The best of the Filipino
What had started out as a planned column on the 2017 Ramon Magsaysay Awards ceremonies was rapidly turning into a traffic story. Finally, a few minutes before 6 p.m., three hours after we set out from Antipolo, our Uber car entered the Cultural Center of the Philippines area. But when we turned the corner, traffic was at a standstill. I threw in the towel, deciding to forego what little remained of the ceremonies and proceed instead to the Gloria Maris restaurant where we TOWNS women had agreed to meet for dinner. So much for good intentions.
We at TOWNS had organized a group presence at the RM Awards rites mainly to show our support for Lilia de Lima, a sister-awardee who recently retired as director-general of the Philippine Economic Zone Authority (Peza), where she served for 21 years. Always gracious and bubbly, Lilia has shown nothing but consideration and kindness whenever we met. Told that a “mob scene” prevented many of the TOWNS-women from personally approaching her after the rites, I was glad that I had bumped into Lilia a few days earlier and managed to congratulate her. We were both guests at the birthday celebration of Sonya Garcia in her renowned Sonya’s Secret Garden in Tagaytay, and I managed to approach Lilia minutes after she serenaded the guests. What a treat it was!
But I also wanted to be at the awards rites to show my solidarity with the men, women and youth of the Philippine Educational Theater Association (Peta). Though many of them are my friends and comrades in the struggle for a just and humane Philippine society, I am not officially connected to the group. But my heart is tied to it, particularly as an audience member who’s had many delightful, disturbing, moving, and shocking moments and experiences while seated at the outdoor Rajah Sulayman Theater in Fort Santiago, and lately at the Peta Theater in Quezon City.
In her response, De Lima disclosed that a question most often asked of her is “how I survived four presidents (Ramos, Estrada, Arroyo and Aquino) of different political persuasions and management styles.” And her frequent reply, she said, was: “Simple — do your job with integrity and professionalism, and the bottom line will show it. It’s the credential you can have and the only endorsement you will need.”
Her 21 years in Peza, dealing with national and local officials, investors from different parts of the world, and workers, said Lilia, “gave me the opportunity to serve my country and help generate employment for our people.” And indeed, this is proven in the slogan she coined for Peza: “One-stop shop, non-stop shop, no red tape, and no corruption.”
The guest of honor at the rites was the “duly elected and truly honorable” Vice President Leni Robredo, whose late husband, Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo, was a recipient of the RM Award for government service in 2000.
While “grave threats of violence in diverse forms and the worsening problem of social inequity have made the rise of populism and demagoguery possible,” said the Vice President, she asked in turn if “we [are] really willing to throw out our freedom and rights for change that goes against old values of empathy and collaboration.”
Addressing the six RM awardees, she said: “Our world today has great need of you. What I find most admirable is how [the awardees] show respect for human dignity and faith in the power of collective endeavor.”
That power and respect are certainly borne out in the work of Peta. The “most moving part” of the afternoon ceremonies, said Celeste Legaspi, was the musical number of the Peta choir, an homage to the values of service and nationhood that underpin the work of the theater and community education group.
Peta, represented onstage by C.B. Garrucho, was lauded for “its bold, collective contributions in shaping the theater arts as a force for social change, its impassioned, unwavering work in empowering communities in the Philippines, and the shining example it has set as one of the leading organizations of its kind in Asia.”
Now turning 50, Peta embodies the best of the Filipino: bold, experimental, creative, entertaining and enlightening.
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