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[Message] Istorya ng Pag-Asa at Siliman University

19 May 2017
Message at the Launch of Istorya ng Pag-asa, Silliman University, Dumaguete City, 18 May 2017

Mayor Ipe Remollo; our Vice Chairperson of the Board of Trustees, Judge Candelario Gonzales; Rev. Dr. Noriel Capulong, our Interim Senior Pastor; Atty. Gloria Futalan, Dean of the College of Business Administration and Chairperson of the Board of Directors of the Philippine Federation of Credit Cooperatives National — Ma’am paano niyo po iyon nagagawa? Ang dami niyo pong ginagawa. Idol. — Atty. Fe Marie D. Tagle, Vice President for Finance and Administration and our acting president; Prof. Jane Annette Belarmino, Vice President for Development.

Of course, with us here this afternoon, is former Bais City Mayor, Mayor Karen Villanueva. Magandang hapon, Mayor.

Faculty, students of the College of Administration, College of Law; the senior high school students from Foundation University; members of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines of Dumaguete; senior high school students of Silliman University; members of the Philippine Federation of Credit Cooperatives; sa inyo pong lahat, magandang magandang hapon muli.

Thank you all for your presence this afternoon for the launch of Istorya ng Pag-asa, a program that we feel is an important way of changing the narrative of our national conversation. Iyon po talaga ang pinakasadya: to change the conversation.

But before I introduce to you the program, siyempre magko-congratulate po ako. Congratulations to Silliman University, and most especially the Silliman University College of Law, for producing—sabi ni Mayor—hindi lang tatlo, pero apat na bar topnotchers. It is a rare feat, especially for a provincial school. Ako po, I was also a graduate of a provincial law school. I graduated from the University of Nueva Caceres.

Kasi alam niyo, after college, nag-asawa kaagad ako. Kinikuwento ko kay Judge na my dad was also a long time judge. Because I was the eldest in the family, parang may order sa akin na ako, mag-aabogado rin.

My life has been planned already by my parents, that after graduating Economics from UP, I would go straight to law school. Pero timing po ako sa People Power Revolution. I graduated 1986. And I had my political awakening after the assassination of Ninoy. I was in second year then, and I became very active in street demonstrations leading to EDSA.

After I graduated in 1986—the graduation was right after the EDSA Revolution—I asked my dad if I can take a year off to work for government. Parang I was one of those who were really inspired by what happened during the EDSA Revolution. Sabi ko, baka puwedeng hindi muna ako mag-law school. One year lang. And my dad allowed me. Pinayagan ako basta isang taon lang. After one year, maglo-law school na ako.

So I tried government. I applied at a government agency that was called the Bicol River Basin Development Program Office. Para siyang NEDA, taking care of Bicol development. Pero iyong boss doon, iyong asawa ko. Iyon ang love story ng buhay ko.

Less than a year after I first started working, nag-asawa na ako. When my husband was asking for my hand in marriage, my dad was telling him, “My daughter can’t marry yet, because she is still going to law school.” That was a promise my husband made to my father, that even if we were married already, he will make sure that I will still fulfill my father’s dream that her eldest daughter would be a lawyer.

So nag-asawa na kami. My husband, a few months after the wedding, ran for mayor of Naga already and won. So mayor na siya, kailangan magtrabaho ako kasi kaunti iyong sweldo ng mayor. So naging college professor po ako. I was a college professor for ten years. I was teaching Economics at the Universidad de Santa Isabel which was my alma mater, iyong grade school tsaka high school. But I was going to law school at night. Evening student po ako sa University of Nueva Caceres. Noong wala pa kaming anak, madali pa. Pero when I delivered my first child already, napakahirap na, kasi iyong klase namin was 5:30 to 8:30. Pag umuuwi ako, 8:30, tulog na iyong bata.

So ang ginawa ko, paunti-unti. Ayoko na sana magpatuloy, pero sabi ng asawa ko, “Mapapatay ako ng tatay mo kapag nag-quit ka.” So ang usapan namin, kahit paunti-unti, basta tumuloy.

And I took up law for a very long time. It was the least of my priorities. I was a wife, I was a mother. I was the wife of the mayor, so I had social obligations. I was a full-time college professor and I was a student. Kaya iyong feat na nagawa ng Silliman, bow na bow po ako, kasi alam ko na it is so difficult to even get a high passing average. What more producing 3 or 4 topnotchers. So, congratulations po sa inyong lahat.

The main reason why we are here is that the Office of the Vice President launched an antipoverty program called Angat Buhay. We adopted some of the poorest, farthest, smallest towns in the country. In Negros Oriental, we adopted two. One of them is Zamboanguita, and the other one is Manjuyod. Papunta kami sa Zamboanguita at Manjuyod. Naisipan namin na nandito na rin kami, why not ask Silliman University to partner with us with Istorya ng Pag-asa. Ano iyong Istorya ng Pag-asa?

