Tuesday, 21 September 2021
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MANILA, Philippines — After almost a decade since the destructive Typhoon Ondoy, two decades since the millennials started making an impact, and three decades since the first People Power Revolution (and the birth of The Philippine STAR), defining the Filipino has only become more complicated.

We gathered insights from Filipinos who embody unconditional resiliency and advocate empowerment in the face of modern challenges; local globetrotters who have traveled around the world, to refine our idea on where we stand at present; multi-hyphenate individuals, whose list of accomplishments may give us an idea on how to improve ourselves; and modern Filipino heroes, to ground us through our continuous search for peace and freedom.

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Manny Gonzalez

How can Filipinos positively impact the nation and the whole world?

Filipinos blame our problems and our poor economic performance on everything and everyone but themselves. But most of the symptomatic problems — drugs, corruption and plain incompetence in both government and business — have their root causes in individual character deficiencies developed in childhood.

Filipinos fancy themselves good parents because they sacrifice for their children’s material welfare. But many parents fail to teach good character values such as consideration for others, importance of following rules, gratitude for blessings, self-discipline and deferral of gratification, and even simple honesty. Teaching is not just “telling,” but explaining, demonstrating by example, and reinforcing. Not enough Filipino parents take the time to do these.

More worrisome still, I see many parents who essentially ignore their children and just leave them to interact with their video games and telephones. Parental laxness is not a sign of love, but neglect; this doesn’t build self-esteem, it fosters insecurity and desperation for attention. Even when supposedly eating together as families, it’s often the case that each person is lost in his own electronic universe. How can you develop self-esteem if your parents are more interested in YouTube than in you?

The most useful thing a typical Filipino can do for the country is to raise children with good character and genuine self-esteem. Start at home.

Why do Filipinos need a global perspective?

Everybody needs a global perspective, so that they can benefit from the wisdom, the mistakes, and the knowledge of other people. And everyone who aspires to participate in the global marketplace needs to understand the motivations and constraints of others. Historical perspective is important, too.

Many Filipinos lack a global perspective, and seem to be blissful in their ignorance. Here’s a simple example: most countries issue passports which are valid for 10 years. Despite the enormous paperwork involved in issuing passports to many millions of Filipinos, it took our government 70 years to figure out that five-year passports are a bureaucratic waste.

How did circling the globe help you develop your insights about the country and its people?

Through a series of lucky breaks, I have had the good fortune to actually live for many years in many great cities (Paris, London, Barcelona, San Francisco, New York, Vancouver, Los Angeles, Washington DC, and Hong Kong), and to do business or work with people of many more nationalities (Latin America, the Caribbean, the Middle East, India). I learned a lot about other cultures by keeping my eyes, ears, and mouth open.

My view is that the greatest danger in the world today is provincial-mentality nationalism, such as we see in many troubled parts of the world and even in some developed countries.

“Provincial” does not relate to where you grew up. It is a state of mind that bespeaks ignorance of the world, fear of those from different cultures and backgrounds, and a desperate, self-congratulatory belief in one’s own superiority.

Provincial-mentality nationalism is on the rise. In Canada’s Saskatchewan, a white man murders a Native Canadian, and is acquitted on all charges by 12 white jurors. In Catalunya, people who are genetically a mix of many ethnicities delude themselves that they are racially pure and thus superior to other Spaniards. Some Austrians, apparently unable to read maps, want to shut out foreigners. In the US, otherwise-intelligent people hope to isolate themselves from the rest of the world, preferring to deny the reality of global warming, and to ignore the stark fact that an ICBM can now deliver a payload anywhere in 30 minutes.

These provincial-mentality nationalists seek to tear down the institutions and the philosophies, which have sustained 70 years of economic prosperity and relative peace around the world. Those of us with a global perspective need to mobilize to oppose them.

How can we improve the country’s tourism? Putting it bluntly, what does the country lack?

You talked of adopting a global perspective. Let’s do that. Well-run countries and successful economies diversify, and spread both risk and opportunity when able.

What’s wrong with this picture?

Indonesia has 14 cities with over a million in population; the Philippines has two. Colombia has six major industrial metropolises of significant size; the Philippines has one. Kuala Lumpur is twice as large as the next largest Malaysian city; Metro Manila (counting the CALABARZON mega-area) is 20 times larger than the next biggest Philippine city. The US, a country with three times our population, does not even have one metro area as big as Manila. Manila is the fifth largest urban area in the entire world (though the Philippines is only 38th in GDP). Over 60 percent of the whole country’s GDP is in Metro Manila; if there were a serious earthquake that disrupted power and water supplies, we might never recover as a country.

What’s wrong with our picture should be obvious: too much concentration of everything in one place.

