Saturday, January 31, 2009

FLAF 2009: Developing a Nation of Young Social Entrepreneurs

FLAF 2009: Developing a Nation of Young Social Entrepreneurs
By: Harvey S. Keh

The Manila Bulletin-February 1,2009

When Angeli Silang, Julius Falzado and Jessica Robredo conceived and started Handog na Oras Para sa Edukasyon (HOPE) during their sophomore year at the Ateneo de Manila University, one of the things they realized was even at a young age they could already start making a big difference in the lives of other people. HOPE is a summer instructional program which has helped hundreds of public elementary school students from Marikina City prepare for high school. The program which runs for two months, allows Ateneo college student volunteers to teach supplementary lessons in English, Science and Mathematics to the participants. The result has been very positive thus far with most of the participants faring well in national achievement tests given by the Department of Education (DepEd). According to Angeli who lives in Marikina City, she decided to join and commit time to running the program primarily because she wanted to do something concrete towards helping her own community particularly those who are not an fortunate as her to have received a good education. For Jessica whose dad, incumbent Naga City Mayor Jesse Robredo is one of the most credible public servants in the country, she believes that her experience in HOPE made her become a better servant leader and although they voluntarily worked on the program for almost 8 months, all the hard work was worth it especially when you see the smiles on the faces of the children who benefit from the program. Finally, Julius who is a scholar and consistent dean's lister at Ateneo said that it was through HOPE that he realized that even at a young age Filipinos can already do their own share in shaping a better future for our country. Julius adds that many Filipinos don't realize that the best time to actually start developing community and outreach projects is when you are still young and idealistic since this is the time where you don't have that much commitments yet aside from your studies.

These experiences and realizations are most likely the reasons why the three of them decided to set up and organize the Future Leaders of Asia Forum on Social Entrepreneurship (FLAF). FLAF is annual conference of college student leaders organized by the Ateneo de Manila University-School of Government (ASOG), Ateneo de Manila University-Loyola Schools, Ashoka-Philippines, Jollibee Foundation and Avant Change. The main aim of the conference is to be able to introduce the concept of social entrepreneurship and to encourage the participants to set-up their own social enterprises similar to HOPE. Social Entrepreneurship is defined as finding innovative and sustainable ways of solving social problems. Last year, FLAF was able to gather more than 120 participants coming from over 30 different colleges and universities all over the country. Aside from this, a tie-up with the Asian Youth Forum (AYF) led to 12 international delegates coming from Mongolia, Japan, Pakistan and Indonesia. Speakers included Harvard University Mason Fellows Steve Koon and Atty. Arnel Casanova who both discussed about the importance of social entrepreneurship in helping improve the quality of life of every person and Ashoka Country Representative. Ashoka's Country Representative and ASOG Dean Dr. Antonio La Vina gave examples of notable social entrepreneurs all over the world who are now making positive change in their respective countries. A development marketplace featuring social enterprises of Development Studies' students was also organized to give the participants a glimpse of how their own peers are able to start-up and manage their own ventures. As a highlight of the event, participants were taught how to develop their own social enterprise business plan which they were asked to present to a panel composed of practicing Filipino social entrepreneurs. The panel gave the participants feedback and suggestions on how to further improve their social enterprise plans. At the end of the 4-day event, a social enterprise business plan writing competition was launched in cooperation with the Coca-Cola Foundation. Among the winners were students from Ateneo de Manila University, Ateneo de Naga University, De La Salle University and Xavier University. The winners received seed funding which they will use to start-up and run their social enterprises. One of the more innovative social enterprises was Teatro Berde wherein students of Ateneo de Naga University would create plays that would highlight the importance of taking care of our environment.

This year, FLAF will be held from April 15-18,2009 at the Ateneo de Manila University, Loyola Heights, Quezon City. In line with the global thrust of promoting environmental awareness, the theme of the forum is, "Social Entrepreneurship: Employing Innovations in Pursuit of Environmental Sustainability." Interested applicants and schools can now log on to to apply and to find out more about the forum. You can also contact the Ateneo de Manila University-School of Government (ASOG) at (02) 426-5657 for more information.

Comments are welcome at .

