Monday, January 7, 2008

Profiles Encourage

The New Year began with the depressing news that deposed President Joseph Estrada was mulling a run for the presidency in 2010 if, he said, “the opposition fails to come to an agreement on a common candidate.” To ensure the opposition’s victory in 2010, he said he would willingly agree to be the unity candidate. How magnanimous.

This news story drove me nuts. Is the Philippine political system so bankrupt and lacking in leaders with moral scruples that a convicted plunderer like Estrada could actually be elected again?

My faith in the Filipino people was redeemed on January 5 when I attended a forum at the San Francisco Public Library and heard Quentin Pastrana, a recent MBA graduate from Georgetown University, speak about his new book, “Profiles Encourage: Ordinary Filipinos Making an Extraordinary Difference” (

Profiles is about ordinary Filipinos who can and should be candidates for the presidency of the Philippines, not the current crap of “presidentiables”, because they are people who are, as Pastrana writes, “living lives of concrete action, meaningful results, and enduring integrity... defining democracy and citizenship through their own lives, their own reach toward others”.

The book features inspiring profiles on: Jaime Aristotle Alip, Al Asuncion, Josette Biyo, John Burtkenley Ong, India and Javier Legaspi, Jika David, CP David, Nereus Acosta, Onofre Pagsanghan, and Milwida “Nene” Guevarra. Below is a brief profile on these outstanding Filipinos:

Dr. Jaime Aristotle Alip started a microfinance project in Laguna in 1986 called CARD (Center for Agricultural and Rural Development) to provide uncollateralized loans of up to 2,000 pesos ($45) “to help the poor help themselves”. Today the CARD group of companies has 160,000 clients (mostly women) all over the Philippines with a total outstanding loan portfolio of more than $20-M and with assets estimated at $35-M. Through Dr. Alip’s leadership, CARD has set a goal of reaching 1-M poor households by 2009 to provide them with low interest loans, and guidance and training in marketing, management, product development and input supply.

Al Asuncion was the Philippine Bantamweight Champion in the 1950s and was once the number 4 contender in the World Boxing Association (WBA) rankings. A friend and protégée of world heavyweight champion Rocky Marciano, Al fought in boxing matches all over the US and Europe and dutifully sent his earnings home to his family. After he retired from boxing, he spent the remainder of life teaching young kids (including 3 of the authors of the Profiles book) boxing skills and life lessons.

Josette Biyo, an unassuming science teacher from the Philippine Science High School in Iloilo City, was the first Asian Grand Winner of the prestigious Intel Excellence in Teaching Award which she received on May 17, 2002 in Louisville, Kentucky. She also holds the distinction of being the only Filipino to have a planet named after her, the Planet Biyo which rotates between Mars and Jupiter. While a science teacher in Iloilo, she regularly brought her students to the barangays to teach the barrio folks how to make cough syrup from plant extracts and soap from coconut oil.

John Burtkenley Ong was working as a researcher at the Manila Observatory of Ateneo when he was asked to document the ancestral domain claims of the Mangyan minorities in Mindoro. In order to file the Mangyan tribe’s claim to its ancestral lands, the tribe needed to identify the boundaries of their lands, which could only be determined with maps. But he could not teach the Mangyans his knowledge of map-making because the Mangyans lacked basic reading, writing and arithmetic skills. So John learned the Mangyan language so he could teach them basic skills to help them preserve their cultural heritage and their lands.

India and Javier Legaspi, wife and husband, can be credited with reviving and reinvigorating the pina weaving tradition and industry in the Philippines from the moribund state it was in when they set up their Heritage Arts and Crafts in Kalibo, Aklan in 1988. India, the artist, “paints and weaves the designs that breathe new life into centuries-old craft” while Javier, the mechanical engineer, “adds strength and form by reinventing the looms.” Heritage’s production capacities, Pastrana writes, are already booked for 2007 and 2008 filling export orders from American and European firms. Heritage is developing new products and expanding into new markets to increase the income and livelihood of the 20,000 women and men engaged in the whole range of the hand-woven fiber industry.

Jika David, the daughter of Prof. Randy David and Karina Constantino-David, was set to climb the corporate ladder of Unilever Philippines when, after 4 years on the job, she applied for a sabbatical in 2004 to work with the Jesuit Volunteers Philippines Foundation in Barrio Macarascas in Palawan. After teaching mathematics to rural kids whose poverty deprived them of the means to realize their dreams, Jika founded DORM (Deepening Our Rural Minds) and raised the funds to keep the school going for another year and send four of its graduates to Manila to further their education.

CP David, the brother of Jika and also a grandson of nationalist historians Renato and Leticia Constantino, received tempting offers from US firms after obtaining his PhD in Geology and Environmental Sciences from Stanford University in 2003. Instead, he returned back to the Philippines and established the UP Environmental Monitoring Laboratory to compile data for weather monitoring and mine pollution monitoring. He invented the Automated Monitoring System (AMS) to compile and transmit weather data via text messaging. His dream is to clean up the Pasig River.

Nereus Acosta set up BINHI (Bukidnon Integrated Network of Home Industries, Inc.), a Grameen-modeled microfinance and cooperative movement, which he founded in 1991 and which, Pastrana writes, has “transformed not only the beneficiaries’ lives but even the province’s culture from dependency, to action self-reliance, and hope.”

Onofre Pagsanghan founded the Dulaang Sibol more than 50 years ago at the Ateneo High School where he has been teaching up to the present. Imagine Mr. Keating, portrayed by Robin Williams, in “Dead Poets Society” and you can visualize the impact that “Mr. Pagsi” has had on his students.

Milwida “Nene” Guevarra, a former Finance Undersecretary, founded the Synergeia Foundation which seeks to deliver quality education through “collaborative responsibility” by transforming local school boards into vehicles for meaningful community participation. In the 250 municipalities where Synergeia has established roots (from the 17 it began with in 2003), the results can be seen in the rise of the test scores of those students from an average of 49% to 75% in reading proficiency and mathematics.

Profiles Encourage is dedicated to the memory of the late Sen. Raul Roco who was probably the best president the Philippines never had. In the book’s Epilogue is a speech Roco delivered in 2003 where he extolled the people to “learn to live by what we say."

"We must walk our talk. Competence, Character, Courage and Commitment, then we can have sustainable human growth, sustainable development among ourselves… It is good to have money. But the more important thing is strong human values and strong human efforts to excel. That must come from within…It must come from the Filipino.”

Faith restored.

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