Metro Manila is long past the threshold of diminishing returns. Every P1 billion spent trying to correct its problems, just leads to P2 billion of other problems. Not just tourism, but the whole country, would be better off if our national government would stop throwing money down the drain trying to solve Metro Manila traffic, water supply, power supply, airports, slums — the whole lot. Stop wasting money on Metro Manila, and eventually businesses and people will migrate elsewhere. This will benefit those who go, those already in the places they go to, and those who stay behind.

What are your other personal goals right now?

Let me sound like a Miss Universe candidate. I hope that by writing and speaking in a humorous way on social topics, I can contribute to Philippine society, help improve our image abroad, and gain more respect and better treatment for Filipinos around the world.

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Hannah Reyes Morales

I was born and raised in Manila, in a house that was comprised mostly of women. My mom was a single mom who gave me everything she could. I grew up around Filipina women, in a household that valued faith and community. At a very young age, I survived trauma. It was about the same time that I found affinity with photography and images. It has always been such a lifesaver for me. I was also very scrappy — I worked early, selling ukay clothes online to finish school and to fund my photography. At the same time, I was interning for a photography wire agency. It took me years to be able to call myself a photographer, but I realize I have always been telling stories through images. I am grateful for each day that I can wake up and do this work.

How can Filipinos positively impact the nation and the whole world?

Filipinos have so much to offer the world. Millions of our kababayans, the Filipino diaspora, are the backbone keeping so many global industries afloat. We are one out of three of the world’s mariners. Across the world, the Filipino way of care — alaga, has touched so many lives through our nurses, our caregivers, our domestic workers. They endure so much and the tenderness they give spans oceans: towards the person they must physically care for and the family they have left behind.

I have great hope in our country. We are a hardworking people with enduring hearts.

Why do Filipinos need a global perspective?

A global perspective to me is the insight we bring home: when we travel, when we work abroad. These insights and visions are needed for us to imagine better, but also to turn inward and introspect on the state of our nation.

How did being a woman help you reach where you are now?

I take pride in my experiences, and being a woman — a Filipina, is in the core of my identity. Lately I have been reflecting so much on how these two, in tandem, has shaped so much of my practice as a photographer.

I am shaped by our vivid history, by the memories of my family, by the folklore my nanay filled my imagination with. I carry this with me at all times.

Being a woman and being Filipino, and everything that comes with that, has placed me in the vantage point from which I see the world. This is so important in photography, where so many of the voices before me have come from a Western male perspective. Through images, I hope to show a different way of seeing, colored with the rich experience that comes with being a woman from the Philippine islands.

Differentiate male and female photographers.

Our lives, and the way we see the world, are shaped by our experiences. What women must endure is vastly different from the experiences of men. Both perspectives are important. But the female perspective, in photography, has for too long been too small a fraction of the images we consume, and the images we tell our history with. This means we are missing out on diverse perspectives that help us see things from different points of view. 

What are your other personal goals right now?

I always have too many. I’m a restless person, never satisfied and always needing to build. Currently I am reflecting on vulnerability: how much I fear it and how necessary it is in practice, and also in kindness. I see connection as an exchange in vulnerability. I see it as a strength. I look forward to the work I am about to embark on, taking all these things with me as I move forward.

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Art Valdez

People just saw the successful Mt. Everest climb and the safe return of the Balangay fleet after an 18-month odyssey in the waters of Southeast Asia and China. But behind the great success of these epic expeditions were stories wrapped in hardship, sacrifices and great challenges that tested the limits of one’s determination, endurance and organizing skills.

Living in a tropical country without an alpine environment (no icy and snowy mountains), friends and colleagues thought I was committing suicide to organize a group of Filipino mountaineers to climb the highest peak of the world — Mt. Everest. Except for myself, none of my climbers had ever seen snow. I guess even my teammates had doubts that this undertaking was for real, until we finally went in one of our foreign training climbs — a 45-day training on basic alpine mountaineering in Manali, India. Only then did my fellow climbers concluded that this was for real. At the time, we kid ourselves as similar to the Jaimaca Bobsled Team that participated in the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary, Canada.

When there are clouds of doubt on the venture, no one will part with his money. On some exception, there were those who were kind enough to give us the benefit of the doubt but still, will not part with their money. They rationalized that if ever there will be accidents; their sponsoring corporations will absorb negative publicity and enormous responsibility for the tragic incident.

And so we started by drawing from our meager resources in our first foreign training climb until we draw enough public interest and only then, sponsors started to trickle in. But our logistics is too incomparable to the state sponsored national Mt. Everest expeditions of Suharto’s Indonesia and Mahathir’s Malaysia.