Harvey S. Keh is Director for Youth Leadership and Social Entrepreneurship at the Ateneo de Manila University-School of Government (ASOG).

Friday, January 23, 2009 Looking for President Change

Looking for President Change
by: Harvey S. Keh

For the past 2 weeks, one of the major news items that came out was the call of Chief Justice Reynato Puno for a Moral Force to come out and become more active in shaping our country’s future especially in the upcoming 2010 National Elections. This has led to calls for him to spearhead this force and at the same time make himself available as a Presidential Candidate in 2010. Among those that have issued statements of support include Senator Panfilo Lacson and the Ang Kapatiran Party.

This call for Puno to run for President only goes to show that many Filipinos are now looking more and more at leaders with moral ascendancy, credibility and untarnished integrity. This is understandable given the fact that our present government led by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has been branded as one of the most corrupt governments not only in Asia but in the whole world. We have also seen numerous political scandals which have consistently plagued her government more recently the imposition of a ban by the World Bank on 3 contractors that have implemented infrastructure projects with the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH).

A sad reality is despite these numerous scandals and Senate investigations that have been conducted, there has not been one person who has been held accountable or been convicted for these practices of graft and corruption. Yet, when an ordinary Filipino out of desperation and hunger steals a kilo of rice, s/he is automatically put into jail while a government official who continues to steal millions of pesos from the Filipino people continues to enjoy a lavish lifestyle here and abroad.

Aside from Puno, another reform candidate that has often come up is Pampanga Governor and former Philippine Daily Inquirer (PDI) Filipino of the Year awardee, Gov. Eddie “Among Ed” Panlilio. Many groups have started to talk and convince Among Ed to consider throwing his hat into the Presidential race in the hope of being able to lead a moral revolution for our country.

Among Ed’s story is remarkable given the fact that despite meager resources and the little amount of time he had to prepare for the elections, he was able to topple two well-entrenched political dynasties in Pampanga.

Just a few weeks ago, news broke out that Pampanga won the prestigious Gawad Galing Pook Award for its effective and efficient collection of Quarry taxes which can be attributed to Among Ed’s continuous efforts to promote good governance and ethical leadership in our country.

Finally, many non-profit organizations and peasant groups have recently said that another reform candidate that will make a good President is former Ramon Magsaysay Awardee and Naga City Mayor Jesse Robredo.

In his 16 years of being city mayor of Naga, Robredo was able to transform Naga from a 3rd class municipality to a 1st class city that is now the center of commerce and business in the Bicol Region. Aside from this, Naga has already achieved almost all the Millenium Development Goals (MDGs) set by the United Nations way ahead of the 2015 deadline. One can see in Naga City that by electing the right leaders, the people’s quality of life can eventually be improved.

Just by looking at these 3 individuals, we can see that we are not lacking in possible reform candidates for our country but I think we should also consider not only their ethical fiber but also whether or not they have shown their ability to lead and govern.

One should also look at their track record when it comes to public service and the delivery of basic services especially to the poor and powerless of our society. We should also look at whether or not they make stands or statements in support of key pro-poor issues such as the extension and reform of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP).

In a country that is so hungry for change and hope, the worst thing that could happen is we all join the bandwagon and elect a so-called reform candidate only to be disappointed because it may be too late for us to realize that being a man with a good heart and good intentions isn’t enough to help millions of Filipinos move out of poverty. The challenge for all of us is to be patient and more discerning about the candidates that we would like to support because genuine and lasting change doesn’t usually happen overnight.

Harvey S. Keh is Director for Youth Leadership and Social Entrepreneurship at the Ateneo de Manila University-School of Government. Comments are welcome at

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Manila Bulletin Article: The Kind of Leaders Young Filipinos need in 2010

