by Tony Meloto
Las Vegas, September 24
Two weeks ago I found joy in China.
I discovered that people I sadly and wrongly judged all these years were living happily with dignity, perhaps with less freedom but with less slums and beggars because they continue to learn how to care for their country and for one another. The Chinese showed me their immense capacity to be happy because of a collective perspective for family and the needy, not leaving any one behind. They are one, moving together in the same direction. This is the measure of success or progress that I must continue to learn.
In my long life, God has shown me enough proof that he blesses those who do not neglect or abandon the poor, regardless of ideology or religion. I saw this again in the United States where I am now in the way he blesses the rich who share their wealth.
This week I found not only joy but peace in America.
I am here in Las Vegas for three days to speak about building peaceful communities in the Philippines to a group of Filipino patriots, mostly doctors, who will not simply give up on us. In their company, I found peace.
I guess I needed space away. from the hostage crisis, the jueteng scandal and all that mess and some serenity in harmony after my dismay over the persecution of the poor in our villages from some leaders of the community that I love.
I found my balance on this trip in kindred spirits from the Filipino United Network (FUN) and PEACE who invited me, in their unflinching hope for our country, despite the constant negative publicity in the news, and their unwavering faith in the GK way to end poverty through justice and peace.
Both groups took the first step to peace by transcending differences and uniting for a more cohesive and effective approach to community building and good governance. Their firm resolve to rebuild the Philippines is quite impressive when one considers that they all have the option to simply live the rest of their life in comfort.
Again they are one Filipino in love and sacrifice for the sake of our country.
Dr Philip Chua, the founder of FUN, travels to Cebu every other month to conduct free clinics and pursue his advocacy for good governance, raising substantial funds when needed like Ondoy and the Noynoy campaign.
The same thing is true with my host and convention chairman Dr. Mike Micabalo, a hale 74 who is personally building his dream village in his hometown Oroquieta – against all odds, he claims – with unconditional support from his equally committed wife Luz who stays fashionable doing charity balls at the Strip or digging septic tanks in the barrio.
There is something about compassion with passion and all its positive energy that keeps the wrinkles away. They are never too busy, or too tired or too far to help or to give.
Dr Rina Galvez jetted in from Chicago to find support for the clinic she is building in the two lots she donated in Caloocan City where one GK village has already been built and another one with 40 homes being constructed with funds from popular TV personalities Julius and Tintin Babao.
These patriots are like pit-bulls that won’t let go once they bite on a cause that captures their heart.
They want to help us build more homes for the homeless when their own properties here have dropped significantly in value due to the sub-prime fiasco in America.
They want to build more water systems for the thirsty in our country( 500 wells by PEACE to-date, based on the latest report by foundation president Dr Dan Santos) when some of their own wells have gone dry with the fall in income and the long dry spell in the economy.
They want to do more medical missions in our remote towns and poorer provinces when the state of health care in America is uncertain, affecting those who still practice. This is really thinking beyond self-interest and doing authentic mission to do good rather than just find a noble excuse to play golf. In truth, many may have started out this way only to discover the greater joy in healing than teeing off, especially when there is no financial payback and the income is mostly psychic and a first class ticket to heaven.
They have discovered peace at a time of uncertainty by being certain about the things that really matter in this life.
They have simplified their once lavish lifestyle, something which was justifiably claimed as a prize before for all the hard work on their road to success. Now they have less extravagant balls and gowns in order for them to clothe the naked, and less wasteful consumption to feed the hungry. They are, happily for us and for them, on their path to greatness.
A moving force in PEACE and FUN, Dr Sarie Laserna, who does not take no for an answer when she invites which brought me this time to Las Vegas post haste, showed me her unadorned wrists as she proudly proclaimed “look Tony no blings for me and my friends so we can send more Kalinga scholars from public schools to college.” Together with determined cohorts from FUN, Fe Cacdac and Aly Ragasa, they hounded fellow doctors, family and friends to fund 76 homes and part of the 4 floor multipurpose building in Taguig. Hopefully, Tiffanys and Cartier will not hunt them down for being bad for their business.
Hope for the Philippines is high as passion for our country grows. The Philippine-building bug is spreading across America, across generations, changing mind-sets and lifestyles. Dreaming for our people is serving as a counter flow to currents of cynicism and a prop to sagging spirits as Fil-Ams wake up to the harsh realities of the American dream after 9/11, Iraq and the recession. Asians who came to America to find hope are now giving hope to America being the sector with the highest average household income -and Filipino doctors count among its top tax payers. Those who came from the east as job-seekers are now the job-givers of the west, like Boy Abay who founded the Kansas Spine Hospital in Wichita and Primo Andres who owns the heart Center in Terra Haute, indiana. I guess this is how the cookie crumbles or maybe just how the world turns. Some may call this social justice in the order of things where all God’s children are equal in worth and value and must be provided equal opportunity for a life of dignity anywhere in the planet.