Against all odds and in spite of huge logistical limitations, these never failed to dampen the spirit of the team. Not only the First Philippine Mt. Everest Expedition successfully planted the national flag in 2006 at the summit of Mt. Everest; in 2007, an all-Pinay team of three made the pioneering ascent from the northeast side of Tibet and descended on the southwest side of Nepal, making it the “first and only traverse of Mt. Everest by women” — a historic record unbroken until today in Himalayan mountaineering. Not content of these feats, we ran the Mt. Everest Marathon of 2008 with one of the Pinay teammates clocking the fastest foreign female record which stayed for six years until a New Zealander woman broke the speed in 2014.

Indeed, there was no promise of a “pot of gold” for the summit quest compared to other popular sports, only the thought that for once, our national colors waved proudly at the world’s highest peak.

The Voyage of the Balangay also has the same familiar story — absence of state sponsorship and consistent corporate supporters. But we were undaunted although this time we were jumping from the mountains to the seas. I was confident seafaring is in our DNA. Sailing on a replica of our ancient Balangay that was “powered by the wind and steered by the stars,” we traversed the littoral states of Southeast Asia from 2009 to 2010 and were on our way to China sailing from the waters of Vietnam until the shift of the monsoon winds prevented us from making progress to sail further north. Fatigue and homesickness by the crew made me decide that it was time to sail for home.

On our third attempt, we finally reached China on May 2, 2018 to commemorate the 600th anniversary journey of the Sultan of Sulu, Paduka Batara to the Ming Emperor, Yong Le of China.

The lessons of both epic adventures epitomized the Kaya ng Pinoy spirit of our people, which served them well as they risked life and limbs to achieve their dreams in life. These speak well about the spirit of the Filipinos in almost all endeavors of life: culture, history, political, entertainment, adventures, economic, education, spiritual, literature and even human rights. Filipinos of all ages, have from time to time, hugged the world stage and created ripples in human development and progress.

Personally, my greatest satisfaction — I brought all my teammates safely back home to their families, and we simply went back to the lives we left behind.

What motivates you to reach your goals?

First, I am a dreamer. I dreamed of things that are a bit more than the ordinary and make it possible. Second, I love adventures subjecting my physical and mental faculties to its limits combined with a strong faith in my Creator as nurtured by my parents. Third, I am a mobilizer/organizer which I have honed through my life’s journey since I was a child in public school; to my youthful years as a student here and abroad; to my adulthood swept by the frenzy of the so-called First Quarter Storm; to my being a father and grandfather (four biological and three adopted children, and six grandchildren); to my being an elderly enjoying God’s gift of good health, comfortable and active life.

how can Filipinos positively impact the nation and the whole world?

Kaya ng Pinoy can be interpreted in so many ways. Kaya speaks of positive energy; capable, determined, inspired, confident, aggressive, committed, goal-getter. It also reflects our capacity to care, to share and to dare. Ng is a connective preposition. Pinoy speaks of people, of nation, of unity, of one voice, of patriotism to one’s nation and race. If all Filipinos imbibe these values and spirit in their diaspora worldwide, then, we as a nation has contributed to a better world for our children and for the generation to come.

Why do Filipinos need a global perspective?

The 21st century has created a world that is so diverse, complex and huge, but gradually, it has shrunk and evolved into a single global village, thanks to information technology. Events happening anywhere in the world are flashed live immediately on a TV screen in one’s living room, in your PC or smartphone. Geopolitics and economics are so intertwined that threats of wars, be it on trade or military, spares no nation from its disastrous effects. A scarier scenario is man’s continuous plunder and abuse of the environment and its devastating impact globally. Unless mankind reform and mend their ways in caring for the environment, future generations are destined to reap the whirlwind of climate change.

But global perspective is also influenced by geography and historical experiences. For the Filipinos, the latter carried more sway after almost four centuries of Western colonization. Filipinos’ outlook is heavily influenced by the West, whose bias and prejudices have colored their global perspective.

To come out with a broader and balanced global viewpoint, Filipinos must combine their gift of geography and historical experience — an inimitable blend by the East and the West — only then can they gain the benefits from this unique circumstances.

What should the Philippines improve on?

Let me enumerate basically what should we improve on:

Develop a sense of history

Our National Hero, Jose Rizal aptly said it, “Ang hindi lumilingon sa pinangalingan, hindi makarating sa patutunguhan.”  

In his quest to know more about his past, Rizal tried to read materials available at hand,
but there simply existed a dearth of written manuscript mostly sourced from clerics who sprinkled their writings with supernatural hyperboles. Finally, he found and annotated Antonio de Morga’s  Sucesos de las Islas Filipinas 1602-09 in the quiet chamber of the British Museum, whom he thought was more objective and came closest in describing his native land before the coming of the colonials.

