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25/09/2012: It is a Great Time to be a Filipino NOW by: Kit Zulueta

Published for the August 2012 issue of FilAm Observer

Even the wonderful weather here in Maui has not helped me get over my lingering hangover from my most recent trip to the Philippines.

During this trip, for the first time in my life, I became a guest of the President in Malacañang! Have you ever wondered why the President of the Philippines' Palace is called Malacañang? I will tell you shortly.

Sure, I had a lot of fun – and it was so good to be with my family back home again, no matter how short the stay – but, this time, I was completely transformed. It was a visit like no other I had taken before.

With this visit to the Philippines, never again will I be able to think and talk about my motherland without being consumed by the burning desire to ‘pay it forward’ and use my talents for the improvement of my country.

Together with nine other chosen individuals from across the United States, we comprised the first ten to participate in the Filipino American Young Leaders Program initiated by the Philippine Ambassador to the United States, Jose L. Cuisia, Jr., and his lovely wife Mrs. Victoria Cuisia. The program is part of a greater advocacy of Ambassador Cuisia to maximize use of resources at his disposal to empower the youth and make a difference for their country.

Screened and selected from among a host of applicants by the Consulates General in Chicago, Honolulu, Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco, these `top ten' certainly burst at the seams with amazing qualifications and achievements. I have never met peer who were as passionate and as endowed with a vision as I am for moving the Philippines forward!

The ten of us were given a week-long, all-expense-paid trip sponsored by Ayala Corporation, Ayala Foundation, Makati Business Club, Chevron, Philam Life, Phinma Foundation and with ABSCBN TFC as the media partner. With our activities having been scheduled simultaneously, we also had the opportunity to join the 7th Ambassadors, Consuls General and Tourism Directors Tour.

Our whirlwind tour of selected high-impact projects and discussion sessions with high government officials facilitated our well-rounded exposure to the true condition of our country, and its vision to greatness.   What a great opportunity it was to be introduced to the top 4 highest executives of the country! We met the President, the Vice President, the Senate President and the Speaker of the House. Oh, we met a LOT of people. We met awesome successful entrepreneurs, Presidential Cabinet members and young legislators.  Each of these great men and women left a little of themselves behind, with us.

From the tour of historic houses of Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar in Bagac, Bataan to the filming by ABS-CBN’s ‘Ako ang Simula’ show  (which will be aired sometime in August ) to the fancy dinners hosted by government advocates, for us, this trip was certainly like no other.

The Importance of Giving Back

Upon my return to Maui from this trip, I felt as if there was now a different tug at my heartstrings each time news about my country's affairs came to my attention.

This feeling became so intense such that right after P-Noy delivered his third and recent Talumpati sa Kalagayan ng Bansa, also known as SONA (State of the Nation Address), I immediately updated my Facebook status with one of his quotes – ‘It is a great time to be a Filipino.’ I’ve always had a great sense of pride in being a Filipino, from the time I was still in U.P. as an ‘Iskolar ng Bayan ' ‘till now that I have the opportunity to serve the Fil-Am community as part of the Mayor’s Office of Maui County and various community groups.

It is a great time to be Filipino because now, we have one of highest economic growth rates in Asia. We have a very rich talent pool, robust infrastructure and a strategic location, that for me, has been validated since neighboring countries have been lusting after land within our jurisdiction.

Connecting with key movers of the Philippines has never given me a greater sense of pride and understanding of our culture and history. With the FAYLP, I have come to realize that we Filipino expatriates in the US make up such a powerful force. If only we could put our act together and give back to our country!

Today, there are 3.4 million Filipinos in the United States. California has a concentration of 1.4 million, followed by our Aloha state of 350,000. Filipinos are the second largest Asian American group next to Chinese Americans. Yet, we Fil-Ams struggle to have a single voice. We still have Fil-Am youth who do not feel any sense of patriotism for their country. Sadly, the greater majority of them just do not care.

Yet, it is still a great time to be a Filipino. With the FAYLP, all ten of us have each committed to do our share to instill this realization into the hearts and minds of our fellow Fil-Am youth. Then, when our hard work will have paved the way for success, we will call for action.

Indeed, it is a great time to be a Filipino.

Embracing Change

Each time I come home to the Philippines, I get really excited about the changes I see all around me. On this trip, we were exposed to the tremendous wave of developments in the Philippine countryside, where affluent retiree balikbayans now choose to reside, recent statistics say. With Metro Manila nearing saturation, investors now target the provinces. True enough, shopping malls have sprouted in the provinces where modern structures now lie side by side with traditional agricultural land, as if having `photoshopped' their way into the scene.

