Thursday, February 26, 2009

Relive the Spirit of EDSA in 2010

Relive the Spirit of EDSA in 2010

This week we commemorated the EDSA People Power Revolution, which happened 23 years ago. I was only six years old at this very momentous event in our country’s history. Thus, my only knowledge about EDSA was from the history books that I read and studied in school. As I read about millions of Filipinos gathering to in EDSA to peacefully topple a dictator, I felt proud to call myself a Filipino. Many other countries looked at the Philippines back then as an exemplar of how the power of the people can prevail upon the vested interests of a few.

At the same time, let us remember that the people power revolution didn’t happen overnight. It was a product of years of struggle against the Marcos regime. The struggle eventually reached its peak when Ninoy Aquino was assassinated on his way back to the country. It is very sad that our current administration does not anymore give much importance to the spirit of EDSA. Even the President chose not to attend commemoration rites last February 25, choosing instead to attend to more “important” matters.

What could be more important than to celebrate one of the proudest moments of our people’s history? Could it be that President Gloria Arroyo knows that she has not lived up to the spirit of both EDSA I and EDSA II?

The sad reality is, 23 years after EDSA, millions of Filipinos continue to suffer in poverty and many Filipinos even the young are slowly but surely becoming more cynical about our country’s future. I recall one of my students at the Ateneo de Manila University telling me that she loves this country so much but she is losing hope in our country because of what she is seeing in our government leaders. On the bright side, the spirit of people power has remained alive in small pockets all over the country as evidenced by the victories of Gov. Eddie Panlilio of Pampanga and Gov. Grace Padaca of Isabela.

In Naga City, Mayor Jesse Robredo continues to ensure transparency and accountability in his government by getting people’s organizations and non-profit organizations to be involved in decisions that are made by city hall. These small islands of good governance and ethical leadership continue to make us believe that there is still much to hope for in our country if only we have national leaders of the quality of Panlilio, Padaca and Robredo.

In 2010, we are all called to relive the spirit of EDSA but this time people power will no longer happen on the streets but rather, we are challenged to bring this same spirit when we go to the polls and elect our next leaders. Right now, many Filipinos say that we are worse off than we were during the Marcos years but the reality is, unless we all do our own share in making this country better, we will forever be condemned to a Philippines that is run by tyrants, thieves and corrupt leaders.

When we once again practice our right to suffrage this coming 2010, let us make sure that we choose the right leaders for our country. Let us choose leaders who are God-fearing, honest and ethical, pro-poor, well-educated and have a proven track record of delivering basic services to their constituents.

Besides this, now is the time to push for new faces and better alternatives to our national leaders. Many of my friends are considering not to vote in 2010 since, they told me, regardless of who they will vote for, the candidates are all of the same kind. But if we all have that attitude then we will never have be able to elect reform candidates to our government.

Our right to vote for whom we want to lead us was one of the most important gains in the EDSA People Power Revolution. Let us make sure that we practice this right in the best possible way so that 27 years from now when we celebrate the 50th anniversary of our nation’s first people power revolution our countrymen will no longer have to entertain thoughts again of leaving and giving up on our country.

(Harvey S. Keh is Director for Youth Leadership and Social Entrepreneurship at the Ateneo de Manila University-School of Government. He is also the lead convenor of Kaya Natin)!

Comments are welcome at

Saturday, February 21, 2009

The Different Faces of Change... Filipino-Style!

The Different Faces of Change... Filipino-Style!

Last week, the Kaya Natin! Movement for Good Governance and Ethical Leadership, originally convened by the Ateneo de Manila University-School of Government, brought its Caravan of Good Governance to Malayan Colleges Laguna in Cabuyao, Laguna and to First Asia Institute of Technology and Humanities (FAITH) in Tanauan City, Batangas.

More than a thousand students and teachers listened to the talks of Kaya Natin! leaders Pampanga Gov. Eddie Panlilio and San Isidro, Nueva Ecija Mayor Sonia Lorenzo.

After listening to their talks, the students were given the chance to interact with Gov. Panlilio and Mayor Lorenzo and one of them said that after hearing their inspiring stories, her sense of being a Filipino was renewed.

Another student leader also shared that she thought that all of our government leaders were corrupt but after listening to them she felt more hopeful for our country’s future knowing that there are effective and ethical government officials like them.