He emphatically stressed the need to look into our past in order to serve as a road map in charting the destiny of his fledging nation.

And so, unless we develop that sense of historical consciousness, we will suffer the same fate as what a famous thinker once said, “Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”

Rediscover our maritime roots and consciousness

The Philippines is an archipelagic state. It is more water than land. Its real wealth lies on its vast maritime domain. Its strategic geography situates it at the heart of the “Coral Triangle,” and the center of the world’s rich marine biodiversity.

Unfortunately, centuries of colonialism molded and shaped our thinking to that of a land-based people, for it was quicker for the colonialists to subjugate a people once they were uprooted from their natural environment. That is why we have neglected our maritime domain, and are now helpless to stop others to poach on our rich fishing grounds, including those who occupied our waters within our EEZ. It is even shocking to learn from our balangay experience that only roughly a third of the crowd who welcomed us could raise their hands in affirmation when asked if they knew how to swim. To top it all, our leaders and policy makers are greatly influenced by that land-based psyche, the reason why laws and developmental programs are mostly directed towards land; the over-concentration of resources to the highly congested Metro Manila cities, to the neglect of our maritime resources.

This maritime woe is highlighted by the workings of 13 bureaucratic agencies involved in maritime affairs falling under the supervision of five departments, which simply means a fragmented maritime administration. The much delayed creation of the Department of Maritime Affairs (DM) will restore sense of order and focus our energies to maritime development.

After all, what we just need is to look around and appreciate our country’s unique physical characteristic. Ours is an archipelago. The waters that surround us has always connected and unified us; it never divided us. By rediscovering our maritime heritage, we will rediscover our rich and vast maritime wealth which we can harness to uplift our people to progress.

Invest massively in the education of the young

The Mt. Everest Expedition and the Voyage of the Balangay were primarily launched to serve as symbols and inspirations to the youth (Kaya ng Pinoy) that there is nothing impossible for them to achieve once they have faith on themselves and worked with teamwork and unity in their quest. Our textbooks must be revised to stress our proud maritime and historical consciousness, but above all, teach the values of love of country, patriotism, nationalism and service to God, country and family. Pour massive resources to the education of the youth for Rizal was always right in his assertion, “the youth is the future of the Motherland.”

Once they are enshrined with the correct and proper education, the youth will dream and dream BIG. Then we will produce trailblazers, explorers, discoverers and thinkers, for nations are built out of dreams.

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Boy Abunda

How does being a Filipino inspire you to be better?

I don’t know what it is not to be a Filipino. And because I am, it is special. It is special but it is not perfect and, therefore, I can aspire to be a better person. Better people make happy families, safe communities and a great country.

How do you inspire other Filipinos to be better?

By making my Nanay proud. By being the best of who I am and in all that I do. By letting every Filipino who cares to listen know that it’s great to be a Filipino.

Who do you look up to?

My Nanay! With her love, nothing good is impossible.

What are your other goals in life?

To create a genuine database for LGBTQIA people in this country. It’s going to take time. It’s going to be arduous and daunting but we’ve got to start knowing how many we are in each barangay, in each town, in each city, in each province, in this archipelago made up of 7,600+ islands.

Why? Because people deserve to know not just who we are but how many we are. When they do, they will listen. And when they listen, they will understand that we are all equal.

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Joanna Sustento

What makes Filipinos resilient?

Generally, Filipinos have big families. We are very close to our extended families, friends and even distant relatives. Even your neighbors and your parents’ friends and their children, you still treat them as family. The sense of community and familial love embedded in our culture give us that strong support system. We find comfort and courage in each other’s collective pain, and through this we are able to surpass the most difficult experiences.

However, to be honest, resilience for me is a symptom of a big problem. Being resilient is not always a good thing, sometimes people do not have a choice but to accept and endure what’s being served. And frankly, it masks the real problems a community needs to face and address. It blinds people, resulting in failure to provide long-term, effective, pro-active and sustainable solutions.

What makes you strong?

I lost my entire family, except for my brother, during Super Typhoon Yolanda’s onslaught in Tacloban City. If I was able to survive one of the worst experiences one can go through in her lifetime, I think I can endure anything.

Of course, there are times I get emotionally and mentally exhausted but I’m so grateful that I’m always surrounded by love. And it’s because of this love that I am able to continually transform my pain into something great as my sense of purpose.

Filipinos are known to be resilient people. Ironically, more and more are being diagnosed with depression. What advice can you share with them?

In dealing with depression, I think it’s important acknowledge the pain, to feel it, even just sit with it for a while because it’s a part of you. Take it one day at a time on your own terms; have an outlet, writing and drowning myself in books was cathartic for me.

Talk to someone you fully trust. Cry. Sometimes all you need is a good cry. Someone special to me once said, “Go out and be with nature if you must because nature is the true symbol of resilience. Despite its constant changes and destructions, it persists.”