During a session with GoNegosyo founder Joey Concepcion at his residence, I asked if members of the countryside communities expressed any negative comments about such developments. Most likely, there would be groups who would be against commercialization and may brand developments as ‘threats’ to the country’s traditional ways and old habits. Mr. Concepcion’s response was simply, “The moment you overprotect a sector, everybody becomes so inefficient. God gave us talents. If we are not able to maximize use of such talent, it goes to somebody else. Not everybody does the same thing in this world.”

All ten of us became convinced that entrepreneurship is the ticket out of poverty and into abundance. We resolved to exhort our fellow Fil-Ams, specially the youth, to invest in the Philippines. The key is to find one's passion and start an enterprise that will bring excitement into your life.

“Poverty is in the mind,” explained Gawad Kalinga founder Mr. Tony Meloto. “We should change our mindsets. There is no reason why we should be poor!”

If you want a tip for an enterprise to open, Mr. Meloto shared a growing trend right now which he predicts will have a strong market in the future – chocolates. How about it?

Come Home

I agree that there is marketing genius in the persona of Secretary of Tourism Ramon Jimenez Jr. He has led a great team in the Department of Tourism which has provided Filipinos all over world with a unified response when it comes to promoting the country - It's more FUN in the Philippines. How else can you summarize it in one line?

"We don’t travel not to have fun. It is actually easier to be happy by yourselves, but having ‘fun’ is something that requires a certain level of participation and sharing. That’s what the Philippines is all about" said Secretary Jimenez.

And that's what leadership NOW in the Philippines is all about, too. It certainly is more fun now. The impeachment of an unscrupulous Chief Justice has never given me a greater sense of hope for the government. Change has begun. It is a great time to come home to the Philippines now -- and give back.

Come home. Bring your friends and the whole neighborhood. Take part of this movement and experience Philippines like no other! Create lasting memories and stories. During any difficult time, these moments – I tell ya’ – will be your happy place and you will forever be changed.

Let’s go! Now na!

Empowering the Youth

As closing, I would like to share another story from Secretary Jimenez as he referred to the campaign that he has orchestrated for President Aquino.

“Leadership is all about the decisions that have to be made. The leader is likened to a farmer who is tasked to take the group's harvest to the town. He is going to get to a fork on the road. One of the roads leads to his house. Absolutely nobody knows how many sacks of rice are in his wagon. There is a tremendous temptation to drop a few sacks of rice at his house before he heads to the village,” Secretary Jimenez paused and looked at all of us. “A true leader must decide to head straight to the village with the harvest - The Straight Road, leading to the people.”

This was more popularly known as the ‘Daang Matuwid’ campaign slogan.

“Your leadership will be tested, believe me, very soon.” He added.

And this is the challenge that I would like to share with my fellow Fil-Am youth in Hawaii. There will eventually come a time that our generation will have gained the knowledge and experience we need, to take more active roles in the community. With your integrity intact, I encourage you to start NOW. You don’t need to have a fancy title or aim to win an award to be motivated to make a difference for your country. We can resolve to do our own little thing for the improvement of life in our country. Yet, there will be times when we will be questioned and tested. Times when we will be tempted to drop a few sacks of rice at our house. Times when the realities of being a Filipino in the United States will hit us in the face.

These will be times when we will remember what Department of Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario told us, “Choose your battles.” Idealism is engaging, but we have to be real.

For me, Fil-Am youth should not be indifferent to the community around them. They have to be involved somehow. Volunteer. Contribute. Register and vote. Become an indispensable part of the community. We don’t aim to radically change tradition and thus create a wider gap between the young and the ‘experienced.’ We aim to be heard – as the youth, and like what my fellow delegates say – with solidarity and one voice.

Oh by the way, the President’s palace was referred to by a native as ‘May Lakan diyan…’ (There’s a leader in there) So that’s how Malacañan came about. They also told us to drop the ‘G.’

Kit Zulueta works in the Mayor’s Office of the County of Maui as the Deputy Chief of Staff. She is an incoming officer for the University of the Philippines Alumni Association of Hawaii, and is a member of Filipino Association of University Women and Maui Filipino Chamber of Commerce. She is an active member of the FilCom Center in Waipahu and works closely with the Philippine Consulate General of Honolulu. Kit operates Clearvision Outsourcing, a business process outsourcing and software development company which is based in Quezon City, Philippines. She is also an artist and a creative buff who enjoys photography, filmmaking and graphic design.