Finally, many of the students asked how they can get involved in promoting good governance and electing better leaders for our country.

This just goes to show that many young Filipinos may feel cynical about our nation’s future given our situation now but if only we give them an opportunity to meet God-fearing and morally-upright leaders then that same cynicism can be transformed into a more positive spirit that will drive them to proactive action to help change the Philippines. Other founding leaders of Kaya Natin! include Ramon Magsaysay Awardees Mayor Jesse Robredo of Naga City and Gov. Grace Padaca of Isabela as well as Gov. Teddy Baguilat, Jr. of Ifugao. For more information about Kaya Natin! visit


Aside from Kaya Natin! another group that is very active in promoting youth involvement towards electing effective and ethical government leaders is YouthVote Philippines (YVote).

YVote is a coalition of different youth-led organizations such as the Young Public Servants, Ayala Young Leaders and the Student Council Alliance of the Philippines to name a few. They are currently going around different colleges and universities to encourage the Filipino youth to register for the upcoming elections.

Just recently, they were able to convince the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) to open their offices to accept registrations from students. This is very important since during weekdays many of the students are not able to find the time to register since they are very busy with their respective school work.

YVote has gone nationwide and has established chapters in Davao, Cebu and Nueva Ecija. These chapters will be organizing events and activities that will inform the youth on the importance of taking part in the upcoming election as well as the necessary requirements that they will need to bring to their respective COMELEC offices. For more information about how you can support or join YVote Philippines, you can check out their website at


Finally, a bigger coalition of civil society groups, church groups and business groups that aims to gather 10 million voters who will vote for the right leaders for our country is the Movement for Good Governance (MGG).

Among those who are spearheading MGG are Dr. Milwida Guevara of Synergeia Foundation and Bill Luz of Ayala Foundation.

MGG believes that there is a reform constituency in our country now that if united can easily elect our next President. This reform constituency will primarily come from the youth sector which is expected to compose at least 50 percent of our country’s total voting population by 2010 and the Filipinos who are working or living overseas who number around 8 million.

Recently, the MGG helped organize the world premiere of a set of political satire videos that are portrayed by YouTube star, Juana Change. These videos are fun to watch but at the same time depict the kind of situation that our country is in right now. You can watch one of the videos by going to this website,

Another major plan of the MGG is to organize a series of Presidential debates that will be aired over a major television network partner. This will allow us to be more discerning about the track record and platforms which our candidates will be standing up for when they run for office in 2010. If you would like to join or support MGG, you can send an email to .

With so many groups now working for change in our country especially as we near the 2010 National Elections, there is no reason for us not to get involved and be active in helping shape a better future for our nation. Let us always remember that if we don’t do anything to help change our country then we we will have no one to blame but ourselves.

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, February 14, 2009

Closer to Home: AHON launches Library in Bacnotan

Closer to Home: AHON launches Library in Bacnotan

by: Maetrix Ocon

The Manila Bulletin (Page N4)

February 15,2009

"We're having our next library launch in Bacnotan." When I learned that the A.H.O.N. (Acts of Hope for the Nation) Foundation would be developing a library in Bacnotan, La Union, I was very surprised.

Normally, I don't get excited over library launches because I had worked as the Marketing and Promotions intern of AHON Foundation in the summer of 2008. Library launches were not new to me, because AHON Foundation builds and develops public elementary school libraries in the Philippines as the corporate social responsibility initiative of Filway Marketing, the sole distributor of Time Life books in the country.

But as soon as the words "library launch" and "Bacnotan" reached my ears, I felt a jolt of energy and enthusiasm. I felt I was close to jumping and I had to restrain myself. Instead I asked Harvey Keh, the President of AHON Foundation and one of my former bosses, "Really? A library launch in Bacnotan?" When he nodded his confirmation, I said, "Oh, I want to go! I definitely want to go!"

And so I found myself committing to volunteer for the launch in Bacnotan. I knew that this was an opportunity I just couldn't miss.

Why all this fuss about Bacnotan? And more importantly, where is it?

Bacnotan is an agricultural town in Northern Luzon, smack in the province of La Union, around five to six hours from Manila. More than that, though, it is the place I grew up in. My childhood there led me to appreciate books because I had chronic asthma and not being able to play active games lest I have asthma attacks, I turned to reading as a way to entertain myself.