Let me share with you a personal prayer I made in the year 2014:

“I vow to always be thankful, despite the struggles and troubles, for without these I will never know bliss and fulfillment. I vow to constantly have the attitude of gratitude because I believe all things happen for the good. I vow to remain appreciative despite the negative things that may occur, for I trust that it will lead me to achieve life’s purpose. I vow to always be grateful for the gift of faith, family, and friends for without them I will never hold the courage to see past my brokenness. Lastly, I vow to remain grateful even during heartache and despair, for without these I will never have the ability to build a stronger version of myself.”

What is your present advocacy?

My advocacy work is focused on the campaign of climate justice and liability; which is an instrument to protecting our basic human rights — our right to a safe and healthy environment, our right to clean food and water, our right to education, and our right to life. My advocacy is deeply rooted from my community’s experience of injustices brought about by climate change. We are continuously living in a paradox because we are least responsible for climate change, but we are the ones who are gravely affected by its impacts, thus, we seek accountability and demand action from those responsible.

The Climate Justice Movement transcends international borders as it is felt from all over the world. We witness it from the growing global movement of people and communities demanding protection of their rights from climate change. It is strong and diverse, ranging from groups of senior women in Switzerland; youth in the US, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal and Colombia; citizen groups in The Netherlands, Belgium, and Ireland; to individuals from Peru, Pakistan and Uganda. In each of these cases, people are using the power of the law to achieve climate justice. Here in the Philippines, there is a landmark petition filed by typhoon survivors, farmers, fisherfolk, and environmental organizations. The outcome of this petition is not just for Filipinos, but can spark hope for vulnerable communities everywhere.

Working on this campaign entails a lot of mobilizing, coordinating and educating the youth, independent organizations and local communities, as well as lobbying with different LGUs in Eastern Visayas. On the other hand, I’m also a writer and a storyteller. I share the story of what climate change looks like on our side of the world. Last year, I had the rare opportunity to go on board the Greenpeace Arctic Sunrise Ship and sail through the Arctic to join a peaceful protest against the Norwegian government’s plans for opening up new areas for oil drilling. During that experience, I was able to reach out to the youth of Norway and the Norwegian parliament, highlighting how their decision will affect the Philippines and all other nations vulnerable to climate change.

Through the power of storytelling, we’ll be able to put a human face on the climate crisis, because in the US, Europe and all other industrialized nations, when they talk about climate change, they talk about warming oceans, melting polar ice caps and dying polar bears, milder winters and more sunshine. But here in the Philippines, when we talk about climate change, we talk about losing everything we love and work hard for.

Coming from the region that has experienced the worst impacts of climate change, and as someone who lost everything to Yolanda, I believe our community should be at the frontlines demanding climate action because we know very well how climate change and human rights are tightly interwoven.

More than anything else, with the dedication and love I have in pursuit of this advocacy, I want my community be empowered and to believe that although we’ve been broken and battered by the strongest storm in human history, we have gained the greatest weapon to change the current system, to change the global mindset. We have a weapon that speaks to the hearts of many — one that sums up the social fabric of humanity — and that is through

the power in our stories.

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Louie Sangalang

I was diagnosed with appendiceal cancer at the age of 21 and underwent a major operation, chemotherapy and radiation therapy within the course of a year. These treatments were physically, emotionally and financially draining on our family. During my recovery, I discovered a renewed focus and passion for sports, health, fitness and wellness that gave me the determination to become a professional MMA (mixed martial arts) Champion, an Ironman Finisher, and a North Pole Marathoner. The same drive helped me further my career as an executive for the world’s largest insurer and as an educator in one of the country’s top universities.

What makes you strong?

Resiliency comes from our exposure to challenges; challenges build confidence. When we expose ourselves to problems or uncomfortable situations — especially on a regular basis — we become more adept at managing them and build on these experiences to tackle new or bigger feats. I went through several remarkable circumstances early in life and they taught me to stand on my own, stand up for the values I believed in, and stand down for the people I care about.

What makes Filipinos resilient?

The Philippines possesses an environment, climate and history that are conducive to molding resilient people. Our country is made up of islands that are frequented by natural disasters. As a nation, we have been under different colonizers and types of leadership. Through the years, as Filipinos coped with these difficulties, we have grown more confident and optimistic in handling them, even to the point of laughing at some of our misfortunes. While sometimes this coping mechanism is done to a fault, I think this is what makes us unique and resilient as a society.

What advice can you share with people undergoing clinical depression?