Hope is a very powerful thing. ‘Di ba? Sa conversations ngayon, kapag tiningnan mo, even on Facebook, either galit na galit, o iyong other side ng galit na galit, nawawalan na ng pag-asa. Hope is what gives light to love, faith and peace. It lives intimately with many other values of the Filipino family: courage, grit and determination, pride in honest work, pride in a life simply lived.

A few months ago—ito iyong pag-umpisa ng Istorya ng Pag-asa—I was invited to speak at a youth forum with a young audience such as this. The title of their forum was “Let Us Change the Conversation.” Why “change the conversation?” The youth groups in that forum told me that many of them have been feeling beaten and depressed by all the negativity around them and they wanted to do something about it.

‘Di ba mga kabataan na iyong “they want want to do something about it.” Dapat sana kaming matatanda iyong nag-umpisa niyan. Pero the idea came from young people like you.

In extraordinary times like this, it may seem as though hope has become difficult to come by. They say that darkness is the mere absence of light. If that is so, then it is up to us to fight this darkness by surrounding our society with our own light. Hindi puwedeng naghihintay lang tayo. Dapat tayo iyong nagdadala ng liwanag.

Light comes from ordinary people doing extraordinary things. Light that can come from every street corner and every pathway. Light that comes from within, rather than from the trappings of power, fame, or fortune.

Light that comes from all of us.

So ang hinahanap natin, extraordinary stories of ordinary people, because when we do, we can change the conversation and build our nation with hope that transcends gender, social status, political party, religion, region, or business affiliation.

Istorya ng Pag-asa is born out of this need to change the conversation. We want to bring extraordinary stories of ordinary people to different parts of our country, to every school and government office, to every mall, airport or office. We want our people to know that they, too, can be a source of hope.

This afternoon, we will be giving you a few examples of some stories we have already come across.

First, there is Nanay Lorna. Nanay Lorna is an ordinary sari-sari storeowner in Quezon City where she sells turon and banana cue. Guest ko siya sa radio show ko noong Sunday. Wala na iyong kanyang sari-sari store kasi pinaalis na siya. Magkakariton na lang daw ulit siya.

Nanay Lorna is a widowed mother, having single-handedly raised her four children. She struggled day by day to send her children to school and by sheer determination and strength as a mother, brought them up to value excellence and hard work. One of her children is now a lawyer, one is a teacher, one is a nurse—iyong nurse nasa Dubai na ngayon—and the last one is an Intarmed student in UP. Alam niyo naman iyong Intarmed, di ba? Iyong medicine, 7 years na’ng lahat-lahat nakukuha. Iyong mga nakakapasok doon, 40 students a year lang. Napakahirap makapasok. Iyong bunso niya, nandoon.

The second story is Mike O. Mike O. was an overseas Filipino worker who was living in San Diego for some time. Despite having his work there, iyong ultimate dream talaga ni Mike was bumalik sa Pilipinas para maging entrepreneur. Pumunta lang talaga siya doon para mag-ipon. Pagkatapos niyang mag-ipon, umuwi siya dito sa Pilipinas at isinakatuparan niyo iyong kaniyang pangarap. Mike now owns a beach resort in Pagudpod and a restaurant in Laoag.

Our third story is Alexander. Iyan, maganda ang kuwento ni Alexander. Si Alexander, kilala siya bilang dancing traffic enforcer sa Eastwood, Quezon City. May kuwento kung paano siya naging dancing traffic enforcer. Dati na siyang traffic enforcer, pero hindi pa dancing. Pero na-brokenhearted siya. Iniwan siya ng kaniyang girlfriend. Iyon ang kuwento. Iniwan siya ng kaniyang girlfriend at masyado siyang nanibugho. Pero ang release niya ng kaniyang grief ay nag-aral siyang magsayaw. At iyong natutunan niyang pagsasayaw, minix niya iyon sa kaniyang pagiging traffic enforcer. At kahit wala pa siyang bagong love, happy na daw siya. Dahil happy na siya sa kaniyang pagiging dancing traffic enforcer.

But the most wonderful part about it is, even here in Silliman, we already came across inspiring stories that prove to us that nothing is impossible if you truly believe.

There is Rizal Quio. Nandito si Rizal. Rizal is a son of a farmer. He is the eighth of eleven children. Huminto siyang mag-aral for five years after elementary, because his parents could not afford to send him to school. During this time, noong huminto siya, he helped his parents by joining them everyday in the farm.

Noong 18 years old na siya, pumasok na siya ng high school. He became very active in various extra-curricular activities in school. He graduated first honorable mention in his batch. Hindi siya tinamad mag-aral kahit 18 na, first year high school siya.

