Ateneo de Manila University, Quezon City

Maraming salamat. Merry Christmas! 

Fr. Jett Villarin, Ateneo de Manila University President; Dr. Maria Luz Vilches, Vice President of the Loyola Schools; Dr. Luis Dumlao, Dean of the John Gokongwei School of Management; Dr. Fernando Aldaba, Dean of the School of Social Sciences; Dr. Nina Roxas, OIC-Dean of the School of Science and Engineering; Ateneo faculty, staff, students, and alumni, honored guests; my chief of staff is here—Undersecretary Boyet Dy, who was Ateneo de Manila University Valedictorian Class of 2006, ayon, kaya ano ako, halos lahat, Atenista sa aming opisina; mga minamahal ko pong mga kababayan, magandang gabi po sa inyong lahat. Merry Christmas! [Audience: “Merry Christmas!”]

First of all, let me congratulate the Ateneo Blue Eagles for being the UAAP Season 81 Men’s Seniors Basketball Champion![applause] Ayon. 

I have been cheering for the Ateneo Blue Eagles for a very long time aIready. Mortal sin po in our household not to, because all my daughters are true-blue Ateneo fans. Alam iyon ni Father Jett. But the UAAP Finals this month was the exception. That is because for the very first time since I graduated from college in 1986, UP, my Alma Mater, was able to make it to the finals! [applause]

I watched Game 2 last week with my two daughters—two weeks ago pala—Aika and Tricia. And since my ticket was courtesy of my daughters, I found myself as one of only a handful in a maroon shirt,lost in a sea of blue. Nasa Ateneo side po ako. [laughter] Kaya iyong mga sigaw kong “UP Fight!” were drowned by my seatmates’ “One Big Fight”! And when it was all over, I realized that while I was able to sing Song for Mary—memorize ko iyon by heart—alongside with my daughters, I barely memorized our own “UP Naming Mahal.” Kulang sa practice.[laughter] Pero next year, memorized ko na iyon. Nevertheless, while we recognize that Ateneo was really the team to beat, UP did unexpectedly well and we are all very proud. [applause]

Every Sunday, I have a radio program called BISErbisyong Leni on AM Radio. We devote half of our program to featuring people with inspiring stories, our Istorya ng Pag-asa champions. We decided to try our luck last Sunday by inviting Anton Asistio, your team captain. We did not expect much from our invitation because we knew that the team was still basking in the glory of their victory. But we got extremely lucky when Anton accepted our invitation. Our family Whatsapp thread was burning with excitement the minute I relayed to my daughters the good news and, of course, sumama iyong mga anak ko when I interviewed Anton. Theyaccompanied me to the radio station when I interviewed Anton. 

Anton has been playing for the Ateneo almost all his life.  At six years old, he already showed a special interest in basketball. Ang sabi niya, by Third Grade, he was already part of the varsity team ready, to pursue his ultimate dream of playing for the Ateneo Blue Eagles. But success did not come easily for Anton. At a time when he should be reaping the rewards of all his hard work, he was relegated to Team B on his second year in college. 

But instead of feeling defeated, he worked hard to improve himself. Finally, in his fourth year, after waiting for so long, he earned back his spot in Team A and playedfor the UAAP. And look where he is now: the Team Captain that led the Blue Eagles to be this year’s worthy champions! So one big fight for Anton, indeed.

I am sure you will agree that it is just fitting that Anton was our Istorya ng Pag-asa champ that Sunday, because he truly exhibited the Ateneo spirit of magis and excellence as Team Captain. When I asked him what advice he would give to fellow athletes who are also undergoing a lot of difficulties, he said, and I quote: “Madali maging positibo sa mga panahon na maganda, pero dapat sa mga panahon na mahihirap, kailangan doon talaga tayong nagpupursige at naghihirap.

For someone so young, what Anton said was profoundly deep. It sometimes takes many of us adults a lifetime to learn that valuable lesson. That positivity, excellence, and commitment are things that are magnified when they are exhibited in the most extraordinarily difficult times. That is why Anton’s story can be a huge source of inspiration, for both young and old. One that fuels us to dream bigger dreams and makes us believe that we can make the impossible possible. 

This is the reason we launched Istorya ng Pag-asa more than two years ago. INP is the Office of the Vice President’s program to replace fear with hope, division with unity, and to prove that the Filipino people can truly face all odds and brave all storms, and when we do, we come out stronger and tougher, and at the same time nurturing and empowering. 

On our first year of Istorya ng Pag-asa, it was essentially a photo gallery of all the inspiring stories we uncovered through our partnerships with other like-minded organizations, Ateneo included. By using the power of imagery and collaboration, we dared to change the conversation and turn our people’s desperation and frustration into hope and inspiration.