Resiliency does not necessarily grant immunity to clinical depression. It can help manage mental illness but it is not a panacea. For individuals who think they or their loved ones may have depression, my first advice is for you to seek professional help. Do not second-guess as this may lead to more disastrous outcomes. Second is to find or build a support system that may be composed of family members, friends, colleagues or even acquaintances or complete strangers. Finally, take care of your bodies. Research shows that proper exercise, rest and nutrition significantly improve the psychological and physical well-being of people with depression.

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Francis Kong

How does being a Filipino inspire you to be better? How do you inspire other Filipinos to be better?

I’ve seen the transition of the Filipino having a hard time entering another country through immigration because he or she is carrying a brown-colored passport many years ago. I have also studied history and realized how our people have been made to believe that they are inferior and incapable to achieve great things.

Today, Filipino professionals are creating works of excellence in the different parts of the globe. I have met them in different countries. I have had country managers of different nationalities extol the virtues of Filipino creativity and work excellence. And the one constant compliment is how Filipinos never lose their touch of warmth, friendliness and hospitality. How can I not be inspired when I have seen our people’s resilience, their ability to rise up to the occasion, and our love and emphasis toward caring for the well being of the family? These are qualities that inspire me as a Filipino.

The way for me to inspire the Filipino to be better is to model work of excellence in my own sphere of influence, to communicate, educate and inform the people that we can achieve great things. In my line of work, I have the privilege to train people both here and abroad and communicate the message of hope and instill pride that they too can do the same and share the hope with others too.

Who do you look up to?

This may sound super-spiritual but it is actually the most logical answer.

I (literally) look up to Jesus Christ as a living model. The logic comes into play that if Jesus Christ is acknowledged as the smartest person who ever walked the face of this earth, then by studying Him, knowing Him and doing what he says would make me smarter, too.

What are your other goals in life?

I live my life one day at a time. Goals were made many years in my younger life and they have been reached.

The most important goal for me is to make sure that if I was able to start my work and live my life strong, I want to make sure that I can finish well. Keep the momentum going, never coast on inertia, keep on learning and keep on inspiring my family and others to achieve better things every day of my life.

What will make the Philippines a better country?

A genuine love for the country. Honor and nobility in doing what is right and refusing to indulge/engage in unrighteous acts with a genuine heart to contribute and make the country grow.

To develop an entrepreneurial mindset in whatever field of work yet holding on to an altruistic sense of helping society.

What is the single most crucial challenge that advocates in general encounter?

A desire for short and quick wins at the expense and compromise of character and reputation.

* * *

Capt. Arnel Carandang

What was it like at the warzone area in Marawi?

We arrived on the third day, morning of May 26 at the detachment just outside the main battle area, and the whole city was already occupied, according to reports, by the ISIS-inspired Maute group. Our unit was one of those available for the fight. In the afternoon, when we entered the city, there were lots of fire and smoke because the entire city was burning. Gunfire was everywhere. Being in an urban environment like that was really new to us.

Our unit passed through the southeastern side of the city and there were civilians who were not able to exit the city since enemies were positioned in the middle area. The civilians were trapped. We were able to encounter some civilians as we cleared the houses. We saw kids, old people and teens. Through our battalion headquarters, we facilitated their exit outside the city. That’s when we realized the gravity of the situation. We were only able to realize it when we talked to those people we rescued and understood their ordeal.

Do you think Filipinos are generally peaceful? In what ways do Pinoys express the love for peace?

Yes, Filipinos are generally peaceful and very perceptive about keeping peace. After the siege, our unit stayed in Marawi City before we transferred to Sulu.  We were able to witness the rehabilitation phase. While we were there, we received assistance from people and civilians outside the main battle area. Through their efforts, they were able to express their love for peace. Even people who do not know anyone from the city are very willing to help. It’s really important for all of us to work together for the sole purpose of bringing peace and order back to Marawi City.  

What is the biggest challenge to achieving peace? Why?

For me personally, the real challenge, aside from poverty, is the lack of education. The No. 1 cause of conflict is poverty. But there are poor areas without conflict. Poverty is the main reason that some people use to justify taking up arms against the government. Some educated people are enticing the poor to engage in armed struggle to alleviate poverty. If poor people believe this logic, they may be enticed to join the armed struggle.

But then, if people are educated, they will not be convinced that easily. In some poor areas, the education system is also weak. The amount of time educating the students is very minimal compared to other well-off areas. What can the students learn that way? And that is just one of the reasons. The facilities, caliber of educators also, and the number of schools present. It’s very different.

* * *

Gina Lopez

Why do you fight for what you fight for?

What I do gives me great joy and meaning in life. I feel the divine when I am involved in making people’s lives better. I totally love the Filipino: the heartiness, the simplicity, and the childlikeness. We are a very special group of people.

What will make the Philippines a better country?

