Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Manny Villar and his struggle for the upliftment of the OFWs--a True Servant of the Filipino People

Manny Villar's hands cannot
hide his proletarian roots
Rarely do I write about public personalities here, mainly I deal with issues. But, now, I have to break my silence.

First off, I apologize to Senator Manny Villar for writing derogatory things against him last elections. Secondly, I also admit that I was terribly wrong in my estimation of his worth as a Filipino leader. 

Manny Villar is, I strongly believe, a person of extreme worth. He is a true Filipino patriot, a leader who knows the true feelings of the Filipino masses and his efforts and dedication to the Cause of the Filipino Struggle is REAL.

Like Villar, I do recognize my true proletarian roots. I was not born rich. I was born in a middle class family whose roots trace all the way back to Punta, Santa Ana Manila. Santa Ana is one of the oldest Tagalog communities in the country. 

Yes, my family owns several lands in Leyte and my deceased dad's family heritage in Bulacan is somewhat different with my mom's. Fact is, my ancestry goes all the way back to the Marcoses of Ilocos.  

Yet, I was raised in a proletarian family in Manila. My early years was of struggle. There were several times during Martial law where my family only eat once a day. We went by thru the help of God and thru the hard work and persistence of my aunts, my mom, and my grandparents.

Kung ano man si Villar ngayon, dulot yan ng
kanyang pagsisikhay upang makaahon sa buhay
The family that raised me was a family of Overseas Filipino Workers. My aunts who graduated with PhDs in UP, are now working abroad, one a bank manager in New York and the other, head nurse for more than 30 years in England. My tito, who did not finish college, but now heads the biggest oil refinery in Yemen, is also an OFW, along with his kids who now works in UAE.

And I, myself, am a former OFW who worked for many years as a Manager in Singapore.

If not for my aunts and my tito, it would have been a very hard climb to the top for me. Yes, I was a scholar since my freshman days at the University of the Philippines in Diliman and yes, I was also a working student when I was taking my masteral and law studies. Yet, in several occasions when I need financial help the most, my aunts and my uncle were there for me.

That's why I sense an affinity with Villar. His story is like mine, a story of a Pinoy who struggled in life to have a better life for him and for his family.

When Villar's photos and video shots with OFWs were released and even turned into a commercial for the elections, those scenes were like surreal to most Pinoys, and that included this writer. I thought then that the OFWs were just being used for electoral props.

I was wrong.

Two lovely women: Camille Villar with Susan Toots Ople
during launching of OFW scholarship with
ASHA officials
Last October, the Villar Foundation sponsored the scholarship of 20 distressed OFWs. The scholarship aims to help these victims of illegal recruitment find another job for themselves. The project was transformative in the real sense of the word. Villar wanted nothing more than see these OFWs find the courage and the strength to rebuild their lives and once again, be proud of themselves.

My friend, the long-time OFW advocate Susan Ople was instrumental in making this happen. The OPLE Center entered into an agreement with the Asian School of Hospitality Arts, the premier hotel school in the country, to accommodate Villar's scholars and finance their re-education. 

Can't contain my tears, as an OFW
narrates what happened to her
The scholarship was nothing like any other. Villar paid not just their tuition fees, but also their accommodations and living expenses. IMagine that---a complete scholarship in the truest sense of the word!

I was a scholar before, and my scholarship includes living expenses, but none compares with what Villar did to these distressed OFWs!

I was fortunate to witness this personally, when his daughter Camille and my friend, Susan Ople, unveiled the project last October 27. 

The scholarship was launched at the Coffee Beanery at West Avenue. Many members of the media attended the event. And they saw how sincere and how truthful the Villars were in really seeing that the futures of these OFWs be brighter than what they hoped when they went abroad.

