12 January 2017
Keynote Speech at UP Business League’s National Youth Business Convention, Philippine Trade Center, Pasay City
It gives me great joy and pride to address young men and women during special occasions like this. It is during this most important season of your life when you discover what you want to stand up for, when you choose the core values you want to carry through life, and when it is most crucial that you discover the true meaning of genuine care and service to our people.
Looking at your bright, excited faces this morning brings back many memories spent inside and outside of the classroom back when I was your age. We lived in a different time back then. We were in the middle of a crusade against a powerful dictator. Democracy was being threatened and the youth decided to make a stand. I was a probinsyana who was still slowly adjusting to the city life when my political awakening happened.
And like many of you, we were also at the height of adolescent life. We were caught somewhere between being a teenager and being an adult, grappling with the joys and pains of young loves, with heartaches and heartbreaks, with the pressures of growing up, of performing bigger tasks in life – or what some of you millennials refer to as ‘adulting.’
But that did not hinder me nor my classmates, from immersing ourselves in the political situation of our country. I was an Economics major. There were days when we would take our voices to the streets, clamoring for truth and fighting for justice. We did not have Facebook, Twitter nor any social media platform. There were no smartphones and e-mails. But never in our youth did we feel so interconnected, so empowered, and united. We had one, resounding battlecry—to protect our country from oppression.
Change came in the most peaceful and inspiring of revolutions, in a development that caused the entire world to check their maps and find out where this tiny group of islands called the Philippines can be found. To the nations of the world, we redefined what democracy was all about. It was a glorious national moment when we won without grave violence.
I think our country’s best minds are present in this room. I have been informed that this convention brings together high-caliber undergraduate students specializing in fields as diverse as marketing, accountancy, management, economics, and finance. As you come together and discuss the role of our youth in nation building, I invite you to ponder this question: What will be your generation’s legacy in upholding truth, justice, and equality in today’s society?
In everything that we do, may we become bearers of light, most especially during this time of dark change, during this time of fear and uncertainty. Let us spread hope, not cultivate apathy; let us start mend wounds, not deepen our pains; let us build communities and learn to listen to one another. But most important of all – let us always choose to serve, driven by a fire of idealism. Contrary to what you may hear out there, idealism is good! Don’t lose it. When you do, you reject hope and lose trust in the youth of today.
In a couple of years, each one of you will graduate and take on different paths, landing on important positions in large organizations. In a few decades, you will be managers, supervisors and, even CEOs of big multinational companies. Some of you will change career paths and become teachers, doctors, lawyers, NGO workers, and even politicians.
When that time comes, you will be tasked to handle bigger responsibilities in life. Expectations will be higher and more eyes will be watching you. You will be forced to step up and make difficult decisions. Decisions that go beyond the quest for personal gain. Decisions that transcend the pursuit of power. But big, crucial decisions that will ultimately shape the very lives of those people who look up and depend on you. I believe that as long as we are alive, we will never run out of these kinds of moments.
During these moments, may we all find time to pause and reflect. Reconsider our present values. Question what we have become. Be brave enough to look back at at that time in our lives when intentions were pure and when our heart was kinder.
Nowadays, we have seen how many of the world’s leaders have succumbed to their ambitions, blinded by their dark visions. Let us not allow society to be run by fear and submission. When you take the place of your elders, may you always choose to tip the scales of justice in favor of compassionate reason and moral consideration.
As future leaders and game changers, may you seek and discover better ways to improve the lives of the poor and downtrodden. In every endeavor and in every decision, keep in mind those who have long been relegated to the fringes of society.
Use your creativity to design and enforce better policies. Use your experiences and resources to deliver genuine service and care to the lost, the last and the least.
Remember that you don’t have to be a public official to make a difference. The real efforts that matter are small, daily, collective acts of service. Start in your home, in your school, in your organization and professional networks. This individual transformation, multiplied 100 million times, will allow our country to embrace its own collective transformation.
Genuine service demands us to do what needs to be done, even if it veers away from established practice and what we have been long used to. Even if it takes us away from our usual, comfort zones. Even if it means that we must go out and traverse the paths that our less-fortunate countrymen go through everyday.
During my days as an alternative lawyer with the group called SALIGAN, we would travel to remote provinces – seeking to help and provide assistance to those who did not have access even to the most basic of government services.We would walk across vast tracks of land, trek through mountain forests, take long boat rides and wade through muddy trails to do community work.
We would spend days – even weeks – away from home engaging with marginalized sectors: farmers, fisherfolk, lP groups and rural women. We would listen to their stories – personal accounts of how some of our laws have become instruments of injustice. We would encourage them to actively work for the amendment of these laws, or repeal of them, or to advocate for the passage of new ones.
Why do I keep on retelling this story whenever I would address the youth?
It is a timely reminder for all of us, that it is only by experiencing the struggles and hardships of others can we fully understand what needs to be done, in the best way possible.
That is why even up to now, I still find time to visit the farthest towns and most secluded villages across the country. These short but meaningful weekend visits give me a glimpse of the magnitude of work that needs to be accomplished in the next six years.
Just last weekend, I joined the people of Lambunao, a town in the province of Iloilo in launching programs that sought to alleviate poverty. One of them was the Champion Farmers program, initiated by the local government, which aims to support local farmers in improving their skills and promote high value crop farming. Combining values formation with the introduction of new farming techniques, it hopes to produce model farmers who will promote the practice of sustainable agriculture and produce organic products. This program is truly laudable, because it prioritizes small scale producers, expanding their markets and linking them to value chains.
During the program, the president of the local farmers association narrated how the farmers of Lambunao would wake up as early as 3:30 in the morning just to till their lands and plant crops. But according to her, some of them still end up not having all of their produce purchased. Some had no choice but to sell them at a lower price. Their stories broke our hearts. These men and women deserve to be fairly compensated for their hard work.
So, I also shared with their Mayor how Jollibee has started to partner with farmers in Nueva Ecija and directly source from them some of their ingredients such as onions. Through this initiative, farmers are not only able to maximize profit but also learn from their ‘big brothers’ and improve on their skills. McDonald’s has also adopted this same business practice, effectively partnering with coco sugar planters from Quezon province.
These are examples of how big business is evolving—creating models of profitably that delivers more when it helps the society more. It’s an out-of-the-box-approach that you who will be future business leaders should emulate.
Gone are the days when economic stability and inclusive growth are at odds, or measured in faceless figures and numbers. Now is the time to rethink business models, and innovate approaches to growth for all and not just a select few.
The fight against poverty is not just a viable option for you to consider as you outgrow your college campuses. It is a critical fight that, if ignored and downplayed by things like the fight against drugs, will derail our country’s rise to the top as the world’s favorite emerging market.
I believe that this fight will be won by foot soldiers rather than generals.
This is a fight for you and I.
Let’s do this!
Thank you very much and have a great convention!