filipino. Yes, we accept it as a failure on our part, a disappointment to Hong Kong, China and to the whole world.

But there is so much more about the Filipino.

In 1945, at the end of World War II, Hitler and his Nazi had killed more than six million Jews in Europe. But in 1939, when the Jews and their families were fleeing Europe at a time when several countries refused to open their doors to them, our Philippines did the highly risky and the unlikely –through President Manuel L. Quezon, we opened our country’s doors and our nation’s heart to the fleeing and persecuted Jews. Eventually, some 1,200 Jews and their families made it to Manila. Last 21 June 2010, or 70 years later, the first ever monument honoring Quezon and the Filipino nation for this “open door policy” was inaugurated on Israeli soil, at the 65-hectare Holocaust Memorial Park in Rishon LeZion, Israel.

The Filipino heart is one of history’s biggest, one of the world’s rare jewels, and one of humanity’s greatest treasures.

In 2007, Baldomero M. Olivera, a Filipino, was chosen and awarded as the Scientist for the Year 2007 by Harvard University Foundation for his work in neurotoxins which is produced by venomous cone snails commonly found in the tropical waters of Philippines. Olivera is a distinguished professor of biology at University of Utah, USA. The Scientist for the Year 2007 award was given to him in recognition to his outstanding contribution to science, particularly to molecular biology and groundbreaking work with conotoxins.  The research conducted by Olivera’s group became the basis for the production of commercial drug called Prialt (generic name – Ziconotide), which is considered more effective than morphine and does not result in addiction.

The Filipino mind is one of the world’s best, one of humanity’s great assets.

The Filipino is capable of greatness, of making great sacrifices for the greater good of the least of our people. Josette Biyo is an example of this. Biyo has masteral and doctoral degrees from one of the top universities in the Philippines – the De La Salle University (Taft, Manila) – where she used to teach rich college students and was paid well for it. But Dr. Biyo left all that and all the glamour of Manila, and chose to teach in a far-away public school in a rural area in the province, receiving the salary of less than US$ 300 a month. When asked why she did that, she replied, “But who will teach our children?” In recognition of the rarity of her kind, the world-famous Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the United States honored Dr. Biyo by naming a small and newly-discovered planet in our galaxy as “Biyo.”

The Filipino is one of humanity’s best examples on the greatness of human spirit!

Efren Peñaflorida was born to a father who worked as a tricycle driver and a mother who worked as laundrywoman. Through sheer determination and the help of other people, Peñaflorida finished college. In 1997, Peñaflorida and his friends formed a group that made pushcarts (kariton) and loaded them with books, pens, crayons, blackboard, clothes, jugs of water, and a Philippine flag. Then he and his group would go to the public cemetery, market and garbage dump sites in Cavite City – to teach street children with reading, math, basic literacy skills and values, to save them from illegal drugs and prevent them from joining gangs. Peñaflorida and his group have been doing this for more than a decade. Last year, Peñaflorida was chosen and awarded as CNN Hero for 2009.

Efren Peñaflorida is one of the great human beings alive today. And he is a Filipino!

Nestor Suplico is yet another example of the Filipino’s nobility of spirit. Suplico was a taxi driver in New York. On 17 July 2004, Suplico drove 43 miles from New York City to Connecticut to return the US$80,000 worth of jewelry (rare black pearls) to his passenger who forgot it at the back seat of his taxi. When his passenger offered to give him a reward, Suplico even refused the reward. He just asked to be reimbursed for his taxi fuel for his travel to Connecticut. At the time, Suplico was just earning $80 a day as a taxi driver. What do you call that? That’s honesty in its purest sense. That is decency most sublime. And it occurred in New York, the Big Apple City, where all kinds of snakes and sinners abound, and a place where – according to American novelist Sydney Sheldon – angels no longer descend. No wonder all New York newspapers called him “New York’s Most Honest Taxi Driver.” The New York City Government also held a ceremony to officially acknowledge his noble deed. The Philippine Senate passed a Resolution for giving honors to the Filipino people and our country.

