By Jerry E. Esplanada
Philippine Daily Inquirer
The more than 8.5 million overseas Filipinos scattered all over the
globe should be proud of themselves for being a “positive force,” if not “masters of the universe,” in their host countries, according to balikbayan philanthropist, civic leader and lawyer Loida Nicolas-Lewis.
“We are good ballroom dancers. We love to share our Filipino food: delicious lumpia and chicken adobo. We love to sing pop hits with the karaoke microphone in our hand,” she said.
Even more, they extend a helping hand to their relatives and friends back in the Philippines by paying the tuition for their schooling, sending money for a baptism or wedding, for hospitalization or a funeral, “even lending money which we know will not be paid to a relative or a close friend,” she said.
But Filipinos in the diaspora need to do more, said Lewis, chairperson of the US Pinoys for Good Governance (USP4GG), in a speech at the just-concluded “Global Summit: Diaspora to Development” at the Philippine International Convention Center (PICC).
They could help in the development of their homeland, she said.
“We cannot ignore the abject poverty of nearly 30 million Filipinos, their lack of adequate housing, education, nutrition and other basic human needs,” she said.
This will involve more than just writing a check, she said.
“We Filipinos seem to have a special something that enables us to go beyond the job description, do something sympathetic and compassionate, something natural in us,” said Lewis.
“Either in word or in action, whether in the executive suite as a CEO or as a babysitter in a private home, our being Filipino enables us to anticipate and to feel what the other person in the office or home is feeling. And we would be able to respond positively or to react humanely,” said Lewis who is also an educator, author and motivational speaker.
According to Lewis, Filipinos invariably get along with every ethnic group in the office, without discrimination. A Filipino office worker becomes the favored one “because of our affable and generous personality.”
She believes this character trait springs from Filipinos’ deep-seated spirituality, their deep faith “in God’s grace and that nothing can separate us from the love of God.”
“This also explains why we take leadership in our communities. Our contemplation or our intimacy with God brings us to action. We are masters of the universe in that sense,” said Lewis.
“We should come up with positive and practical solutions that we ourselves would do and actualize with the cooperation of the government. Let us be creative, innovative and resolute. We can bring the change we want to see in our Inang Bayan,” said Lewis.
The USP4GG is one of the summit convenors, along with the Commission on Filipinos Overseas (CFO), headed by Lewis’ younger sister, Imelda Nicolas; the National Federation of Filipino-American Associations; and YouLead, or Youth Leaders in the Diaspora.
Answer to Aquino’s call
According to Lewis, her group joined the summit to answer the CFO’s call to help President Aquino bring about the alleviation of poverty in the Philippines.
“Before the May 2010 elections, our main goal was to help the Noynoy Aquino-Mar Roxas tandem win that year’s polls… Today, we’re rooting not just for Noynoy but also the entire Filipino nation,” she said.
Lewis said the USP4GG “still strongly believes in President Aquino’s slogan, ‘Kung walang corrupt, walang mahirap’ (no corruption, no poverty). We are convinced that he will be true to his promises. We remain committed to President Noynoy.”
“Our group prefers to be something like a watchdog organization, do oversight. We plan to write him, e-mail him and make suggestions that we believe will help him make the Philippines a better place,” she said.
The USP4GG has been cited by the CFO for its “firm belief and conviction that Filipinos in America can play an important role and make a difference in the lives of Filipinos in the Philippines and all over the world through strong advocacy of good government.”
As to how the USP4GG would assess the first 15 months of the Aquino administration, Lewis observed “it is doing very well. President Aquino is not perfect. Of course, nobody’s perfect.”
“To his critics and faultfinders, I say, during the previous administration, where were your voices. He’s trying to do his best, so stop all the faultfinding,” she said.
Lewis vowed she would “definitely be a balikbayan on a regular basis.”
She comes to the Philippines every two months because of Lewis College, the school she set up in her Sorsogon hometown.
She bought a school called Annunciation College some 10 years ago and renamed it Lewis College.
“We now have around 1,000 students, from preschool all the way to college. And we’re winning various accolades and honors. Lewis College is now the champion in the entire Bicol for computer programming. In the province, we used to be kulelat (perennial losers) in basketball. Now we’re the champion. We also won in the regional of the Miss Bicolandia (beauty pageant),” she said.
According to Lewis, her family’s involvement in Lewis College is “just one way of paying back.”
“Sorsogon is one of the country’s poorest provinces. And one of the ways, if not the only way to get out of poverty is education,” she said.
Of the 300-plus tertiary students in Lewis College, “about 100 are on a full scholarship. Add to that the fact that in Sorsogon, we have the lowest tuition,” she said.
“We must never forget that there’s a time to pay back for all the blessings that we’ve gotten in life,” Lewis said.
“Whatever the reason we left the Philippines to seek our livelihood abroad, or to follow the dictates of our heart, we are always connected to our motherland by our family, our culture, our history and our faith,” she said.