When friends learned that Paulo Benigno “Bam” Aquino had been named one of the finalists in this year’s JCI “Ten Outstanding Young Persons of the World” competition, Dr. Edsel Salvana, the only other Filipino finalist, said that he was bombarded with queries that ran along the lines of “Why should we vote for another Aquino?”
“My answer was simple,” said the medical doctor, teacher and researcher. “I suggested that they cover Bam’s name on the entry and just read about his accomplishments.” The suggestion seems to have worked, for the online votes and the judges’ nod resulted in the choice of both Aquino and Salvana in this year’s roster of winners.
The two join 15 Filipinos who have been recognized by the TOYP in its 30 years of existence, including the late Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo, social entrepreneur Illac Diaz, and ballerina Lisa Macuja.
Young (below 41 years old) accomplished leaders from the United Kingdom, Catalonia, Madagascar, Ireland, Botswana, the Maldives and Zimbabwe made up the rest of the awardees recognized at rites held last Tuesday at the Sun Yat-sen Memorial in Taipei, Taiwan.
The 10 awardees prevailed among a field of 150 nominees from 37 countries, many of them, like Aquino and Salvana, previously named winners in a local competition. Aquino and Salvana had been named one of The Outstanding Young Men (TOYM) in 2010 sponsored by the Philippine Jaycees, which went on to submit their names to the Junior Chamber International for consideration for the TOYP.
“You inspire a lot of young people,” said Bertolt Daems, a management consultant from the Netherlands who was elected JCI president this year. “They are looking to you as a dream for them.” And indeed, it was “legacy mode” that afternoon, as two of those tapped to present the glass trophies to the TOYP were themselves part of the pioneering batch of winners in 1983: Gunter Pauli from Belgium and Stan Chen Shih from Taiwan, founder of computer maker Acer.
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FOR Aquino, the voyage to Taiwan can be considered more than just an ego trip. For starters, the trip included a visit to an “Ugnayan Center” for Filipino workers in Taichung, an hourlong train ride from Taipei. There to hold a dialogue with the workers, the great majority of whom were women, Aquino was mobbed by his audience, most of them unmindful of the fact that he was there with his brand-new wife Timi, and clamoring for photo ops with him.
Later, Aquino dropped by the iconic Grand Hotel where his uncle Ninoy spent his last night before departing for his final, fateful (and fatal) trip to Manila in 1983. “We visited Room 606 where Uncle Ninoy stayed,” Bam relays, “but found the door locked. We were content to just pose for pictures outside the door when the room’s occupant, a Korean, arrived and, after hearing our pleas, allowed us to enter. I had seen a recreation of the room at the Aquino Museum, and I tell you, I felt goose bumps when I entered because that was exactly how the room looked!”
Another uncanny coincidence took place during the awards rites. Playing during the intermission, the Taiwan National Chinese Orchestra launched into, of all numbers, “Tie a Yellow Ribbon.” Was Ninoy sending a message to his nephew?
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IN HIS acceptance speech, Aquino cited his colleagues in the “Hapinoy” movement, including the “thousands of mothers” who are the group’s partners and beneficiaries, as the “real winners” of the award.
Founding “Hapinoy” (with classmate Mark Ruiz), which provides capital, training and business support to independent women entrepreneurs, was a way “of turning ‘what ifs’ into ‘why nots,’” Aquino said, noting that the program is a means to give the women sari-sari (variety) store owners “the extra help and push to bring them to sustainability.” He described the venture as “a new kind of People Power” that, he said, envisions turning its women members “into catalysts for a better life for themselves, their families and communities.”
Acknowledging the difficult times that still bedevil many Filipinos, Aquino said one lesson offered by “Hapinoy” is that “we can prosper if we can help each other.” All that’s needed, he added, is “passion, creativity and a willingness to transcend challenges.”
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SALVANA may be described as an “Iskolar ng Bayan” through and through. After graduating from the Philippine Science High School, he went on to enter the University of the Philippines as an “Oblation Scholar,” and graduated with a medical degree.
This may be the reason he decided, after a stint as a resident in a US hospital, to return to the Philippines, although he credits his wife, a hepatologist, for influencing him greatly in their joint decision to return home.
Once back in the country, Salvana decided to focus on research, treatment and advocacy on HIV/AIDS, which despite the hoopla surrounding the disease in the 1990s, had “fallen off the radar” of public attention and support.
This at a time when the disease was “picking up” again, so that today the country is reporting “10 new HIV cases a day.” To break through the barrier of indifference, Salvana has gone beyond the boundaries of UP-Philippine General Hospital to become a fixture in radio and TV shows advocating greater awareness, testing and treatment, and breaking down the stigma and ignorance that still prevent many people living with HIV from seeking diagnosis and treatment. At the same time, he does research on possible cures and trains fellows to work in the same field.
“None of us did this looking for an award,” Salvana said of his fellow TOYP awardees, speaking volumes about his and his companions’ commitment to “doing good and sparking change.”