The Kind of Leaders Young Filipinos need in 2010

by: Harvey S. Keh

In less than 18 months, Filipinos will once again go to the polls and
select our next President. According to recent statistics and studies,
majority of the voters in our country will be young Filipinos aged
between 18-40 years old thus, as early as now many national candidates
are studying ways by which they will be able to reach this so-called
Youth Vote which can actually make or break a Presidential candidate.
There are also many organizations and groups that have started
encouraging young Filipinos to go out and register for the upcoming
elections. Among these organizations are Team RP, Youth Vote
Philippines, Movement for Good Governance and Kaya Natin! Registration
is fairly simple, one would just need to fill-up a COMELEC
Registration Form that can be downloaded at the COMELEC website and
s/he would bring this together with a copy of his or her birth
certificate and a valid ID (School ID, SSS ID or Driver's License).
Needless to say, one would also have to be a Filipino citizen and 18
years old or older by the time the May 2010 elections take place. It's
sad to note that when I asked my students who are now in their senior
year in college how many have registered, less than 20% raised their
hands. I asked some of them why they were not inclined to take the
time to register and many of them cited that they can't seem to find
the right candidate that they would like to support. Thus, I'd like to
share my two cents worth about the kind of President that our Young
Filipinos would need in 2010.

Let's start by looking at two of the main concerns of Young Filipinos,
Education and Employment. If we look at current studies done in the
field of education, less than 2 out of 10 Filipinos are able to go to
college and finish. Our Presidential aspirants should be able to come
up with a comprehensive and realistic program that would enable more
young Filipinos to be able to access quality education at all levels.
As we can see in the experience of our Asian neighbors such as Japan,
Singapore and South Korea, investing in education has an effect in
terms of boosting economic development. These countries have invested
at least thrice the amount that we invest in our students thus, it is
no wonder why we have been left behind by them in terms of
development. Finding good job opportunities here in the Philippines is
also a major issue which any Presidential aspirant has to address. The
sad reality is that many young Filipinos have to go abroad and live
away from their families because our government's economic programs
cannot generate enough job opportunities for them. Many people can
argue that there is actually a surplus of employment opportunities
available in the Call Center Industry given that there is a need of
more than 50,000 call center agents in our country but unless our
education system is fixed up not many Filipinos will be able to
qualify for these positions.

Aside from these two major issues, Young Filipinos are also looking
for a President that has a proven track record for delivery of basic
services especially to the poor. Many of our current Presidential
aspirants look good on paper or can speak very eloquently in front of
the camera but have they actually done anything concrete that has
helped improve the quality of life of their constituents? While many
of us have heard them speak about their views on certain issues, we do
not know much about actual programs that they have implemented which
has resulted into actual outcomes in critical social issues such as
improved access to quality basic education and access to basic
healthcare for every Filipino. At the end of the day, our Presidential
aspirants should be able to show that s/he will be able to deliver
programs that will help put food on every table towards ensuring that
every Filipino family will no longer have to live in poverty.

Finally, I believe that aside from the rampant poverty in our country,
another major problem is also the growing cynicism among young people
with regard to our government leaders. Many young Filipinos are
looking for an inspirational leader who continues to live out an
ethical and moral way of life amidst the graft and corruption
practices that are prevalent in our government systems. We have seen
the effect of an inspiring leader such as Barack Obama has had on the
young people in the United States of America wherein record number of
these young Americans went out to register and vote for him. I believe
that if only our young people see that there is a person worth
supporting, I'm sure that we need not take the extra effort to
convince them to vote but they will do so on their own volition.

Is it impossible to find a candidate who is both effective and ethical
in our country? I don't think so. We have already seen in local
government units through the examples of Mayor Jesse Robredo of Naga
City, Gov. Grace Padaca of Isabela, Gov. Teddy Baguilat, Jr of Ifugao,
Gov. Eddie Panlilio of Pampanga and Mayor Sonia Lorenzo of San Isidro,
Nueva Ecija that it can be done. I think it's about time that young
Filipinos take a hold of our country's future by converging and
working together to elect a reform President that will work for
genuine and lasting change in our country. Change starts with each one
of us, Change has to start now.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Making the country oh Keh!

Making the country oh Keh!
By: J. Vincent Sarabia Ong
The Philippine Star (Page F-3)
January 17,2009

Many of us plan our lives a day or at most a month at a time. Some even live up to the very next second. While we worry about paying our bills at the end of the month, 29-year-old Atenean theology professor Harvey Keh's concern has been 2010 since July last year. He put up the Kaya Natin! movement for good governance to get the country ready for the upcoming 2010 elections by encouraging the youth to register, being critical of their candidate choices, and developing them as future leaders.