A consciousness shift at the grassroots level; I believe that caring for others and empathy should be the foundation of economic growth. That all community efforts should have these non-negotiable pillar of values. That the most beautiful and profound expression of this in the development field is area development — the nurturance and protection of what God has given us such that it benefits our people. The blooming of our biodiversity as our gift to the planet and the direct benefit of this to the communities that live around this magic.

What is the single most crucial challenge that advocates encounter?

People. When people can begin to feel for the other, can have empathy for the other — and when the well-being of our people becomes the single most important factor in any decision that is made… victory is around the corner.

Aside from advocating for the environment, whatare your other advocacies?

I believe in love as a force, as a power for good. I believe in creating models of what can be if people work together. These pockets of reality can eventually engineer our country in the right direction. The key is to care and to work together.

I also have a passion for health and wellness. Lifestyle and diet are critical to making a difference.

Where do you get the energy to do all of these advocacies?

I meditate an hour and a half every morning; I go on retreats twice a year. This fills me with tremendous positive energy. I love helping people. It makes me really happy.

* * *

1st Lt. Geraldo Alvarez

Did you ever feel afraid?        

We felt fear, especially during the Marawi Siege when the enemies where burning the houses that served as our defensive positions. But as a Platoon Leader, I needed to stay strong because my men are counting on me for leadership. I worried about my fellow soldiers, some saw our position slowly being engulfed by flames. It was getting dark already, I gathered my men and all of us slowly creeped up the second floor. After we prayed, the enemies shouted at us to surrender but we answered that with return fire. I was happy that time because my trooops’ willl to fight was restored, even if they knew the dangerous situation we were in.

Despite this hard job, what motivates you to do your duty?

My troops rely on me for leadership so I’m motivated to strengthen my resolve as well. We always remember our duty to serve the country. We need to do our best because our loved ones are waiting for us and the people are counting on us to end the terrorism.

I also get stength from the Tactical Command Post (5th Mech Bn, 2nd Mech Inf Bde, 103rd Inf Bde and 1ID, PA, WESMINCOM) brigade and division staff, commanders and generals, whose presence ensured the faster arrival of air assets, additional armored vehicles and reinforment troops.

I also thank our brave pilots who struggled to support my unit in times of close quarter fighting. Thank you also for the Field Artillery who gave us indirect fire support. I owe a lot to those who rescued us: the 1SRB and the guys from other units (49IB, 44IB, 15IB, 15DRC and the whole Mechanized Infantry Division) who came to the rescue and recovered four of my men who fell in battle, along with two armored vehicles.

We are ready to return to the main battle area even if it’s dangerous because we know that that high leadership is always behind us. Our morale is high. We thank President Rodrigo Duterte, our Commander in Chief, who greatly extended help to the families and relatives of my four troops who fell in battle. The president visited them, even in the middle of bad weather. We all feel a deep sense of gratitude, us and the relatives of the fallen soldiers, towards the condolences and assistance extended to us by our president.   

What do you tell your family so that they don’t worry about you?

My family knew that I was assigned in Marawi even before the siege began. But when the conflict started, I chose not to communicate often. I didn’t always answer the phone calls from my wife. I didn’t tell her stories or details about our operations and missions because I didn’t want her to worry about me. 

But there was this one time that I felt my end was drawing near. Danger was close and enemy snipers were already crawling at the rooftops. That time, enemies were closing in on our position and I requested our artillery to drop their shots directly at my postion. I called my wife and held back my tears while talking. I told her, “Dear, I’m in a dangerous situation right now. Pray for us. Take care of the children and pray. I love you.”

Being a soldier is a difficult profession but it is an honor to serve and help restore the peace and security in the country by becoming a part of the liberation of Marawi City.

* * *

She talks Asia

She Talks Asia first started in 2017 by editor and lifestyle and culture writer Sarah Meier, educator and social entrepreneur Lynn Pinugu, and host and entrepreneur Victoria Herrera. Sarah and Lynn both wanted to create a conference on women empowerment that would not just elevate the discourse on women’s issues, but would also lead to concrete development impact. This gave birth to the Every Girl Can in March 2017, a day of curated and inspiring talks featuring women who have broken through the glass ceiling that also raised funds and volunteer hours for the mentorship program of Mano Amiga Philippines for at-risk girls.

Sarah, Lynn and Vicky decided to formalize She Talks Asia, and invited actress and wellness advocate Iza Calzado in October 2017 to be the fourth co-founder because of her vision and personal commitment to educate more people about self-love and body positivity. The four founders of She Talks Asia make use of their diverse backgrounds and complementing strengths, to constantly find innovative ways to create conversations that raise consciousness and inspire action.

Why do you fight for what you fight for? What are your specific advocacies?