We fervently believe in the power of celebrating stories of extraordinary feats within our midst, so that we can all collectively aspire to bring out the best from inside of us and from each other. So that we can all contribute to that all-important aspiration of keeping hope’s delicate flame alive – hope for a better version of ourselves, hope for a better future for ourselves, hope for a better country for our children and our children’s children also. 

Being part of a household with daughters who are not only avid fans of your basketball team, but, more importantly, of the Ateneo ways of magis and dedicated service, it is clear to me that it is definitelyvery Atenean to celebrate inspiring stories that give us hope. I was not surprised whenI was told that in your same celebration last year, you also featured inspiring stories from the community and because of the very good reception, you are doing it again this year. So thank you very much for making our office’s Istorya ng Pag-asa program part of your celebration.

Since our initial launch, we have brought Istorya ng Pag-asa photo gallery all over the country, with the help of partner schools, organizations, private companies, and sectoral groups. We initially started Istorya ng Pag-asa with just 20 INP Champs, now, we have over 300nationwide! These champs are really the reason why this program is changing the conversation all over the country. 

And to celebrate our first year anniversary, we brought Istorya ng Pag-asa a step further. Last year, we partnered with the Ayala Foundation and launched the Istorya ng Pag-asa Short Film Festival. We started a massive social media campaign to invite students, OFWs, and even older people—essentially anyone who loved to create stories and videos—to send stories of hope to us. We deliberately designed the Film Fest for non-professional filmmakers and in fact we hoped someone will send filmsshot only with their mobile phones. From over 73 entries, we selected 15 films as finalists and the three best films were screened in 51 cinemas and 17 Ayala Malls nationwide. Most of the films submitted to us were very compelling. Some of the films and the story of their heroes were even featured in some television shows. Film truly is a medium with no barriers. 

One of the films that stood out was “Ang Biyahe ni Marlon,” a story about an Uber driver who—hindi na siya Uber ngayon, Grab na—who drove through the streets of Manila despite having Tourette Syndrome. The film won Best Film at the Istorya ng Pag-asa Film Fest Gala Night and Awarding Ceremony last June 12. 

And now, we would want to show you that film. It’s just a five-minute film, but just to give you an idea what our Istorya ng Pag-asa films look like. [“Ang Biyahe ni Marlon” plays] [applause]

Ayon, that was the film that was—one of the films awarded as the best. Last November 27 of this year, we launched the second year of the Istorya ng Pag-asa Film Festival. So tonight, we are inviting the Ateneo community to help us promote it by asking students enrolled here and friends to submit their entries for the awards which will happen on June 12 next year. The deadline for submission is on March [25], 2019. You can get more information and details from our Ayon.

We wanted to bring the program here to reach out to more Ateneans, young and old. The message we want to convey is two-fold. For those who are going through their own struggles, we hope the stories can give you inspiration by demonstrating that success is possible even in the face of challenges, if we find within ourselves the dedication and grit that can overpower even the greatest of odds. While for those who may be privileged enough to live with fewer crosses to bear, may these stories serve as an overpowering reminder of how much more good and hope we can create by sharing our blessings and paying it forward.  

The Ateneo community is already a beacon of this kind of hope we are talking about. There are so many stories of excellence and servant leadership within the boundaries of this campus. 

Aside from Anton, there’s Teacher Sab—hindi ko alam kung kilala niyo pa si Teacher Sab Ongkiko—who gave up[applause]… who gave up a promising career in the field of medicine, to teach in Culiat Elementary School because that waswhere she found the greatest need for her talents. If I am not mistaken, this is already her eighth-year teaching at Culiat Elementary School. We also met Girlie Lorenzo, who founded Kythe in 1992, an organization led by volunteers that help bring joy to young patients in public hospitals. Then there’s also Jessie, a multi-awarded swimmer who has represented the country in various tournaments abroad. And finally, ito, pinaka-most applaudedthe last time we were here, there is ourbeloved Ate Alma [applause], who has been working in the Ateneo—tama ba, Ate Alma?—for more than 20 years? Ayon. Ate Alma would always lovingly greet every student with her signature, “Hi, pangga!” Ayan. 

Aside from these extraordinary Ateneans, we also have here with us today other Istorya ng Pag-asa champions. We have Franco Luna. Is Franco Luna here? Nandito ba si Franco Luna? Ayon, nandiyan si Franco. [applause] Franco is an AB Communications student. At the age of six, Franco had a mild stroke and then, epilepsy after spending 40 days at the Philippine Children’s Medical Center. So for many years, he would be in and out of therapy, regularly visiting acupuncture and aculaser clinics. 