Before jumping forward in time though, we must go back to Harvey's past to see that behind his mild manners is a man with a fiery passion for his country. He relates that service for others has always been in his blood because of his devout Christian parents. His father spearheads a microfinance foundation and his mother is an advocate of education. He remembers how they took the time to not spoil him and be aware of the poverty in the country. Later on, Harvey used these values when he joined the student councils of Xavier High School and Ateneo College.

The Great Equalizer

With his direct experiences with the poor, Harvey realized that the solution to poverty in the country was education, which he believes is the great equalizer. Soon, Harvey founded Pathways to Higher Education that gives scholarships to public school students and trains their parents in entrepreneurial and interpersonal skills. The foundation was set up via a four-year grant from the New York-based Ford Foundation and was started when Harvey was only 22, making him the youngest grantee of the organization. Though Pathways was still operational after the grant ended, Harvey discovered that scholarships were not enough because of the deplorable state of public libraries, where books were either lacking, tattered or already too dated to use. Hence, he partnered with Filway CEO and president Hector O Tagaysay who distributes Time Life books locally to start the AHON (Acts of Hope for the Nation) Foundation. The foundation was designed to set up libraries in public schools through cash or book donations, as recently done in Fully Booked.

Hunger For Hope

In 2007, Harvey sent a private e-mail that he would leave the country if certain celebrities became senators. Unknowingly, this e-mail was forwarded and reblogged, and his words were taken out of context. He says that the letter was meant to jolt people out of their complacency, but he honestly will never leave the country because he loves it too much. And true to his word, Harvey didn't just sit there and is now fighting the war against poverty on the other end — at the top through political change. Today, he is thinking about tomorrow through Kaya Natin that is composed of Governor Eddie Panlilio of Pampanga, Mayor Sonia Lorenzo of San Isidro, Nueva Ecija, Governor Grace Padaca of Isabela, Governor Teddy Baguilat, Jr. of Ifugao, and Mayor Jesse Robredo of Naga City. If you look at the composition of Kaya Natin, you will notice that the group doesn't judge people by their backgrounds as Grace Padaca is a journalist, Teddy Baguilat grew up as an Igorot, and Sonia Lorenzo is a housewife, but all have the clear commitment to serve people and a clean record to back it up.
Not a political party, Kaya Natin is composed of public officials and people from the private sector such as Ramon Magsaysay government service awardees or emerging leaders who can share their practices. At the same time, these members aim to inspire students through school tours. These tours have been proven effective as Harvey can see that students treat them like rockstars, asking for their autographs and photos. Through this, Harvey says that he is inspired to continue working because he sees that the youth have a hunger for hope.

Spread The Good News

Harvey says that everyday people like you can be part of Kaya Natin and turn the tide of 2010 through blogging. He adds that the youth can help the country by writing good news so the world can see the positive changes in the Philippines. He notes that there is a drought of good news on the web and young people can fill that void.

Regarding the coming elections, he says the youth should start blogging or e-mailing about the officials that they believe in. By doing so, their chosen candidates will have a better chance of winning because more people will know more about them. However, he urges that the youth register first so they can vote for their candidates in 2010. All this said, it is evident the power of the political will, thanks to technology, is not in the hands of mayors or senators.

The future is literally in our hands. It is just a matter of raising the hype and typing it out in our blogs, facebook shoutouts, and multiply pages.

Thank you, Harvey, for making us think of the possibilities of 2010 in 2009. Tomorrow is, indeed, ours.

