Wednesday, April 16, 2008

I am Change, Are You?

I am Change, Are You?
By: Harvey S. Keh

Last March, I was very fortunate enough to be invited to be the Commencement Speaker of Western Mindanao State University (WMSU) in Zamboanga City, one of the biggest state universities in the Philippines. During my brief stay at WMSU, I was able to have a session with 30 of their student leaders who are leading their student council and other student organizations in their school. During this session, I started with a question, I asked them, Who among you here still believes and supports President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo? Around 10 of them raised their hands. Then, I asked again, Who among you here wants the President to resign and step down? Around 14 of them raised their hands. I pressed on and asked again, Who among you here is still undecided? 6 of them raised their hands. Finally, I asked again, Who among you here wants Change and Reforms in our Country and Government?

All of them raised their hands.

When I got back to Manila, I did the same activity with about 25 student leaders from Miriam College in Quezon City, one of the top schools here in Metro Manila. I got the same response from them, 7 were supporting President Arroyo, 12 wanted her to resign/step-down while 6 were undecided. When I asked them who wants change and reform in our Country and Government, all of them raised their hands as well.

What am I trying to say through these two stories and experiences with these Filipino Youth Leaders in our country?

a.) Yes, our country is divided right now in how we view President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. You have on one side, a group supporting President Arroyo despite all the anomalies, allegations of corruption and scandals that has rocked her administration. On the other side, you have groups and highly-influential leaders which have called for her immediate resignation and ouster from power. This then leaves us with a political stalemate since President Arroyo is not weak enough to fall while the Groups calling for her ouster and resignation are not strong enough to push her out.

b.) However, it seems that judging from my experiences in dealing with these student leaders, the people I talk to and the emails I get from Filipinos from here and abroad everyone wants to see Change and Reform in our Government. We are all united in wanting to see positive and lasting change and reforms in our Government.

That is why I think that if we want to be able to help in bringing our nation together towards a common vision which helps move our country forward then this unity should not be based on certain personalities like President Arroyo or our other Government Leaders. Rather, we need to join and work together towards working for concrete and lasting reforms in our Government Institutions that would eventually make it more responsive to the needs of the poor and powerless in our communities.We need to work together towards building, strengthening and transforming our democratic institutions. For example, Isn't it sad that we now have to face a growing Food Crisis when we were once one of the world's top Agricultural countries? This is an indirect effect of the 1 Billion Fertilizer Scam that was allegedly used to fund the election expenses of President Arroyo and her allies. If this 1 Billion Peso Fertilizer Fund together with other government funds was used properly and for the right purpose then we might not have to face this crisis now or if we do, the effect wouldn't be as big as we are facing now.

As such, I'd like to invite every Filipino based here and abroad to join us at Team RP as we try to develop a proactive and dynamic movement that is built and organized primarily by ordinary Filipinos like you and me whose only vested interests is to be able to contribute his time, skills, talents and resources towards pushing for Truth, Accountability and Reform in our Government. How? Allow me to share with you some of our concrete action plans:

For Truth: We hope to push for the passing of a Philippine Access to Information Law (PAIL) that would give every Filipino an opportunity to access government documents especially documents that would show how our hard-earned money is being spent by our government officials. Through this law, greater transparency can be achieved thus and more importantly, we are able to make our government leaders live by the saying that Public Office is a Public Trust.

For Accountability: We plan to file proper charges on Government Officials and Private Citizens who have taken part in Graft and Corruption practices and activities that have bankrupted our government coffers. If we do not do anything to hold these people accountable for their actions and curb corruption, then the cycle will just continue with new faces and sadly, with new techniques. Corruption has to stop because the 30 Billion Pesos that is lost to it every year can amount to provision of basic services that will ultimately uplift the lives of more than 20 Million Filipinos who continue to wallow in poverty.

For Reform: We plan to work and lobby for the extension and improvement of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law which expires this year. We believe that every Filipino should be provided with equal opportunities to be able to own his or her own land. In addition to this, we plan to pursue electoral reforms as early as now by developing projects and activities that will encourage and motivate First-time voters to register so they can exercise their right to choose our next President in 2010.

