At Large

Outstanding young persons

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Two young men from the Philippines will be honored next week as among the 2012 “Ten Outstanding Young Persons of the World” chosen by Junior Chamber International (JCI), better known as the Jaycees.

The two are Paolo Benigno “Bam” Aquino and Dr. Edsel Maurice Salvaña who were recipients of the Ten Outstanding Young Men (TOYM) awards given by the Philippine Jaycees last year and who competed with other winners from around the world for this international award.

Salvaña is a medical doctor honored for his outstanding work in increasing awareness of HIV/AIDS, especially of the urgent need to address a recent spike in new infections in the Philippines.

Bam Aquino is recognized mainly for his work in social enterprise. He is a cofounder of Microventures Inc., which supports microfinancing institutions “to provide business development opportunities for the poor.” Best-known of these programs is “Hapinoy,” which helps community women in the countryside “set up community stores, providing residents cheaper access to goods and boosting the local economy.”

Although he comes fully prepared for a high-flying career in the private sector, Bam employed his management engineering degree from Ateneo de Manila University as well as a stint in an executive education program at Harvard University toward social development, particularly by tapping the strengths and talents of young Filipinos.

He first worked with a local foundation organizing youth volunteers in disaster relief work and in coming up with community development projects. Then, at the age of 26, he brought this early volunteer work to a higher level by being appointed to chair the National Youth Commission, becoming the youngest person to ever head a government agency.

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WHEN his term as NYC chair came to an end, Bam decided to focus his energies on social enterprises, establishing Microventures Inc. with a former Ateneo classmate to provide professional guidance to poor people wishing to go into business, mainly through microfinancing.

The JCI cites his philosophy on alleviating poverty as focused on “making the people self-sufficient and giving them the tools and skills to produce sustainable solutions to issues in their communities.”

In an earlier conversation, Bam alluded to the “Hapinoy” entrepreneurs, the great majority of them women, as “natural” leaders of their communities. Once they began turning a profit with their stores and serving their neighborhoods through more reasonable prices of basic goods and innovative services, the women, said Bam, earned the respect of their neighbors and became influential leaders.

In much the same way, Bam has grown into his advocacy, emerging as a face and voice for young Filipinos and local entrepreneurs, and an exciting addition to Philippine politics as he seeks a seat in the Senate in next year’s elections.

The Ten Outstanding Young Persons (TOYP) honors young, emerging leaders under the age of 40 each year. This year’s batch will be honored at the JCI World Congress on Nov. 20 in Taipei, Taiwan.

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THE entire complement of section heads of the American Embassy here were guests at this week’s “Bulong Pulungan sa Sofitel.” Naturally, leading the contingent was US Ambassador Harry Thomas, who tried to keep his enthusiasm under check when people congratulated him for the reelection of President Barack Obama. “I prefer to think of it as a validation of our democratic system,” he deadpanned.

But Thomas led off the press conference with a statement on the hot news of the day: reports that a contractor hired by the US Navy had dumped toxic waste in the waters of Subic Bay, threatening public beaches and private resorts.

“We oppose environmental degradation and oppose illegal dumping,” said Thomas, adding that the Embassy would wait for now for the results of a Senate inquiry into the incident.

Still, Thomas made clear that as far as the US government was concerned, the “private contractor hired by the US Navy” was covered by Philippine law and could not seek to escape responsibility or penalties under the Visiting Forces Agreement.

Aside from the ambassador, the next most important personage in the US Embassy is the consul, at least in the eyes of many visa-coveting Filipinos. Consul General Mike Schimmel recounts a story about having to introduce himself to a local crowd and being advised that “consul general” didn’t translate well. “Just introduce yourself as the ‘hari  ng  visa’ (king of visas)” he was told, and once he did so, the people sat up in attention.

But though local lore is filled with horror stories of the rigors one has to undergo to obtain a US visa, Schimmel clarifies that of the 232,000 visa applications they processed last year, “80 percent were approved.”

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JOINING the Embassy contingent that day was a “balikbayan,” a Filipino-American who could converse with locals in Filipino and even Ilocano.

According to Gloria Steele, mission director of the US Agency for International Development, the agency’s priorities in the country center on three main thrusts: first, the “partnership for growth,” working with all sectors for “broad-based and inclusive growth”; second, the achievement of peace and security in the six conflict areas of Mindanao; and last, helping to create an environment that is “economically resilient,” or better able to cope with intermittent shocks and setbacks.

In this, USAID works closely with both government and private institutions, particularly in the development of a stronger science and technology sector. In all, said Steele, the American government has allotted a budget of $38 million for the development of higher education in the Philippines, the area that the agency has decided to focus on for now.

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