* * *
Links to Harvey Keh's foundations:

Saturday, January 10, 2009

How Young Filipinos Can Change the Philippines

How Young Filipinos Can Change the Philippines

By: Harvey S. Keh

January 11,2008 (Sunday)

The Manila Bulletin

In one of my classes, one of my students asked me what I think needs to be done in order for our country to move forward and finally move out of poverty. Without batting an eyelash, I told her that the two things that are necessary for our country to grow are access to quality education for every Filipino and the practice of good governance and ethical leadership by our government leaders. I said this since in studies on countries that have moved out of poverty made by the Nobel Prize Laureate Economist Amartya Sen, the common factors among these countries was they all invested to ensure that all their citizens had access to quality basic education and healthcare. In another study presented by our own economist, Dr. Solita Monsod of the University of the Philippines-School of Economics, she stated that as a person moves up the education ladder, his or her average income also increases. Given the problems that our public education system is facing, it is therefore not surprising why we continue to have more than 50% of our countrymen who continue to struggle to make ends meet. According to recent statistics such as the International Mathematics and Science Survey conducted among more than 40 countries worldwide, the Philippines ranked 4th to the last together with African countries such as Botswana, Ghana and South Africa. This ranking is more appalling given the fact that most of the countries which belonged to the top 10 were our Asian neighbors such as Singapore, Hong Kong and Japan. Another grim reality that we have to face is for every 10 students who enter Grade 1, only 4 will be able to finish high school and less than 2 will be able to finish college. In many areas in the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), many children fail to even reach Grade 4 with only 3 managing to finish Grade 6. One should no longer be surprised at these statistics given the fact that many of our schools continue to lack adequate learning facilities such as classrooms and libraries while at the same time many students do not even have their own set of textbooks. Thus, I believe that good governance is critical if we want to reverse this trend in the hope of becoming more competitive with our Asian neighbors. According to the Transparency International, the Philippines is one of the most corrupt countries in the world, losing billions of pesos each year to anomalous dealings and other practices of graft and corruption. Imagine if these billions of pesos were instead put into good use to build new classrooms and purchase enough textbooks for every Filipino student then I think we would be able to slowly but surely inch our way closer to our vision of providing the best possible education for every Filipino child.

Yet, while the problems seem to be enormous in nature, there are also groups that are trying their best to help change our country one public school student at a time. At the Ateneo de Manila University, we have two student-led groups that are reaching out to the public schools in the hope to helping their students attain a much better future. One of them is Alay Ni Ignacio (ANI), the student volunteer group of Pathways to Higher Education-Philippines. ANI started in the summer of 2001 when a groups of 2nd year college students decided that they were willing to sacrifice their summer vacation to help students in the public high schools in their own small way. ANI is a summer instructional program which provides academic and non-academic formation to the academically-gifted but financially-disadvantaged students from the public high schools in Marikina City and Quezon City. The main aim of the program is to be able to help prepare these students for the college entrance examinations and hope that they will do well enough so that they will also be able to get scholarships for their college education. The college student volunteers of ANI provide these students with tutorial classes in English, Mathematics, Science and Christian Living while at the same time providing them with extra-curricular activities such as field trips, sportsfests and quiz bees. Since its inception, ANI has already helped more than 1,000 public high school students enter top-notch colleges and universities such as Ateneo de Manila University, University of the Philippines, Miriam College, Assumption College, De La Salle University and Far Eastern University. While ANI helps build the future of public high school students, Handog na Oras Para sa Edukasyon or HOPE helps public elementary school students by providing them with tutorial classes in English, Mathematics and Science. Like ANI, HOPE is also a summer program run by college student volunteers who study at Ateneo de Manila. HOPE started in the summer of 2006 and has since trained more than 300 public elementary school students. One direct result of the program is that students who participated in HOPE scored higher in the National Achievement Tests given annually to all public school students. These two youth-led organizations have shown us that it is not enough for us to just complaint, criticize and do nothing. Our young Filipinos are showing us that in our own small way we can make a difference towards nation-building. Let ANI and HOPE provide us with inspiration that if this is the kind of leaders our country will have in the future then we can rest assured that it won’t be long before the Philippines becomes a great nation once again.

If you would like to also become a positive Youth Changemaker, join Youth Venture Philippines, send an email to .

If you would like to support ANI and HOPE, you can call the Pathways to Higher Education-Philippines’ office at (02) 426-6001 local 4046 or 4048.

Comments are welcome at

Harvey S. Keh is Director for Youth Leadership and Social Entrepreneurship at the Ateneo de Manila University-School of Government.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

New Year, New Hopes, New Philippines?