But despite his condition, France refuses to be just a “pwede na” or “PWD” na. He has found his calling in writing and servant leadership, and is now an associate editor of The GUIDON’s online magazine, as well as a delegate of the Ateneo Student Leaders Assembly. 

In his last column for the school paper, Franco writes, and I quote: “As for me, I am 20 years old now, and I still fumble and swear under my breath as I struggle with simple, mundane things. I walk with a faint limp and live most of my life with one hand. The days I forget to take my anti-seizure meds rarely ever end well. It doesn’t get easier, but today, it feels good to admit that I am an epileptic stroke victim. I am more than my disability.” Napakaganda ‘di ba? Very powerful.Franco’s story is proof that disability of any kind should not stop anyone from dreaming big and achieving great things in life. 

We also have Rosenda Gadaingan—Ate Rosie. Nasaan si Ate Rosie? Nandiyan ba si Ate Rosie? Ate Rosie, ayon. [applause] Ate Rosie, as she is fondly called, has been working for 35 years as a counter supervisor at the Ateneo Multi-Purpose Cooperative (AMPC). 

You would oftentimes see her happily serving food to students, teachers, and staff everyday at the cafeteria in Gonzaga Hall. Through hard work, patience, and perseverance, she supported her three children throughout college. One of them is now studying at the Ateneo School of Law. Wow naman. According to her, and I quote: “Mahirap ang trabaho ko kasi maraming ginagawa, at kahit mataas na ang posisyon mo, kailangan gumagalaw ka pa rin kasi kailangan maging ehemplo ka sa mga katrabaho mo.”

Aside from her usual duties, she would also help and assist students during their Junior Engagement Program (JEEP) in AMPC. She hopes her mga alaga would never forget the valuable lessons they learned during their time together. She prays that after graduating from the Ateneo, they would always choose to love and serve their fellow Filipinos. 

As a parent to Ateneans, this captures perfectly a big part of what I love about Ateneo education: the deep recognition that lessons are not confined in the four corners of the classroom and that teaching does not always emanate from where the board stands. Throughout the years, Ate Rosie’s unwavering strength and generosity continue to inspire and impart lessons to countless Ateneans in many ways. Hindi ko mapapangalanan lahat. So siguro, hanggang dito na lang. 

Finally, we have Madjid Tiblani—MJ. Nasaan si MJ? Is MJ here? Ayon, nandoon si MJ sa end of the line. [applause] Each one of them will be introduced one by one a little later, pero I just mentioned MJ. MJ is a student athlete who hails from the province of Sulu. At an early age, he already experienced a lot of hardships in life simply because of where he was born. Growing up, he would sometimes transfer from one school to another due to financial problems. Luckily, his siblings did everything to support his dreams, while his father worked abroad. 

MJ took on several jobs to support himself. Every Sunday, he would sail out into the sea and go fishing. On other days, he would sell nganga in the streets so that he can earn money and pay for his tuition. Life was very difficult, but he never gave up. During difficult situations, he would ask for Allah’s guidance and hold on to his faith. 

Because he excelled in sports, MJ received a scholarship from the Notre Dame of Jolo College, through the help of a local DepEd official. That moment opened up a lot of doors for him, and eventually, he was given the opportunity to study here in the Ateneo. Now, he is a member of the Ateneo Track and Field Team.

MJ considers it a blessing and an honor to be part of the Ateneo. But he remains humble and grateful to those who helped him along the way. MJ’s story is a powerful reminder that no matter where you come from, you can reach for the stars as long as you keep fighting with determination and perseverance. 

What is even more inspiring about his story is that success for him does not end there. After graduating, MJ hopes to support his family and his fellow youth in Sulu. For him, his story of hope becomes even more meaningful if it can help create more stories of hope among those who share his background.

You see how compelling these stories are? They don’t just speak of difficulty and triumph, they illustrate how these magnificent transformations were brought about by tears and sweat, prayers and hope, individual grit and team spirit. These stories are the heart of what it is to be a Filipino. And we need to shine a light on them, especially in these extraordinarily dark times.

They are just some of the 22 stories we are featuring today, and I hope these stories from the Ateneo community inspire the entire country, and even the world! My wish—ito iyong request ko lang—is for these—ang ganda-ganda ng ating roving photo gallery—sana iyong photo gallery will be brought to the different departments and buildings, not only in the Loyola Schools, but also in the other Ateneo campuses, and also in Ateneo High School and Grade School. 

So once again, thank you to the Ateneo de Manila University for your unwavering support and partnership, and to everyone for joining us today. Allow me as well to take this opportunity to greet you all, siyempre a very merry Christmas. And after I speak, we will honor our Istorya ng Pag-asa champions one by one. 

Magandang gabi ulit. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! [applause]