In Singapore, Filipina Marites Perez-Galam, 33, a mother of four, found a wallet in a public toilet near the restaurant where she works as the head waitress found a wallet containing 16,000 Singaporean dollars (US $11,000). Maritess immediately handed the wallet to the restaurant manager of Imperial Herbal restaurant where she worked located in Vivo City Mall. The manager in turn reported the lost money to the mall’s management. It took the Indonesian woman less than two hours to claim her lost wallet intended for her son’s ear surgery that she and her husband saved for the medical treatment. Maritess refused the reward offered by the grateful owner and said it was the right thing to do.

The Filipina, in features and physical beauty, is one of the world’s most beautiful creatures! Look at this list – Gemma Cruz became the first Filipina to win Miss International in 1964; Gloria Diaz won as Miss Universe in 1969; Aurora Pijuan won Miss International in 1970; Margie Moran won Miss Universe in 1973; Evangeline Pascual was 1st runner up in Miss World 1974; Melanie Marquez was Miss International in 1979; Ruffa Gutierrez was 2nd runner up in Miss World 1993; Charlene Gonzalez was Miss Universe finalist in 1994; Mirriam Quiambao was Miss Universe 1st runner up in 1999; and last week, Venus Raj was 4th runner up in Miss Universe pageant.

I can cite more great Filipinos like Ramon Magsaysay, Ninoy Aquino, Leah Salonga, Manny Pacquaio, Paeng Nepomuceno, Tony Meloto, Joey Velasco, Juan Luna and Jose Rizal. For truly, there are many more great Filipinos who define who we are as a people and as a nation – each one of them is part of each one of us, for they are Filipinos like us, for they are part of our history as a people.

What we see and hear of the Filipino today is not all that there is about the Filipino. I believe that the Filipino is higher and greater than all these that we see and hear about the Filipino. God has a beautiful story for us as a people. And the story that we see today is but a fleeting portion of that beautiful story that is yet to fully unfold before the eyes of our world.

So let’s rise as one people. Let’s pick up the pieces. Let’s ask for understanding and forgiveness for our failure. Let us also ask for space and time to correct our mistakes, so we can improve our system.

To all of you my fellow Filipinos, let’s keep on building the Filipino great and respectable in the eyes of our world – one story, two stories, three stories at a time – by your story, by my story, by your child’s story, by your story of excellence at work, by another Filipino’s honesty in dealing with others, by another Pinoy’s example of extreme sacrifice, by the faith in God we Filipinos are known for.

Every Filipino, wherever he or she maybe in the world today, is part of the solution. Each one of us is part of the answer. Every one of us is part of the hope we seek for our country. The Filipino will not become a world-class citizen unless we are able to build a world-class homeland in our Philippines.

We are a beautiful people. Let no one in the world take that beauty away from you. Let no one in the world take away that beauty away from any of your children! We just have to learn – very soon – to build a beautiful country for ourselves, with an honest and competent government in our midst.

Mga kababayan, after reading this, I ask you to do two things.

First, defend and protect the Filipino whenever you can, especially among your children. Fight all this negativity about the Filipino that is circulating in many parts of the world. Let us not allow this single incident define who the Filipino is, and who we are as a people. And second, demand for good leadership and good government from our leaders. Question both their actions and inaction; expose the follies of their policies and decisions. The only way we can perfect our system is by engaging it. The only way we can solve our problem, is by facing it, head on.

We are all builders of the beauty and greatness of the Filipino. We are the architects of our nation’s success.

To all the people of HK and China, especially the relatives of the victims, my family and I deeply mourn with the loss of your loved ones. Every life is precious. My family and I humbly ask for your understanding and forgiveness.

(Alexander L. Lacson is a Filipino lawyer, author, lecturer and philanthropist. He is best known as the author of the little book 12 Little Things Every Filipino Can Do To Help Our Country. He ran but lost in the 2010 senatorial elections.)

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