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.)