Our mission is to guide people to a place of awareness and empathy, and then compassion for oneself and then for others. We believe that this is the key to empowering individuals to become the most fully realized version of themselves, which would in turn, lead to a kinder and more humane society. We started by focusing on the role of women empowerment in achieving gender equity. We created online and offline safe spaces that harness the power of narratives of helping women learn, grow and discuss matters that are important to them. The scope of our work has since expanded to making the conversations more inclusive for crucial issues like self-love, mental health and body positivity. These are issues that affect everyone, and it is so enriching for an individual to understand them from the perspective of people who come from a different ethnic background, gender, age and religion.

For each founder, What is your main role in the organization?

Sarah: CEO and Creative Director; Captain of the She Talks Ship and sets the strategic vision and direction She Talks Asia

Lynn: COO and Finance; Operationalizes the vision and makes sure our ideas are grounded in reality

Vicky: Branding and Partnerships; Trying to find the right partners who believe in our cause and develop strategies how we can form long-term partnerships that empower the communities we serve.

Iza: MASCOT because I’m cute! Seriously: Head for Content and Business development; figures out which content and services resonate the most with our communities

What are your activities lined up for the rest of the year?

Our main event for the year is the Body Love Revolution conference on Sept. 29 at WhiteSpace Makati. Other than that, we have monthly Facebook Live sessions, online narratives, and the on-ground meetups that allow us to constantly grow and interact with the She Talks community.

What do you think will make the Philippines a better country?

We need to invest more in initiatives that promote equitable access to quality education and holistic formation, create safe spaces for dialogue in order to generate awareness and empathy, build a compassionate and inclusive community that upholds a person’s well-being and enables an individual to thrive.

What is the single most crucial challenge that advocates encounter?

Burnout. Sometimes, fighting for a cause and not taking care of yourself can cause you to feel depleted. Remember to nourish yourself as well. When your cup is full, you can overflow and serve others from a place of strength and positive energy.

* * *

Anna Cabrera

Why do you fight for what you fight for?

We fight for those who cannot fight for themselves. Animals are voiceless, and up until PAWS lobbied for the passage of the Animal Welfare Act of the Philippines in 1998, the animals were not even deemed worthy of protection against cruel treatment.

When we protect the most helpless of our society, when we widen our circle of compassion to include the animals, we make the Philippines a better place for our children. We create a nation of peacemakers when we show our children that all creatures deserve to be treated with kindness and respect.

What will make the Philippines a better country?

That oft-repeated quote from Mahatma Gandhi is true: “A nation’s moral greatness can be measured by the way it treats its animals.” 

We cannot hope to create a more peaceful society nor can we be regarded as a civilized and forward-thinking nation if we continue with animal industries without animal welfare standards in place. We need to constantly review and improve the way we treat animals.

What are your activities lined up for the rest of the year?

This year, PAWS is set to lobby for laws that will protect marine mammals and improve the implementation of the Animal Welfare Act.

We are also launching a campaign that promotes a better understanding of the concept of Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) to control stray cat populations humanely.

In the aftermath of the Oro fiasco where a dog was killed for a movie, we are initiating programs that ensure the well-being of animals when they are used in film and television. We are tapping animal-loving celebrities and our friends from the film and movie industry to be part of Artists Against Animal Cruelty (AAAC) campaign — to speak out against the inhumane use of animals during or before shoots.

Animals are not props and must be given due consideration and adequate care. They must not be hurt or killed just for the sake of making a movie.

Most importantly, we are working on integrating animal welfare into the Philippine curriculum. Education is key to changing hearts and minds about the way animals are and should be treated.

What is the single most crucial challenge that advocates encounter?

Misconceptions that the animal welfare advocacy is about rescuing animals. The core of animal welfare is preventing animal cruelty through education, lobbying, spaying or neutering of companion animals, and enabling communities to take better care of their animals.

What is PAWS’ greatest challenge today?

Our greatest challenge is making more people aware of the connection between animals and humans. We always get set aside because “humans are more important than animals” but we have to find ways to make people realize that what happens to animals, happens to us. 

Public health problems like rabies arise because we do not take care of our pets nor is there a massive pet spay-neuter program sponsored by the government.

Environmental problems come about because we have no respect for protected areas and wildlife. We have illnesses and we worsen climate change because we choose meat over plant-based diets.

We lament about how violent our society has become but we do not feel that it is important to teach kindness to animals and cultivate a respect for all life among our youth. Animal welfare should be part of the educational curriculum.

What happens to animals happens to us. Filipinos must embrace the mindset that humans are not more important than anything in this world. We are part of the earth and we should be gentle to our co-earthlings.

Source: https://www.philstar.com/lifestyle/sunday-life/2018/07/29/1837843/what-have-we-learned-so-far

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