The Great Paradox

PHOTO CAPTION: Sen. Sonny Angara graced the Go Negosyo-HPAIR Filipino Night and delivered the keynote speech to the delegates of HPAIR Conference 2015.

Go Negosyo partnered with De La Salle University, the host university, for the Harvard Project for Asian and International Relations (HPAIR) Manila Conference.

The HPAIR is student-run organization of the Harvard University Faculty of Arts and Sciences. HPAIR organizes Harvard University’s largest annual student conferences in the Asia-Pacific region.

Go Negosyo was able to give exposure on entrepreneurship to the conference participants as we mounted a forum that discussed Social Entrepreneurship. They also had fora on corporate leadership, finance, energy and environment, security and diplomacy, human rights, and health and public policy.

Aside from that, we were able to introduce the Filipino culture to the HPAIR delegates by hosting a Filipino Night. 500 delegates from different schools all over the world representing 45 countries came to enjoy the festivities that we prepared especially for them.

Since the occasion is all about putting a spotlight on the Philippines, we served delicious Filipino and cultural performances presented by different groups which showed regional dances and traditions.

Well-known entrepreneurs also graced the Filipino Night with their presence including Esther Vibal, Manny Osmena, Siu Ping and Nelson Par, Nanette Medved-Po, Myrna Yao, Melito Salazar, Donna and Bong Jiao, Rey and Anais Lapid, Renen and Celinda De Guia, Sherill Quintana, Benedict Carandang, Koh Onozawa, Ofrace and Era Ocampo.

One of the highlights of this Filipino Night is the speech of Senator Sonny Angara, a Harvard alumnus himself. Sen. Angara introduced the Philippines to the foreign delegates by tackling several issues that affect our current identity as a country and as people. He cited the good, the bad, and the ones in between.

Senator Angara was proud to describe the Filipino hospitality, which arguably is the best kind there is in the world. As he puts it, “Our warmth and hospitality is world-renowned and translates well even over the phone. It has propped up the country’s profile as a humanitarian safe haven. We accepted 1,300 European Jews escaping Nazi Germany in the 1930s. In 1949, we housed nearly 6,000 Russians fleeing the communist revolution in China. We did this for up to 400,000 “boat people,” escaping the Vietnam War and extended the same invite to the Rohingya of Myanmar,” he said.

Aside from our hospitality, he also zeroed in on our other traits such as love for family, our being religious, our friendliness and our empathetic nature.

However, Senator Angara was not there to just promote our country, but to also show the international delegates a glimpse of the sad reality for Filipinos.

He cited some of the most crucial contradictions in the Philippines. For instance, we might have some of the world’s best beaches, but we also have the world’s worst airport. We were lauded as a social media capital of the world, but we have the world’s 2nd slowest Internet speed and quality. Our hospitality and being accommodating sometimes also lead to lack of discipline and to being too permissive and forgiving. Our love for the family clouds our judgment in electing political leaders as “the bloodlines not principles or competence become important considerations” when voting. Our friendliness blurs the line between what is public and what is private. Thus, the usisero culture. And while we are empathic and caring people, we could not say the same for our institutions.

Indeed, the Philippines is a country of paradoxes.

If there is one thing I have noticed from all these though, it is that no matter how difficult life is for our kababayans, we remain to be positive people. This is a fact evidenced by a Gallup study in 2012, saying that Filipinos are the 5th happiest people in the world. This piece of information surprised me, but in a good way. It only goes to show that we are resilient people with a hopeful mindset.

I, too, remain hopeful. And it’s not only because Ninoy Aquino International Airport is no longer the world’s worst airport, or because the issue on internet speed is now being talked about in the senate. I remain hopeful because I see the young people of this country—the Filipino millennial—more hungry and impatient for change than ever. This can only result in a better country moving forward.

To quote Senator Sonny Angara, “Being so connected to the rest of the world, you [the millennial] have “so much feels” for things other than yourself. You may have given the world Justin Bieber and Miley Cyrus, but you also showed us how to Occupy Wall Street and demonstrated in Hong Kong the revolutionary power of umbrellas.

I have to agree on that.

The next day, Go Negosyo was also part of the last conference of HPAIR. Go Negosyo hosted the Changing the World is our Business, a seminar on Social Entrepreneurship.  Pacita Juan tackled how Echostore upcycled the products of the communities and produced a brand for environment-friendly products.  Bryan McClelland shared how Bambike has contributed to community and environment development.  Nanette Medved-Po discussed how consumers of Hope in A Bottle contribute to the building of classrooms around the country.

It has been a privilege for Go Negosyo to be partner in mounting the HPAIR Manila Conference. We hope to see more of these delegates, especially the young Filipino representatives, become enterprising as they continue to lead their organizations in the future.