As we bid farewell to a very eventful 2008 in our country's history, let us recall some of the major events that rocked our country for the good and bad last year. In the first quarter, we were all witness to the saga of the corruption-plagued NBN-ZTE Deal wherein according to star witness Jun Lozada more than US$ 200 Million (approximately 6 Billion pesos) was to be pocketed by former Commission on Elections (COMELEC) Chairman Benjamin Abalos and First Gentleman Mike Arroyo. In a country wherein more than 50 million people have to live with less than P 200 pesos a day, you have two families sharing 6 billion pesos at the expense of our hard earned taxpayer's money. Since then our government has been plagued by one scandal after another such as the return of the 1 Billion Peso Fertilizer Scam, the glaring irregularities in the much delayed Northrail project and the international humiliation that we got for the Euro Generals controversy in Russia.

Yet, there are also some good news, it was in 2008 wherein we had Filipinos who made us proud abroad such as teenage singing sensation Charice Pempengco who was discovered through You Tube and has since guested in shows by Oprah Winfrey and Ellen DeGeneres. Of course, we continue to be awes by the continuing exploits of Filipino boxing icon Manny Pacquiao who demolished David Diaz and Oscar Dela Hoya this year to prove to the rest of the world that he is indeed the best pound for pound boxer today.

Amidst these good and bad stories the past year, a question that begs to be answered is, has the life of the ordinary Filipino become better or worse the past year? A few weeks ago, the Social Weather Station (SWS) released the results of a survey wherein almost 25% of Filipinos have experienced involuntary hunger in the latter part of 2008 which goes to show that life hasn't gotten better for many Filipino families. With the recession happening in the United States of America, Japan and other 1st world countries, we can expect that our economy will also take a hit.

In a newspaper article I recently read, Taiwan has already begun cutting its labor force thus, many Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) have been sent back to the Philippines and are now unemployed. Economists have predicted that the recession will last up to at least another year and thus, we can expect that with the global slowdown many more OFWs will be retrenched and sent back to our country.

Yet, at the backdrop of all of these problems facing ordinary Filipinos like you and me, we continue to be led by leaders who not only turn a blind eye to the needs of our people but continue to suck our government resources dry for their own selfish interests. Despite this apparently bleak outlook of our country's future, there are still glimmers of hope especially since the Filipino people has always been known to be resilient in times of tragedy. We have seen the Filipino spirit of Bayanihan whenever there are natural calamities that affect the lives of our fellow Filipino brothers and sisters. This same spirit needs to be cultivated in all of us now if we want to aspire for a New Philippines and a new set of better leaders for our country. We have seen it happen in Pampanga in the 2007 elections when despite having very little resources and no political experience, Among Ed Panlilio won against the incumbent Governor Mark Lapid and the wife of the alleged jueteng lord, Lilia Pineda. According to Gov. Panlilio, he won because of the support of ordinary Kapampangans who wanted to see good governance work in their province. In Isabela, the polio-stricken Gov. Grace Padaca won not only once but twice despite having meager resources compared to the well-financed political machinery of her opponents.

Like Panlilio, Padaca attributes this to the support of the youth and ordinary people who wanted to see positive change in her province. In 2009, we will all be preparing for the 2010 National Elections wherein we will hopefully be able to elect a new set of leaders who will not only be effective but more importantly, morally-upright and ethical. For the Filipino youth, what is at stake are not just positions in government but our future. Let us remember that whoever we choose in 2010 as President will be our leader until 2016 or even beyond thus it is imperative that we take a hold of our future by being active participants in selecting the right leaders for our country. In these times of crisis, the challenge for us is to leave behind our old ways of being apathetic and indifferent to politics in our country. If we want a new Philippines and if we want a better future for all of us then we have to become New Filipinos as well. As a New Generation of Filipinos let us not leave the politics to the traditional politicians that have laid waste to our country but let us begin by ensuring that we are able to elect leaders who will put our nation's interests above their own.

For the first time in so many Philippine elections, the youth will comprise majority of the voters thus, young Filipinos like you and me can actually make a major difference in choosing who will become our next President in 2010. Change in our country will only happen if the Change begins with you and me. Do you want to be part of that Change in 2009 or will you just sit down and watch as millions of Filipinos continue to suffer at the hands our inept and corrupt leaders? The choice is yours in 2009, the dream of a New Philippines is in our hands.

