Thursday, March 27, 2008

Commencement Speech at Western Mindanao State University

Dr. Grace Rebollos, University President, Dr. Milabel Ho, University Executive Vice-President, Members of the Board of Regents, Administrators, Faculty Members, Graduates, Parents and Guests, a pleasant morning to all of you!

Buenas Dias! Alegre Yo Kay Takyo Aura!

It is truly a great honor to be here and to speak before you today. When I was first invited by Dr. Rebollos and Dr. Ho over the phone to be your graduation speaker, I felt honored but at the same time I felt scared. Scared because I felt that being only 28 years old, I was still too young to have been accorded this honor to speak before some of the best and brightest students not only in Western Mindanao but the Philippines as well.

Allow me to start by congratulating all of you for making it this far and going the distance, nagbunga na rin ang inyong mga pagpupuyat, pagpapagod at mga sakripisyo ng ilang taon. But more importantly, I congratulate each one of you because you are now part of the less than 20% of our Philippine society who is able to finish with a college degree. Yes, according to studies in Philippine education, less than 2 out of 10 students who enter Grade 1 manage to finish college. Thus, as my favorite saying goes, To Whom Much Is Given, Much is Expected. Coming from one of the best State Universities in the Philippines, it was the Filipino people that helped each one of you finish college, I hope that you will always remember this and learn to give back to our country.

My dear graduates, you are moving into the real world at such interesting times, we all know for a fact that our country faces so many problems such as in the realm of politics there is the growing controversy of the corruption-laden NBN-ZTE Deal and our claim to the Spratley Islands that is being contested by other countries like China. As I speak to you now, many of your parents here are feeling the pinch of the rising prices in basic commodities particularly rice and sugar. Recently, the National Statistical Coordination Board released a statement saying that more than 4.7 million Filipino Families live in poverty, many of these families live just beside us in ARMM. Add to this the growing number of Filipinos who have totally lost all hope for our country and have begun to leave and seek greener pastures abroad. So, is there still Hope for our country despite all the things that I have just mentioned? Yes, I believe so, because today we celebrate this Hope in each one of you, today, we celebrate not only the hard work that all of you has done but we also celebrate the fact that you are all a testament that against all odds the Filipino can achieve anything if he or she just works hard and never gives up. Moreover, as the case with any major problems that we face therein lie great opportunities. This is the time where our country is asking much more from each one of us here today as it longs for great leaders and heroes that would once again fight for our country’s freedom but unlike the times of Jose Rizal, Andres Bonifacio and Gregorio Del Pilar, the freedoms that we now fight for is a freedom from the rampant poverty, dishonesty, injustice and corruption that is seen in our present-day society.

So my dear graduates, are we up to this challenge of leadership and heroism for our country? Is the Filipino ready to sacrifice his or her own personal interests for the good of the many? Handa na ba ang kabataang Pilipino na manindigan para sa katotohanan? Handa na ba tayong kumilos para sa ikauunlad ng ating bayan? To answer this, allow me to share with you a few stories that I have read recently from a book that a friend gave me. Our University President, Fr. Ben Nebres always tells us that in a study made among successful countries all over the world, a common trend among them was the fact that all their children grew up reading and listening to stories of modern-day heroes in their respective countries. Looking at our own country, we grew up knowing only the stories of our past heroes who have died for our country but what about those who continue to live for our country and continue to work towards giving each one of us here a better future. Who knows about the story of Synergeia President and CEO, Dr. Milwida “Nene” Guevara, who gave up a lucrative career in International Public Finance and now works more than 14 hours a day just to be able to ensure that every Filipino child will be able to read by the time he or she reaches grade 3. To date, Dr. Guevara and Synergeia has helped more than 2 million Filipino public elementary school students from all over the country. How about the inspiring story of John Ong, who like me is a Filipino-Chinese and comes from a relatively well off family but chose to live in poverty for many years with the Mangyans in Mindoro just to be able to teach them how to live a better quality of life. We are also inspired by the story of Bro.Javy Alpasa, a former executive at San Miguel Corporation who chose to be a Jesuit and help start up Rags2Riches,a social enterprise that has helped increase the income of Ragmakers in Payatas by more than 200%. Now, these Payatas mothers are able to provide their children with 3 meals a day and at the same time send them to school. Through Bro. Javy Alpasa, many families in Payatas can now look forward to a brighter future. Finally, I assume that not many of you here have even heard about the story of ANI and HOPE, these are two groups of Ateneo de Manila college students who volunteer their whole summer vacation just to be able to tutor very poor students who study at public schools in Marikina and Quezon City. Many of those students that they have helped and taught have gone on to study and finish at top-notch colleges and universities such as Ateneo, UP, De La Salle, UST, PUP and PNU. Dr. Guevera, John, Bro. Javy and the volunteers from ANI and HOPE are all ordinary Filipinos like you and me who have done extraordinary things. Through their stories, we realize that one need not become another Rizal or Bonifacio to become a modern-day Filipino Hero. What is asked from each one of us is to contribute in our own small way towards building a more prosperous, just and better Filipino society. How? Please allow me to give all of you some unsolicited advice:

1.) By keeping ourselves informed of what is happening to our country. Let us stop being indifferent at walang pakialam sa mga nangyayari sa ating bayan. It's easy to shout Resign GMA or Support GMA but do you actually know the issues why we should or shouldn't support GMA? Let us not allow our emotions to dictate our decisions, let us take time to learn about the issues by reading the newspaper, surfing the internet or watching the news on TV.