This is the source of my peace.
I am certain that poverty in our beloved land will end when we stop fighting one another and start to care and share because the squatters in the slums of Manila are made of the same cultural DNA and designed by the same wonderful God as the most successful Filipinos abroad.
If Filipinos can turn around their fortune in America they can also turn around the lives of the less fortunate in the Philippines by helping us create and spread wealth out of a sense of fairness to benefit all.
Social justice is the missing platform for prosperity and lasting peace in our country.
This is what we are fighting for – an even playing field where the genius of the poor can be unlocked and their potential for excellence can be nurtured to prosper a nation.
This is our field of dreams, the 2000 GK villages that are rising and many more intentional communities that will stand because we care.
This is what attracts top corporations, foreign universities and Fil-Ams to Gawad Kalinga – our effort to create a massive nationwide network of empowered communities for productivity, wealth creation and good citizenship similar to the communes of China and the kibbutz of Israel – built on our values and aspirations as a nation.
This is how the game of nation-building has played out for us – just build with courage and integrity and they will come.
As I look from this hillside veranda of my host at the breathtaking view of the bright lights of the Las Vegas skyline under a full moon and the cool breeze of an Autumn night, I see clearly with my heart a vision of my country emerging from the darkness of poverty and corruption, of dredged rivers and re-forested mountains, of transformed slums and abundant fields. I see the best Filipinos caring for the least, the strong hand-holding the weak and the corrupt buried in the fields. The corrupt will die and corruption will end soon if we decide now not to breed new ones. All evil will pass if we decide to have less for ourselves and simply do more good to others.
I know our time to shine is now. I can feel the expectant mood even here in America.
My new President, elected in the most honest and peaceful election in memory, is in New York in his first appearance on the global stage as head of state. He carries with him an 88 percent trust rating from his people, which is his highest credential to attract visitors and investors to our shores.
For country and honor, Filipinos in America know that this is not a moment to be wasted and an opportunity to be squandered. They also want a President with a clean slate like PNoy. They know he is untried in the old dirty tricks of politics, raw to stale ideas that did not work for us, and inexperienced in cheating because he never had a wife.
America is fascinated and curious about PNoy because he just might be the game-changer that the Philippines needs.
Wherever I go they ask me what we can do to help him. Frankly I don’t know where to begin. I just keep reminding myself and my audience who care to listen that to have a great President we must all strive to be great citizens ourselves, that lasting and effective change must always begin with us first.
*Let’s keep him honest by being honest ourselves. Not bribing the MMDA, not smuggling at customs, paying the right taxes, using the right scales and not cheating the wife. For religious leaders, by being faithful to Christ and not depriving the poor with the tithes.
*Let’s help him succeed with action and inspiration, not with cynicism and incessant criticism. Monitor the behavior of our government officials, report DPWH projects that are overpriced, teach patriotic education in the classroom, preach the practice of social justice and good citizenship in the pulpit, constantly honor what is good in our country.
*Let’s boost the local economy by starting Filipino businesses and patronizing brands that help the poor and protect the environment.
*Let’s pray for the President’s protection and those who are honest around him because dismantling vested interests and institutionalized corrupt practices is a serious and dangerous game.
Tonight at the dinner of FUN, I was enthralled together with the crowd listening to the young Comelec Commissioner who fought for automation and made it work, giving our President an overwhelming mandate without doubt or question in the fastest and most credible election known to many of us. Atty Gregorio Larrazabal is in Vegas as a bike enthusiast, a friend who donated his prized bike for auction at the GK Hope Ball on October 8 at the Manila Pen. He is serving out the term of controversial former Commissioner Garcillano. From Garci to Larrzi – what a contrast. What is the point here? Miracles do happen, we can have honest election and an honest government – hope is definitely in the air. (Thanks Louie for looking after our new hero and for being a hero yourself for keeping the faith).
Tomorrow, I fly back to Manila as the President meets with West Coast eager supporters in San Jose, California. A thick crowd of new generation Filipino Americans organized by San Diego resident Marcel Ocampo and GK USA Chairman Tony Olaes will be there at the “we are one Filipino” rally to claim their heritage, reconnect with their roots and express solidarity with a new leader that will make being Filipino a brand of honor anywhere in the world.
The new generation are finally coming to terms with the amazing reality that being Filipino in America is beautiful.
And that they also have a beautiful home and career and investment opportunities in Asia.
This is also their moment to send a profound message of peace to the rest of America: filipinos will continue to create wealth and jobs and help ease recession in America.
Filipinos can be strong and happy in America if they are one.
They can help bring peace and prosperity to the Philippines if they are one.
With these thoughts, I went back to my room to sleep in peace, eager to fly home to be with my family that I miss in the country that I love.