If you want to help make change happen in 2009, join Kaya Natin! A National Movement for Good Governance and Ethical Leadership by sending an email to or by calling us at (02) 426-5657.

Things I Learned from Mayor Jesse Robredo

For many of you who don’t probably know him, Mayor Jesse Robredo is the multi-awarded incumbent city mayor of Naga City, which is currently the main commercial area of the Bicol Region. Aside from this, Mayor Robredo was also one of the first Filipino winners of the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Government Service which is equivalent to Asia’s Nobel Prize. He won the award because he was able to transform Naga City from a third class municipality to a first class city and uplift the quality of life of his constituents. Moreover, he was able to develop systems that would enable government processes to be more transparent and accountable to his constituents. As a prime example of this, when one visits the website of Naga City, you would be able to see all the expenses and purchases of the city government. In the more than 16 years of being the mayor of Naga, the city has received accolades from national and international organizations such as the World Bank and the United Nations. I met Mayor Robredo in 2001 at an event organized by Synergeia Foundation, one of the country’s more effective institutions in improving our public education system. Since then, Mayor Robredo has been one of the people I have looked up to for advice and his effective brand of leadership has been a constant source of inspiration for me. As such, I wanted to share the things that I have learned through these years that I have worked with him. Firstly, I have learned that there are still people like him who continue to remain ethical despite being in government service for the past 16 years. Many people have dissuaded me from entering government service since they say that no one actually survives the current system of pervasive graft and corruption. Mayor Robredo has shown that one need not compromise his or her values and principles to be able to govern and deliver basic services to the people in an effective manner. When I asked him what was his secret for being steadfast in his values, he told me that his faith in God and his family are his main foundations, and this is the second lesson that I learned from him. In a society where we hear of politicians having several wives and families, we have someone like Mayor Robredo who continues to put premium on his being a loyal husband and a loving father who devotes time to his three daughters. I remember a time wherein he failed to attend one of our Kaya Natin! Caravan of Good Governance events in the province since his daughter sought his help with regard to her school project. Many politicians would often jump at the chance just to be able to speak before thousands of students but Mayor Robredo chose to be with his daughter who needed him during that time. Aside from this, Mayor Robredo has also shown that he is a man that can stand up for what he believes in even if he already knows that majority are no longer with him. This can be seen when in the last 2 Presidential elections, wherein he chose to support the late Senator Raul Roco because he believed that he would make a good President for our country even if he already knew that surveys have shown that Senator Roco would have a slim chance of winning and even if he already knew that if Senator Roco loses he may not be able to get the support of the winning candidate. Standing up and holding on to your own principles is something that is clearly lacking in many of our leaders today. Our present day leaders will often support issues or people that will help propagate their own self-interests without necessarily thinking if what they are supporting will be for the common good. Finally, one of the most important lessons I learned from Mayor Robredo is the simplicity of his way of life. When one thinks of Filipino politicians, large houses and expensive cars always comes to mind but when one visits Naga, you will see that despite being on his 6th term as mayor of a 1st class city, he continues to live in a very simple home. I remember one time wherein we met in my office in Quezon City and I saw him just taking a cab without any bodyguards to reach our office. Back then, I was quite surprised since I was used to seeing politicians with their big cars, blaring sirens and their throngs of bodyguards. Among all of these lessons, I think what Mayor Robredo has shown me is that there is still much to Hope for in our country if we have more principled leaders like him who will continue to deliver proper services to the people and will always put the interests of our country above his or her own interests.

For those who want to hear Mayor Jesse Robredo, you can attend the Kaya Natin! Caravan of Good Governance on January 10,2009 (Saturday) at Araullo University in Cabanatuan City, Nueva Ecija and at the University of the Assumption in San Fernando City, Pampanga. You can reach Kaya Natin! by sending an email to .

Harvey S. Keh is Director for Youth Leadership and Social Entrepreneurship at the Ateneo de Manila University-School of Government and Executive Director of AHON Foundation. Comments are welcome at .

