This the Philippine contingent to the recently concluded Regional Humanitarian Partnerships Forum that was organized by the UN OCHA (United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs) where govt, NGO and civil society executives from all over the world put their heads together to discuss how best to manage humanitarian efforts when disaster strikes in the Asia Pacific, the most disaster prone area in the world.
The Philippine contingent (govt side) was composed of officials from the (right to left) the Office of Civil Defense (Regional Director Ed Posadas and Susan—sorry I forget her full name, will edit it in later) the DFA (Sr Special Assistant Alex Lamadrid), and us at the DSWD—Undersec Hope Hervilla who earlier in the Forum did us all proud by giving what must have been one of the best presentations of the entire event. Truly a ‘wagayway ang bandila’ moment. Right next to her is UN OCHA Assistant General Khalid Rashkov and Tristan who, too, is with the UN OCHA.
I learned so much and I hope my participation in the various round-table discussions was of some use to others who may need it.
As it turns out, the Philippines has so much to teach the world when it comes to disaster risk reduction and preparedness—and in a good way. But that’s not what I want to talk about right now.
I want to talk about something that happened there—a quiet but to me, no less earthshaking moment for our country.
On the last day, we were asked to divide ourselves into donor and recipient countries.
So the Philippine contingent stood up and automatically moved to the other side of the room where recipient countries were forming.
And I said, “Hey wait a minute. The DSWD hasn’t asked nor needed any donations from anyone for a year now. Not from its citizens nor from the international community. In fact, the official stand is, ‘You many give if you so want. But right now, it is not needed.’ “
Then Alex said, “In fact, we’ve been giving to other countries.”
And Ed said, “Yup. True. Accurate.”
So half of the Philippine contingent stayed put in the donor country side of the room while USec Hope and I sat with the recipient group to balance things out.
The significance of that moment couldn’t escape me. I don’t think it escaped any of us in the Philippine contingent. A personally moving and startling moment for me. I thought I saw my other team mates a bit shaken up by this realization too.
I think we have crossed a threshold of some sort and that we are transitioning into a stronger, more dignified position in the world stage.
We no longer default on having our palms out begging for alms to be thrown our way but we have become someone who is off her knees now (our default position since time immemorial–down on our knees, defeated) and standing on her own. A bit shakey, yes but standing on her own feet nonetheless.
No longer the sacrificial lamb who must clean windows of high rises, at the beck and call of her master.
Someone who has to be quiet in the face of abuses heaped on him bec he has no choice. He is Filipino, is he not? World’s whipping boy.
Someone who has to take all the shit thrown at her (rape, hunger, beatings, withholding of salaries) because in reality, she was on her own in the big cruel world of the OFW reality. Our past presidents were either wimps who bowed to other world leaders or were just indifferent to their plight.
No longer Uncle Sam’s puppet. No longer little brown Americans who must grovel thanks at the trash repackaged as aid thrown her by Uncle Sam. (For instance those flying coffins they sell us. The really nifty stuff, they won’t sell to us. Gago din eh.)
Not someone who has merely changed masters the way his detractors would like us to believe but a full economic partner. We stand to gain the most when we stand in solidarity with our ASEAN brothers and sisters.
This is what our President has done for us.
The admiration and respect of him by world leaders have spilled over to better treatment and regard of us and our kababayans.
That he has made it clearer than day where his heart lies and that he will do all he can to craft better deals for them and that he will defend them to the death has made world leaders sit up and take notice. No wonder he is beloved by the OFW community. He has made them hold their heads up high with pride and dignity
And in many international conferences such as the one I just participated in, Philippine officials are waking up from the stupor of chained minds and taking our seats at the bargaining table and speaking with pride and quiet dignity about our humble but no less REAL gains at home.
Truly, freedom is not something we wait for our colonial masters to hand to us but something we give ourselves. But before we even get there, we must think ourselves worthy and unshackle our own minds.
And this is where our President has done amazing things for us.
He’s the crazy guy who truly believes that the Filipino is worthy and he’s that guy taking off our chains and saying, “Go. Run. You are free now.”
Someone who counsels OFWs harassed by corrupt Customs officials to assert their rights “kasi you are not asserting your rights. From now on, kung may manghingi sa inyo, que se jodang VP or presidente pa yan. Putangina, sampalin mo. You have my backing.” And you know he means it too. Haha… dakilang Resbak. That’s our beloved President for you.
And has given us pause to think as we’re asked, “Are you free or chained?” And then silently, with our chins up, take our seat in the table of the free and speak in tones of an equal. Clear. Unequivocal.