2.) Using technology and the internet to share with others how we feel about certain issues in our country. Many of us here maintain a Friendster, Multiply or Livejournal accounts, why don't we use this to share with our friends what we think about how our country is being run or what each of us can do to contribute to nation building.

3.) Stop Complaining and Start Doing. Sakit nating mga Pilipino na mahilig tayong umangal at mamintas sa mga ginagawa ng kapwa natin. I believe if we all want to move our country forward we must stop complaining and start acting on the problem. Always remember that change starts within oneself, thus,wala tayong karapatang umangal kung tayo mismo ay wala namang ginagawa.

4.) Volunteer for a Cause bigger than yourself. Our country is faced with so many problems as I mentioned earlier thus, we all have an opportunity to help in solving these problems by volunteering our time and talents to different organizations that address these problems. You can help by tutoring a poor child, helping make people become more aware of global warming or taking part in a house build for the homeless. Whatever cause you are most passionate about, take time to volunteer and make a difference.

5.) In 2010,the Filipino youth will be able to elect the next Philippine President, we will comprise 60% of our country's voting population. Thus, I hope all of you here will take time to register and vote. Iboto natin ang mga lider na may magandang track record at klarong plataporma para sa mga kabataan, huwag na tayong magpadala sa kanta at sayaw ng mga trapo.

6.) If you can, please don't leave the country. But if you really have no choice but to leave then, don't forget to give back by sponsoring a poor student to study at WMSU.

Allow me to end with a challenge for each one of you, today, you will all leave this distinguished institution that has served as your second home for the past few years and will start living and writing your own stories. My challenge to you is that I hope that one day as I speak before another group of students, it will no longer be the stories of Dr. Guevara, John and Bro. Javy that I will share but it will be your stories of hope and heroism.

Again, Congratulations to all of you! Let us all work together in making the Philippines great again!

Thank you, Muchas Gracias and good morning to all!

Monday, March 10, 2008

Team RP: Do You Want to Know Where Your Money Goes?

Dear Friends and Fellow Filipinos,
Good day to you! :)
In light of the recent spate of scandals and allegations of corruption in our government, we at Team RP believe that the call for Truth and Accountability in our government should not stop in the investigations that are being conducted by our Senate, Ombudsman and our Judicial System but this should also be complemented with a push for a Philippine Access to Information Law that would help prevent future graft and corruption practices by many of our government officials from happening again. By enacting this law, ordinary Filipinos will now be able to access public documents which would narrate what kind of agreements our government enters into on behalf of the Filipino people and at the same time show us how our public funds are spent. This will increase transparency in our government and will further hold our government leaders and officials accountable for their actions.
In line with this, we are launching a Signature Campaign to help convince our lawmakers towards prioritizing the immediate passing and implementation of this law. Here is Team RP's petition on pushing for a Philippine Access to Information Law:
"Secrecy breeds irregularity, fraud and crime. It allows chicanery, graft and corruption… A democracy based on ignorance, on misinformation, on conjectures, on suspicion is doomed to fail. The more enlightened the people have, the more guarantee there is for their success in their collective enterprises, and in the fulfillment of their social aspirations and purposes."
From the de Venecia-Lozada expose, the Hello Garci scandal and the Spratlys mind-boggler to the North and South Rail questions, events of the recent past clearly highlight how very little we know about the workings of our government, how much difficulty is involved in getting truth to come out and how, albeit fundamental in any republican and democratic state that the government is accountable to the public, we Filipinos are in reality denied direct access to our government institutions and our public servants. As a country that prides itself with democracy, it strikes us with a disquieting reality that we Filipinos have no real access to information to empower us to properly and actively participate in governance.
We in TEAM RP believe that in order for there to be a responsible citizenry that can actively and meaningfully craft the future of the country, there is a need to give teeth to the policy of full public disclosure and the right of the people to be informed as contained in the fundamental law of the land. Moreover, we are aware that if people, especially those who have been bypassed by development, are unaware of laws and procedures for availing themselves of their entitlements or of mechanisms they can use to remedy their plight, then they will always remain poor.
Let us call on our lawmakers to make top priority the passage of a Philippine Access to Information Law which, subject to reasonable and clearly outlined conditions, ensures unfettered access of the people to information of public concern, including government transactions involving public interest.
We urge our lawmakers, let us not delay this any further.
If you support our petition and call for the passage of a Philippine Access to Information Law, you can join and help us in any of the following ways:
a.) Sign our petition online by emailing "I Support the Campaign for a Philippine Access to Information Law" together with your complete name and contact information to
b.) Forward this email to your friends and post this email in your website, blog, friendster, multiply or facebook account for all your friends to read.
c.) Volunteer for our campaign and help us get more Filipinos to sign our petition. If you want to volunteer and help, you can email Karen Naranjo at or you can send her a text message at 0918-9183685. We will send you copies of our petition so you can also help gather signatures in your school, office or organization.
Thank you for your time in reading this email. We hope that you will consider joining Team RP's movement for Truth, Accountability and Reform in our country.
May you have a pleasant day ahead! :)
Harvey S. Keh
Team RP
Team RP is an organization of youth leaders and young professionals who working together for Truth, Accountability and Reform in our country. We are part of the Buong Bayan Isinisigaw Tama Na, Itama Na (BUSINA) Movement. We believe that complaining and lambasting our leaders is not enough but we should proactively work towards finding concrete ways to help solve our present problems. As such, Team RP believes that issues should always take precedence over personalities thus, our programs and activities are always geared towards helping build our democratic institutions and furthering the development of every Filipino. If you want to know more about Team RP or join Team RP, please email us at