Camille Villar is one of the sweetest creatures I have ever met. She spoke with honesty and her heart really is in the right places. I admit--I had a crush before with Camille. And I consider her one of the loveliest faces in Philippine politics. Fact is, Camille is not just beauty, but brains. Do you know that she was the youngest entrepreneur in the Villar family? She had her Sanrio business when she was in her early teens (12 years old?) and she heads one of her father's companies.

What struck me was Camille's humility. When the launching was finished, she just ordered her Frappe and went in one corner of the coffee shop with her staff. No frills, no extra makeup, just plain yet beautiful Camille. 

She disarms many with her sweetest smile, her loving heart and her grounding. By the way, when she was just a student of the Ateneo, she was one of the top 5 crushes there. But, enough of this. 

Like Father, like daughter
Toots Ople really makes
Ka Blas proud of her
advocacies towards
labor emancipation
Susan "Toots" Ople is just as lovely as Camille. She has the purest of intentions for these OFWs who have nothing in life. The daughter of the country's most admired labor advocate, Senator Blas Ople, Toots continue the advocacy of her father despite her financial difficulty. And really, the Oples are not as wealthy as the Villars are but these Bulakenos are really rich in the advocacy department.

Like my dad's family in San Miguel, Toots Ople's family, especially her dad, started out as a poor yet intelligent student. Ka Blas was a real class act. He transcended his proletarian roots and strove towards greatness. He struggled as a student, and went on as a journalist, just like me. As a journalist, Ka Blas was one of the greatest to have ever lived. 

Though my father's family is somewhat like an haciendero in San Miguel, my own father was not. He was the black sheep of the family, someone who loves drinking and partying while his colleagiala of a mother, gambles the family's heritage away. One day, he woke up from his dalliances and worked hard for his own family. From a mere clerk at the University of the Philippines, my father struggled and became a Business Manager. 

His smoking did him in, and he died without ever seeing his son who was, back then, involved in the serious struggle for real transformation of society. I was deeply involved in my activism back then when my father died. He was asking for me, but I was not there when he breathed his last at the Heart Center.

Ka Blas died the same illness as what my father got. Smoking did him in. Unfortunately, I also contracted the same vice, like my father and Ka Blas. I pray though that I will not suffer the same fate as that of my dad and Ka Blas, whom my deceased father admired and knew when Ka Blas was visiting UP. Ka Blas knew my father (but Toots does not know about this. Really, fate brought us together, me and Toots. I really feel that we are destined to create more beautiful things together, very soon). 

Former president Ferdinand Marcos, who, himself, was also a class act and belonged to a middle class family, noted Ka Blas' wit and intelligence and love for the Filipino Masses. Marcos appointed Ka Blas as his labor secretary. It was there that Ka Blas changed the world.

That's why I cried when this project was launched. It was a dream come true, to be able to directly help uplift someone's life is something to be desired, something laudable, and something which money can't buy.

Like Toots, I am not as rich as the Villar's. But we all are in the same wavelength---we all wanted nothing more than change the lives of many. This is true activism in the truest sense of the word. 

Why did I succumbed to the bourgeois democrat's feelings last elections when we have a person like Manny Villar who belonged to the same class as I am? Why did I not feel the same class feelings when Villar is really the true people's champion than Noynoy?

Had I realized sooner than later that Villar's heart was really in the right place, I would have championed and even died for him. 

Villar promised  to help a 100 OFWs more. The project's aim is very simple---provide a unique chance for these victims of someone's greed to pursue another course and from there, uplift their lives. The initial 20 scholars are now students of the Asian School of Hospitality Arts. They are now taking a hotel hospitality course, something which, by Christmas, they would be able to finish. 

This is a good thing about ASHA courses--after about months of education, students will be deployed in 5-star hotels and restaurants. In their apprenticeship, students are given salaries commensurable with the industry pay rate. 

So, come Christmas, Manny Villar, Susan Toots Ople, me and ASHA will have a real Christmas gift to all these OFWs---JOBS, JOBS, AND A BRIGHTER FUTURE.