Bacnotan is a small and quiet town, more rural than industrialized, so the only forms of recreation there are reading and watching television. I am quite thankful I spent long hours of my childhood with books because most of my early exposure and my creativity came from the stories I was so engrossed with, stories I just had to keep reading over and over and over again.

Needless to say, I was addicted to books then. To my dismay, though, there were no libraries in Bacnotan. To satisfy my appetite for books, I would go to the library of the private elementary school I attended in San Fernando City, which is two towns away from Bacnotan. But I still couldn't get enough. I would ask my parents to buy me books, but there were no bookstores in La Union. I often had to wait until anyone from the family would go on a trip to Manila and then they could drop by National Bookstore for me. So books were a rare, precious commodity for me back then.

Today, I think books still remain that way for most children in Bacnotan, because the town itself hasn't changed so much. The public schools there may have libraries now, but these often are not well-stocked due to limited resources. So a child who is curious and who hankers for books doesn't get much stimulation from reading materials. More often, the child who doesn't get exposed to books misses out on so many things because reading opens up different worlds.

Unfortunately, this is a trend that happens to most children in public schools, because there are little or no resources available and yet there are more and more children getting enrolled. The reality is that books are not the first priority when it comes to allocating resources in schools. But AHON Foundation is doing something about it. AHON Foundation aims to provide an intervention for this rather dire trend, by making books accessible to public school children. Which is why a library launch in Bacnotan makes me so excited.

I believe I am not the only one excited, though. Fr. Bienvenido Nebres, S.J., President of the Ateneo De Manila University and Chairman of the Presidential Task Force on Education, must be even more excited than I am, because he is the main reason why this library launch has been made possible.

As a member of the board of AHON Foundation and as an endorser of AHON Foundation's "Turn Bookworms into Beautiful Butterflies" book registry project with Fully Booked, Fr. Nebres paved the way for the donation of over half-a-million pesos worth of Time Life and other books to the library of the Bacnotan Central School--the school he himself attended from Grade 1 to Grade 4 in Bacnotan.

During his speech at the launch of the library on February 2, 2009, he shared that there was no library at the Bacnotan Central School during his grade school years there. To be able to gain access to books, he would ask his aunt to borrow books for him at the library in San Fernando City. Such was his love for reading when he was a child and up until now he is still a voracious reader.

And look where his early exposure to reading has brought him - Fr. Nebres is living proof that reading can take a person to unimaginable heights. Aside from being a noted leader in education in the Philippines, and in the Jesuit Order, he is also a well-known mathematician worldwide. Fr. Nebres is indeed a legend in his own right and the people from his hometown are very proud of him.

But I believe there's a bigger reason why the people of Bacnotan are very proud of Fr. Nebres – even with his numerous achievements and titles, he has never forgotten where he came from. Aside from this recent project with AHON Foundation's, Fr. Nebres has now introduced his hometown's public school community to the Ateneo Center for Educational Development (ACED) in the hope that over and beyond the library project, the entire school district of Bacnotan would like to avail of ACED's programs in the development of not just students but also teachers, principals and other school administrators.

I was very lucky to be present at the library launch because the faces of the children who first entered the newly-stocked library were priceless. Their excitement was really contagious. Even the teachers couldn't stop beaming. The sight of the library with more books now was so inviting, so much so that anyone from the community can come visit and enjoy the books.

Aside from the books that were donated to the Bacnotan Central School's library, AHON Foundation also gave books for 100 children to take home,. That afternoon, the children went home with their very own books.

According to Ms. Anna Rojas, Executive Director of AHON Foundation and my supervisor during my internship there, when everyone had left after the library launch, she found a group of about 8 children reading their very own Time Life books at the waiting shed benches just around the corner from the school. Even children who rode off in tricycles kept on looking back at the AHON Foundation team and waving thank you to them, with huge grins plastered on their faces. If that isn't heartwarming, I don't know what else is.

Oh, wait, there is something more heartwarming – it's the fact that I got to do volunteer work for AHON Foundation in my own hometown. It's different when you're doing it right at home because the changes you help put up are actually affecting people you know. This is one of the rare instances that work and personal life connect so beautifully.