These are just among our concrete plans towards institutionalizing and working for genuine Change and Reform in our country. Since we are not a personality-based movement, Team RP will continue to push for these ideals and programs regardless of who becomes President, Vice-President, Senators, Congressmen, etc. We are doing this because we believe that many of our Government Leaders have Failed us and that its time for all of us to take control of our own future and work together for that genuine and lasting Change that we all want to see in our country. Let us all stop the all our excuses, iinaction, hopelessness, despair, indifference and complaining, these will all amount to nothing if we ourselves don't move ourselves to do anything for our country.

Change is now. Change starts with each one of us. Hope lies not in our country's leaders and those in power but it rests in every Filipino.

I am Change, are you? If Yes, then join us at Team RP by emailing us your complete name and contact information to . Help us as well by forwarding this email to your friends and posting it in your blogs so that many more Filipinos can join in our cause to take control of our own future.

We would also like to invite all of you to our upcoming Team RP General Assembly on April 26,2008 (Saturday), 1pm to 430pm at the Foyer of Club Filipino, Greenhills, San Juan, Metro Manila. Please send us an email with your contact information at if you are joining us for this event.

Harvey S. Keh, 29, is the Chairperson of Team RP, a youth-led organization that is pushing for Truth, Accountability and Reform in our Government. He is also the Project Director of the Asia Society's Philippines 21 Young Leaders Program which annually selects 10 outstanding Filipino Young Leaders which will represent the Philippines to the Asia 21 Young Leaders Summit which gathers more than 200 Young Leaders from different countries in the Asia-Pacific Region. Aside from these, Harvey continues to help make our country a better place for every Filipino through his involvements with the Ateneo de Manila University-School of Government and AHON Foundation. You can read his writings at his blog:

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Why Gawad Kalinga May Not Be Enough

Why Gawad Kalinga May Not Be Enough
By: Harvey S. Keh

In one of my interviews with ABS-CBN, the news reporter asked me, despite all the scandals and corruption (Hello Garci, 1 Billion Peso Fertilizer Scam, Irrigation Scam and 6 Billion Peso NBN-ZTE Broadband Scam) that have hounded this present administration, why do you think do majority of young Filipinos choose not to do anything about it. She further added that there seems to be no uproar from the Filipino youth and young professionals from all over the country, does that mean that we are okay with all these scandals that are mushrooming almost on a weekly basis? I asked these same questions to my students and friends and here are their answers (summarized already):

Student A: Sir Harvey, Naiinis naman talaga kami sa nangyayari pero wala naman kaming magagawa eh, estudyante lang kami at kahit sino namang ilagay sa gobyerno natin, pareho pa rin silang lahat na magnanakaw. They will only protect their own self-interests.

Student B: Sir, I'm not happy with how our country is being led by our government leaders but I think the best way I can contribute to this country is by becoming a good student, study hard, find a good job and be a good citizen in our country.

Yuppie A: I don't want to get involved in politics masyadong magulo yan kaya I'd rather just stick to doing my job well and helping my own family besides I'm already helping this country by helping send my younger siblings to school.

Yuppie B: I was part of EDSA II and actually took helped organize the concerts at the EDSA Shrine but as much as I'm very frustrated with how this government is being run, I am no longer convinced that political engagement is the way to go for our country. I would rather focus my energies and resources to helping NGOs and Foundations like Gawad Kalinga and Pathways.

Reflecting upon these answers which I also often receive from the emails Filipinos here and abroad send me, I believe that their answers are all valid and I respect them although I don't totally agree with all of them. Allow me to share with you what I think on each of these answers:

Student A's answer is typical of a person who is disgruntled with what is happening to our country but who apparently feels helpless about the situation. When I receive this kind of an answer from people and my students, I tell them about what they can do and organizations they can join like Team RP but when they are invited to take part in activities that aim to promote good governance and greater transparency in our government, they fail to join and act. Sad but true, many Filipinos just love to criticize and point out what is wrong with our leaders but when they are given an opportunity to act about these pressing issues, they refuse to make time and move out of their comfort zone.

