August 2006

By Perry Diaz

Last August 3, 2006, I co-hosted an event in Sacramento featuring Dylan Wilk of Gawad Kalinga and Mayor Abubakar “Totoy” Paglas of Datu Paglas, Maguindanao.  Dylan and Mayor Paglas came to Sacramento to give the Filipino-American community an update on the progress of Gawad Kalinga 777, a project to build 700,000 homes in 7,000 communities in 7 years.   The venue, Max’s Restaurant, was packed.

Dylan and Mayor Paglas, who participated at the Gawad Kalinga Bayani Summit in Las Vegas — billed as “A Gathering of Heroes” — the week before, awed the Sacramento audience with their presentations.  Coming from different cultures — Dylan, an Englishman, and Mayor Paglas, a Muslim Filipino — their message resonated with the same theme:  rebuilding the Philippines through “bayanihan.”

Mayor Paglas spoke of the time when Gawad Kalinga volunteers approached him about building a village for the poor people in Datu Paglas, a predominantly Muslim town in Maguindanao.  The people of Datu Paglas — named after the grandfather of Mayor Paglas — were apprehensive of their offer to build homes for the refugees displaced in the war-ravaged province. They were suspicious that the motive of the Gawad Kalinga volunteers — who were members of the “Couples for Christ,” a Catholic evangelical group — was to convert them into Christianity.  It is important to note that the Muslim people of Maguindanao have been fighting the Christian invaders since they arrived in the 16th century.  Although the Spaniards eventually subjugated the Sultanate of Maguindanao in the 19th century, the people were never conquered nor converted.

But it took a man of vision to realize that Gawad Kalinga is the way to bring the warring Muslims and Christians together.  Mayor Paglas told the audience, “We are all Filipinos; we have the same God but whom we happen to worship differently.”  How true.  As he spoke those words, I looked at him and I told myself, “He looks like an Ilocano, Tagalog, Visayan or any other Filipino. We are brothers indeed.”

Today, Datu Paglas has a Gawad Kalinga village of 750 homes where Muslims and Christians are working together and caring for one another.  It is “bayanihan” in action.  It is Gawad Kalinga — which means, “giving care” — at work.

Mayor Paglas said that there has not been a single case of conflict between the Muslims and Christians since the Gawad Kalinga village was built.  Today, what happened in Datu Paglas was replicated in other towns like Buluan, SK Pendatun, Upi, Kidapawan, Tacurong, Tugaig, and Barira.  Barira was once a hotbed of rebellion. It was the site of Camp Abubakar, the headquarters of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which had been fighting the central government for more than 20 years.  During the government’s campaign against MILF, Camp Abubakar was leveled to the ground forcing the populace to take refuge in neighboring towns like Datu Paglas.  Thanks to Gawad Kalinga and Mayor Paglas, Barira is once again a peaceful community where Muslims and Christians have healed the wounds of war and began working together in the true spirit of “bayanihan.”

In 1994, 20-year old Dylan Wilk took a loan of 2,500 British pounds and founded a company, GamePlay, which sells computer games via direct mail.  By 1999, Dylan became the ninth richest man under 30 in England.  With US$40 million in cash and a silver BMW M3, the 25-year old entrepreneur should be the happiest man on earth.  Why not?   But he was looking for more than just material wealth.  Something was lacking in his life.  And he found it in Gawad Kalinga.  He sold his BMW and used the proceeds to build 80 homes in a GK village aptly named “BMW Village.”  Today, Dylan devotes his time as GK’s roving international volunteer to share his experiences and inspire people of all cultures about the miracle that is happening in the Philippines.

A gifted speaker, Dylan described his love for the Philippines in the most superlative terms.  He only sees the best qualities in Filipinos.  He said that the Filipinos are like gold.  But 400 years of being “kicked around” by colonial masters, Filipinos, he said, have gathered dust and mud, and lost the glint in them.  Today, the dust and mud are being washed away and the Filipinos are beginning to shine again — like the gold that they have always been.

He told the Filipino-Americans to open their hearts and love their Philippines.  He believed that the Filipinos would rise again. He said that last February 25, 2006, Gawad Kalinga launched GK1MB, a project to find “isang milyong bayani” (one million heroes) by the end of this year.  In Sacramento, Dylan found some of the heroes he was looking for.  One of them was Charlie Demar, an 11-year old Caucasian boy, who has never been in the Philippines and who didn’t have any association with Filipinos until he met Tess Poling, a Gawad Kalinga advocate.  Inspired by Tess, Charlie undertook a mission to raise money to build a GK house. For three months starting in May 2006, he held garage sales, collected and sold cans and bottles, and asked his friends for small donations.  He put his collections in a glass bottle he calls Fran’s “Jesus Jar.”  Fran Cain started the “Jesus Jar” when she quit smoking in November 2005 after she found out that she had a terminal lung cancer.  Fran passed away in May 2006.

Charlie proudly presented Fran’s “Jesus Jar” containing $1,040.25 in small bills and coins, enough to build one more house in “GK Sacramento Village” in Payatas, Quezon City.  “GK Sacramento Village” is a community of 50 homes being built with funds raised by a group of Filipino-Americans from Sacramento.  Charlie joins a growing number of “batang bayani” (young heroes) around the world that is raising money for the poor.  After his presentation, he promised to start collecting for a second house.  When Charlie left the restaurant after the event, I saw him holding his “Jesus Jar” with a few dollar bills and coins in it.  I knew then that another GK house would soon be built.

Several others presented their contributions to build GK homes.  Joe and Gladys Carrasco gave $1,000 for one house.  Derek Ledda together with Eric and Toffee Javier and Mike and Maricor Ramos gave another $1,000 for one house.  Another group consisting of Josie and Larry Patria, Vicky and Norman Johnson, Aida and Segundo Azurin, Inday Marzan, Rose Basos, Ester Carrasco, Victoria Debord, and Myrna Agbunag put together $1,000 for another house.  No amount was too big or too small.  But for sure, they all have big hearts.

The outpouring of support for Gawad Kalinga manifests the Filipinos’ spirit of “bayanihan,” that time-honored tradition of being a “bayani” (hero) to one another. Yes, Filipinos are born heroes.  Dylan reminded us that the rice terraces of Banaue were built thousands of years ago by free people in the spirit of “bayanihan” and not by slaves, as was the norm during that time in other parts of the world.  Today, that spirit still lives in every Filipino, wherever he or she may be.   And where there are Filipinos, Gawad Kalinga is alive because Gawad Kalinga is all about “bayanihan.”