Office of the Vice President
17 August 2017
Message at the Don Bosco Student Leaders’ Assembly, Don Bosco Technical Institute, Makati City,16 August 2017
Father Favie Faldas, Rector, Don Bosco Technical Institute, Makati; Salesian priests and brothers; Salesian educators; my dear Bosconians; honored guests; ladies and gentlemen: magandang hapon po sa inyong lahat.
I always look forward to events like these. Young people like you exhibit such contagious energy and passion. When you come together to equip yourselves to do extraordinary things, something truly powerful happens.
My youngest daughter is about your age, she is also in senior high school, and I marvel at your creativity and the amazing tools at your fingertips. With these technologies and new platforms for reaching out to your friends—and followers—you can change the world much more easily than the generations before you.
Young people are pushing against the limits of innovation like never before and these are rapidly changing the way we all live. We, who come from the previous generations, can only watch with amazement as you casually deal with the eventual shift from the internal combustion engine to electric cars, from ride hailing to driverless cars, to 3D printing and deep machine learning.
You are changing how business should work and how nation-building should be done. Who knows what else you can do in the next 20 years?
But your generation also faces a new set of challenges. You now live in polarized societies, steeped in much anger and division. Young people struggle with new forms of abuse, rising suicidal tendencies, and alarming health issues.
HIV, for instance, is slowly killing the Filipino youth. Just last April 2017, 80 percent of the 629 newly-diagnosed Filipinos belong to the 15 to 34 age group; and of more than 40,000 people diagnosed with HIV for the past five years, unfortunately, most of them were young men.
But there is more. There is another silent crisis that cripples your generation. Every day, 95 Filipino children die because they do not have enough food to eat. Just think about that for a minute. While we all sit down comfortably on these chairs, so many children are losing their lives due to hunger and malnutrition, and struggling to find the means to go to school.
You might think: Ano naman ang puwede kong gawin? I would say: a lot. If we are going to effectively build our nation, we need the hearts of young people for selfless service – and that begins by looking and listening to our people with empathy.
As young people, I know it is easy to sit down on the sidelines and live inside our own bubbles.
When I was young, kagaya ninyo, I was very, very shy. Mahiyain po ako dati; ngayon, hindi na po masyado. Whenever there are school plays, ‘yong aking younger sister ang palaging bida sa mga school play. Pero ako, nandoon ako sa likod. Paminsan, scriptwriter. Minsan naman, tagahawak ng kurtina. Ayaw ko po na nasa harap. I never imagined myself running for Student Council unlike you, because I dread doing campaign speeches before huge crowds.
But when I became a lawyer, I discovered what it was like to serve others, especially the poor—and perhaps because of that, nakalimutan ko na ang aking pagkamahiyain.
Hindi po ako ‘yong abogado na palaging naka-three-piece suit. I became a lawyer for farmers and fisherfolk, laborers and the urban poor, women and indigenous people. For almost a decade, I would spend days and weeks in far-flung barangays, immersing myself in the lives of our poor. Umaakyat kami sa mga bundok at sa mga mapuputik na lugar, sa mga coastal communities, para marating ang ating mga kababayan. Natutulog rin kami sa mga roofless huts saka paminsan sa mga bangka, kasi walang ibang matutulugan. It was not an easy life, but the clarity of purpose that it gave me defined my life.
When I was with SALIGAN, a legal resource NGO, I realized that it was not enough that I knew the law. What was crucial was that I learned to listen with empathy, I was able to put myself in other people’s shoes, and look at the world through their eyes.
You see, sympathy is not enough. Empathy moves you beyond feeling sorry for the person, and then you begin asking powerful questions. Instead of giving advice, you ask, you listen, and then you act fast.
I believe that leaders fueled with empathy, who put others’ needs before their own, are the kind of leaders that we need.
I hope as you begin to broaden your perspective, you would find passion and purpose in serving others; and once you do, I hope that you would want to give your best in everything that you do.
I am not sure if you heard about Efren Peñaflorida. Efren grew up near a dumpsite in Cavite. His family was very poor, but it did not stop him from pursuing his studies. When he was 16, he formed a group with his high school friends called “Dynamic Teen Company,” which aims to discourage the youth in joining street gangs and instead engage them through youth awareness projects. They organized talent enhancement programs and self-development activities and introduce the concept of teen moral values to the kids. Eventually, Efren and his friends started going around the city with “pushcart classrooms,” offering tutoring lessons to the out-of-school youth – most of them, young boys. Nagtuturo sila kahit Sabado at ginagawang “outdoor classrooms” ang mga sementeryo, mga dump sites, at kung saan-saan pa. Because of that, Efren was awarded by CNN as Hero of the Year last 2009.
You see, you have the strength to rise above the challenges of today. You can dream and bravely pursue them – only if you are willing to fight for it. And I believe you can do the impossible.
We place great hope in your power to shape our future. But we also place great hope in your power to shape our world in the here and now. If we all strive to be excellent in the things we do, the reward is so much bigger than ourselves.
My husband, Jesse, who died in a plane crash almost five years ago, always said: “Hindi sapat na tayo ay matino lamang. Hindi rin sapat na tayo ay mahusay lamang. Hindi lahat ng matino ay mahusay, at lalo namang hindi lahat ng mahusay ay matino. Ang dapat ay matino at mahusay upang tayo ay pagkatiwalaan ng pera ng bayan.”
In the short time I had with my husband, I learned that effective leadership is not just about getting things done, but it is about living a life with integrity.
You see, good character always makes good leaders.
I know it must be difficult to do what is right all the time, because most of the time, what is right is what is unpopular. You will get criticized here and there. But, believe me, it is much better to stand firm on what is right than to be popular yet corrupt.
So let me ask you today: What kind of leaders do you want to become?
I believe that the kind of leaders that we need during these extraordinary times are precisely what your event today is training you to be – leaders with empathy, leaders who are excellent because they have a vision, and leaders who are strong enough to stand firm on their convictions.
Young people like you truly have the unique strength to make our country better. Find ways to engage and empower. Educate your peers to use social media for nation-building instead of people-bashing. Love your neighbor, men and women alike. And do what is right no matter how unpopular.
To the teachers and mentors who are present here today: we hope that you would continue to nurture their inherent strength – not the kind that domineers or demeans but the kind of strength that helps, protects and empowers others to live lives free from suffering and injustice.
That is why I would like to commend the Don Bosco Institute for tirelessly investing in the next generation of leaders. Your work is never put to waste.
St. John Bosco once said: “Do not put off ‘til tomorrow the good you can do today.”
As we celebrate St. John Bosco’s 202nd birthday, may we all emulate his life of selfless service, and may we all continue to do good to our fellow Filipinos, especially the last, the lost and the least. They deserve our best.
Thank you very much, and mabuhay kayong lahat.