Student B's answer is for me a selfish answer, yes, I believe that a student's main and foremost responsibility is to study hard and finish education but what about our own responsibility as citizens of this country? In a utopian society, this answer would have been okay but in our present situation as a country in crisis where the gap between the rich and the poor continue to grow and where more than 20 Million Filipino Families grow hungry each day, this is no longer acceptable especially for students and young professionals who study at the top universities and who come from the middle to upper class of our society. This answer is an easy cop out and it's selfish because at the end of the day, just by confining yourself to you own life won't help our country as much as it will help you.

Yuppie A and B's answer is all well and good since I admire them for continuing to work hard to provide for their families while at the same time continue to get involved with volunteer work for Gawad Kalinga and Pathways to Higher Education. I admit that I was like Yuppie A and B who just confined myself to working towards helping poor but deserving students go to college and finish their education but I realized that this isn't enough. I realized that if we are able to reform our government institutions and leadership then there won't be a need for organizations like Gawad Kalinga and Pathways. We need to realize that in order for us to help uplift the lives of the poor we need to attack the problem at its roots and that is the inability of our government systems to provide these basic services to them. Isn't the National Housing Authority supposed to be the one to help provide adequate shelter to every Filipino family? Isn't it the Department of Education's job to assist every Filipino child gain access to quality education? A recent study by the World Bank has said that more than 30 Billion Pesos goes to Corruption every year. Imagine if we are able to work together and pressure government into being more transparent and accountable towards curbing corruption then we would have more resources to provide housing for every poor family, irrigation and fertilizers to farmers (which would help alleviate our growing food crisis), higher salaries for our public school teachers, enough textbooks for our students and access to quality healthcare for every Filipino. Working for and helping Gawad Kalinga, Pathways and other non-profit organizations are very much needed in our society today but let us also not forget that unless we work hard towards fighting for and institutionalizing credible and lasting reforms in our government and its leaders, then we will always have to do the fire-fighting because we have failed to solve the cause of the fire.

In summary, what I would like to share with all of you are the following:

a.) We deserve the country that we have. If we want a prosperous and just country, then we should all work hard towards it. If you look at the history of South Korea and Singapore, they were able to turn their country around in less than 30 years, I believe we can do it in less time and do it even better if every Filipino will just care enough to go out of his or her way to help push for reforms in our government.

b.) Genuine Hope of this country does not lie on our government and church leaders and especially not in the ruling elite and oligarchs, it rests in each one of us. As I have always said, every Filipino whether you live here or abroad can complain about the rampant corruption and problems that is present in our government but after the complaining have you asked yourself, what will you do about it? Are you willing to sacrifice some of your time and resources to making yourself heard by our government leaders? If we want change in our country, we need to change ourselves, change starts with each one of us. We need to stop making excuses about why we cannot act and why we cannot take part in actions that will reform our present government systems.

c.) If our government and its leaders were doing their job effectively then there wouldn't be a need for a Gawad Kalinga or a Pathways. I support and firmly believe in Gawad Kalinga, Pathways and other non-profit organizations that are working hard to deliver basic services to the poorest of the poor in our country but don't you think it's also time that we start holding government accountable to these basic services that they have failed to provide our people? Of course it will be harder to do this and it may take a longer period of time but if we are able to institutionalize these reforms then we will be able to make our government more efficient and effective and in the end we will be able to help not just seven thousand but seven million Filipino families.

I am not calling for another People Power Revolution nor am I asking for our President's outright resignation. I'm not also saying that people should quit supporting and volunteering for Gawad Kalinga and Pathways, all I'm saying is that these efforts can only yield lasting benefits for the poor and the powerless if all of us would be more involved in activities and movements that would push for greater Truth, Accountability and Reform in our government because in these times of crisis, despair and growing hopelessness in our country, the poor can't wait and Gawad Kalinga may not be enough.

There's still time to act but we need to act now if we want to live to see the day where every Filipino will live a decent and fulfilling life that all of us deserve.

If by some chance you were moved to act by this email and want to join us in pushing for genuine and lasting reforms in our government, please let me know by sending an email to