But that's not all. The bonus part for me was that I got to know Fr. Nebres beyond the intimidating title of Ateneo De Manila University President (as I am currently finishing my BS Psychology degree in ADMU). I got to dine with him and to talk to him, not as a student interviewing the university president, but as someone trading stories with someone else about the same town they both grew up in, albeit in different times. Everything that happened in connection with the library launch in Bacnotan meant so much to me and I believe that as much as the children and the teachers of the Bacnotan Central School were inspired, I was also very, very inspired.

Thank you, AHON Foundation.

Maetrix Ocon is graduating BS Psychology student at the Ateneo de Manila University and is a volunteer for AHON Foundation. For more information about AHON Foundation, you can call (02) 683-0262 local 109.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

New Faces... Hopefully New Politics

New Faces... Hopefully New Politics

As the 2010 national elections become nearer and nearer, many young Filipinos are beginning to start looking at possible candidates whom they can elect to leadership positions in our government.

We have recently seen many presidentiables and their respective parties declare their intentions to run in 2010. Almost every month the two top survey groups, SWS and Pulse Asia release their latest tallies on who Filipinos would prefer to vote for in 2010.

This coming 2010, we will not only be electing our new President and Vice President but we will also be electing senators, congressmen and local government leaders.

More importantly, it will be the first time in many years that the Youth Vote (18 to 40 years old) will comprise more than 60 percent of the voting population thus, if a candidate is able to get even just half of this sector then s/he can be assured of having a strong chance of winning the election.


However, many of these young Filipinos have not yet registered and some of them have chosen not to do so because they tend to believe that it is the same old faces whom they will be choosing from.

According to one of my students in Ateneo de Manila University, there seems to be no one who represents a new breed of politics in our country, a kind of politics that will always put premium on genuine public service over the interests of a few.

Looking at the last US elections, we saw how Barack Obama’s candidacy was able to energize young people so much so that they not only registered to be able to vote for him but they also went out of their way to campaign for him.

This is the reason why I think there is a need for new faces in our political arena who will bring in idealism and advocate for a more effective and ethical brand of leadership in our government. We have seen in the experiences of Gov. Eddie Panlilio of Pampanga and Gov. Grace Padaca of Isabela that Filipinos are slowly but surely becoming more discerning and mature in choosing their leaders. Both Panlilio and Padaca campaigned without much resources and political clout and yet they were able to win because of the support of ordinary Filipinos in their communities who wanted to see change happen.

Right now, I believe that our country has many good young leaders whom I hope will consider to run for key government positions in 2010 or in the future elections.


One of them is Atty. Alex Lacson, the well-known author of the book, "12 Little Things Every Filipino Can Do To Help Our Country".

For those who haven’t read the book, the Harvard University educated Lacson shows us how simple things such as following the traffic rules and being a good parent to our children can help us build a better Philippine society.

Since his book was launched in 2005, he has been invited by schools, companies and socio-civic organizations to speak and share with them his thoughts and insights.

Another young Filipino that I’d like to see become a Congressman or Senator soon is former National Youth Commission (NYC) Chairperson and Microventures president Bam Aquino. I have worked with Aquino several times already even during our college days at Ateneo de Manila University and I have always known him to become a leader with a clear vision for our country. During his stint at the NYC, he founded the Ten Accomplished Youth Orgnizations (TAYO) Awards which honors youth-led organizations that are doing projects which help solve social problems in their communities.

Right now, he is helping alleviate poverty in our country through Hapinoy, a social enterprise which helps sari-sari store owners earn more through a more systemic and efficient way of procuring the products that they sell.

Three young women whom I also find very inspiring due to the work that they have done in the fields of education and youth development are Sol Delantar-Gonzalvo of Cebu, Team RP’s Atty. Eirene Aguila who hails from Batangas, and Ching Jorge of Bato Balani Foundation. Delantar-Gonzalvo used to spearhead the Ayala Foundation’s youth leadership program which trains college-level student leaders all over the Philippines to become better servant leaders for our country.

Aguila’s Team RP is currently with several groups in encouraging young Filipinos to register and vote in the coming elections. While Jorge’s work at the Bato Balani Foundation has seen her provide training programs to public school teachers all over the country while at the same time providing educational materials to public school students.

These young leaders have shown that age is not a deterrent for them to bring about genuine and lasting development to our country. Hopefully, we will have more young people like them bring a fresh perspective to how politics is run in our country. The challenge is for these young, effective and ethical leaders to find the courage to throw their hats into our electoral process and to finally give our people a good set of candidates that we can all choose from.

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