Rizal knew that his parents could not afford to send him to college, so naghanap siya ng scholarship in Dumaguete that could support his schooling. He applied to get a scholarship from the Silliman University Student Government without his parents’ knowledge. They only found out when Rizal was only one of the two who got the scholarship.

Just this March, Rizal graduated college with a degree in Business Administration, Major in Management. He is now currently working here in Silliman University Medical Center as a billing clerk. He considers this as an achievement, not only for himself, but also for his family. Palakpakan po natin siya.

Di ba iyong kuwento ni Rizal, napaka-inspiring. Lalo na doon sa mga kabataan na parang tinitingnan na wala nang pag-asang makapag-aral dahil hindi kaya ng mga magulang.

Meron pang pangalawa, iyong katabi ni Rizal. Si Gilbert. Gilbert also received a scholarship from the Silliman University Student Government. Gilbert’s father died when he was still in high school, while his mother worked as a housemaid.

Gilbert’s mother also could not afford to send him to college. With sheer determination and perseverance, Gilbert applied for a scholarship in Silliman University. Fifteen silang naglaban-laban para sa scholarship na iyon. And out of the fifteen, it was only Gilbert who got the scholarship. Kaya’t palakpakan natin si Gilbert.

Like Rizal, Gilbert was also a very active student leader. One of his advocacies was helping schools in the rural areas. Ito iyong “pay it forward” niya. Recently, Gilbert had finished his degree, ngayon naghahanap na siya ng work. Talaga bang sa gobyerno mo gustong magtrabaho? Kahit saan? Meron na? Oh, wow, nagte-training na siya sa Immigration Office.

Stories like these, mas maganda naman to kaysa awayan sa social media, di ba?

Hope is the only thing stronger than fear. We need more of it to counter the negativity in this era of post-truth, fake news, trolls, and alternative facts. Ngayon nga po, kapag nagbubukas tayo ng social media, parang lahat na lang nag-aaway-away. Number one pong biktima diyan, ako. Kaya lang, ‘di ba dapat hindi tayo nagpapaapekto, dahil hindi naman totoo ang sinasabi. Huwag tayong magpapa-okray. ‘Di ba? Kaya happy lang tayo; happy tayo dito. Nandiyan si Rizal at Gilbert, kasama natin.

Kailangan nating ibalik sa ating mga mamamayan ang pag-asa, ang dignidad na baka nawala na dahil natabunan na ng masasamang balita. We need hope to nourish our sense of dignity as a nation, to build our people’s trust in liberty and freedom, and to fight for truth in an age of lies.

Kapag kakalaban po ng mga trolls, huwag tayong papatol na parang pareho din natin sila. Kasi hindi lang doon mahihinto, at baka dati mabuti tayo, naging masama na rin tayo. Palitan natin ng magagandang kuwento.

Pero kailangan namin kayo. Kailangan namin ang inyong tulong para palitan iyong conversation. Kasi ang sinasabi po sa amin ng mga binebentahan namin ng idea, “Good news does not sell.” Parati raw ang gusto ng tao, iyong controversial. Iyong masama. But let us prove them wrong. Hindi puwedeng susunod tayo doon sa “hindi puwede ang good news.” Tayo iyong magpalit ng conversation.

We can always choose light over darkness. We can always choose hope over hopelessness. But we cannot wait for hope to find us. We need to find it ourselves, and give it a place to stay in our hearts and in our minds. We need to feed it with extraordinary stories of ordinary people around us. And we need to tell stories of hope to our people, wherever they are.

Mas inspiring iyong maraming kahirapan na pinagdaanan. Mas inspiring iyong ordinaryo pero iyong kaniyang ginawa ay extraordinary.

Today, we ask you to be our partners as we find every reason to hope. We need not go far—here in Silliman, we already have a lot of students and graduates like Rizal and Gilbert, who, despite the challenges in their lives, were determined and worked hard to get achieve their dreams.

Sigurado ako, aside from the two of them, there are still so many in our midst. Puwede ngang hindi nakapag-aral gaya ni Nanay Lorna, pero sinubukan at nalagpasan ang kahirapan. We have more than enough reasons to still hope for the best for our country. Huwag tayong mawalan ng pag-asa. We only need to open our eyes and look for stories that are living proof of what it means to hope and persist. I am sure we will all be surprised by the stories that we will come across.

Ngayong hapon, this is an invitation to all of you to join us. Puwede niyong i-tweak sa sarili niyong gusto, pero let us join hands in finding stories of hope that will inspire our kababayans and change all the negativity around us. Para pagbukas natin sa susunod ng social media, kuwento na ni Rizal, kuwento na ni Gilbert iyong ating mababasa, hindi iyong kung anu-anong nagbabangayan.

Maraming salamat po. Magandang hapon muli sa inyong lahat.

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