The Pride of Nueva Ecija

Last week, one of the major news stories that erupted prior to the end of 2008 was an incident involving the abuse of power by a city mayor whose father is also the incumbent Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) Secretary. According to an email which has been circulating for days now, Masiu City Mayor Nasser Pangandaman, Jr. together with his friends and bodyguards ganged up and beat up a 56-year old man and his 14-year old son over an altercation at the Valley Golf and Country Club in Antipolo City. As if this wasn’t enough, Mayor Pangandaman, Jr. and his cohorts continued to beat the two of them up while the 14-year son pleaded with them to stop. This happened as DAR Secretary Nasser Pangandaman just watched and didn’t even bother to lift a finger to stop the incident. Since then many people have condemned this act and have voiced out their utmost disappointment with the kind of government officials that we have in this country. If Sec. Pangandaman and Mayor Pangandaman, Jr. has some decency and delicadeza left in them, I believe they should not only offer a sincere apology to the Dela Paz family but also resign from their posts immediately. Government officials like Mayor Pangandaman, Jr. is the reason why many Filipinos have begun to lose hope with our present administration and our current crop of government leaders.

Yet on the bright side of things, it’s a new year and it’s always good to start the year right with a story of hope especially in the field of politics and governance in our country. While there are abusive government leaders such as Mayor Pangandaman, Jr., we also have local government leaders who have quietly worked towards promoting genuine service and good governance for their constituents. Last year, the Ateneo de Manila University-School of Government (ASOG) convened the Kaya Natin! Movement wherein the initial leaders who met were Gov. Eddie Panlilio of Pampanga together with Ramon Magsaysay Awardees (Asia’s Nobel Prize) Mayor Jesse Robredo and Gov. Grace Padaca of Isabela. Many people already know the stories of Panlilio, Padaca and Robredo given that these three local government leaders have shown that against all odds they can continue to deliver effective basic services in a moral and ethical manner. Another Kaya Natin! leader is Mayor Sonia Lorenzo of San Isidro, Nueva Ecija whose leadership in her municipality has transformed San Isidro from a sleepy 4th class municipality to developing 2nd class municipality in less than 10 years! Since Lorenzo was elected in 1998, she has provided health insurance to almost every family in San Isidro despite having a very limited budget. In the field of education, San Isidro has consistently been one of the top performers in the province in terms of the yearly achievement and aptitude tests given by the Department of Education (DepEd). More importantly, under her leadership, she was able to convince many top-level academic institutions and foundations to work with her in improving the lives of her constituents. These include the Ateneo de Manila University and Synergeia Foundation which works with her in the field of improving public education, the College of the Immaculate Conception (CIC) which works with her in promoting good governance and Gawad Kalinga (GK) wherein she serves as one of its main champions in the province. By working with these private organizations, Lorenzo has been able to maximize the use of her resources while being able to uplift the quality of life of the people of San Isidro. As a proof that good governance can mean good politics, Lorenzo ran for re-election last 2007 without buying votes and didn’t even bother to put up any posters, streamers or banners. When her allies told her that she might lose the elections, she told them that they will go house to house and campaign based on what they have achieved thus, the elections will serve as a gauge on whether or not the people have felt the benefits of the programs that they have delivered. When the last ballot was counted, Lorenzo won with the largest winning margin in the history of San Isidro showing everyone that one need not spend millions if s/he would only do his or her job well. Finally, Lorenzo’s efforts have not gone unnoticed as she was also awarded as one of the six inaugural fellows at the Asian Institute of Management’s (AIM) Team Energy (formerly Mirant) Center for Bridging Societal Divides. Her dedication to public service and her being an ethical leader is a testament that not all government leaders are like Mayor Pangandaman, Jr., the province of Nueva Ecija should be proud that it has someone like Mayor Sonia Lorenzo who embodies what it truly means to be a true public servant.

Listen to Mayor Sonia Lorenzo and the other Kaya Natin! leaders speak at the Kaya Natin! Caravan of Good Governance on January 10,2009 (Saturday) at Araullo University in Cabanatuan City and at the University of the Assumption in San Fernando, Pampanga. For more information, you can send an email to or call (02) 426-5657.

Harvey S. Keh is Director for Youth Leadership and Social Entrepreneurship at the Ateneo de Manila University-School of Government (ASOG).