The business of RP social transformation
- Wilson Lee Flores () - May 12, 2003 - 12:00am
Can the private business sector become a catalyst of Philippine social transformation? Can business leaders be effective advocates of social justice?

A low-key and self-effacing businessman who personifies the growing social conscience of the business community is former Philippine Ambassador to the Vatican Howard Q. Dee. He prefers to be described as a "social worker" despite having been former president of the nation’s pharmaceutical giant United Laboratories, Inc. (Unilab) and coming from one of the country’s oldest entrepreneurial families. Dee had served four Philippine Presidents with distinction, representing the government in the Vatican, in negotiations with Communist rebels and now as presidential adviser tasked with helping alleviate the plight of the country’s 10 million indigenous people.

Dee recalled accompanying GMA and five cabinet secretaries to Bukidnon two years ago to rectify a grave injustice inflicted on the Manobo tribal people during martial law, with the government leasing their ancestral lands of 2,100 hectares to a powerful political family for 75 centavos per hectare for 25 years. These ancestral lands have been returned to 650 Manobo families who were unjustly evicted 27 years ago and some of whom were even killed for trespassing into their own lands.

According to the former ambassador, "My theory is that combating poverty is next to impossible for as long as we do not see it as a value larger than our own lives. Society has grown comfortable with its injustices against the poor. What scandalized the Pope does not scandalize us anymore, least of all our politicians and the bureaucracy in spite of the Herculean efforts of some government officials. We have been desensitized to the pains of the poor, immunized against the viruses of their sicknesses and sufferings."

He added that injustice in our country is institutionalized in our unjust structures, including our law enforcement institutions. We are faced with a new breed of terrorists: prominent persons in society, with no compunction to kill, using law enforcement agencies and courts of justice to inflict injustice. "If we are looking for a battle cry," Dee shares, "my humble suggestion is ‘Justice.’ We must fight the enemy by rendering justice with justice."

Ambassador Dee usually declines media interviews and only agreed to share his ideas with Philippine STAR, on condition that the focus would be on the ideals of his Assisi Development Foundation, Inc. (ADFI) and his passion for Philippine social justice.

In 1975, he and then Ateneo de Manila University president Fr. Francisco Araneta, S.J. organized the Assisi Development Foundation, Inc. to respond to then Pope Paul VI’s battle cry that "development is the new name for peace."

Dee recalled our present-day Pope’s reaction to Philippine mass poverty. He said, "When Pope John Paul II visited our country, he was visibly shocked by this stark contrast of prosperity and poverty, which he called a scandal in the life of Christians."

In a meeting with the bishops, he analyzed our social plight. He appealed to our nobility as a Christian people. He said that the loss of our Christian nobility brings with it a decline of moral values. Dee added, "This leads to a growing culture of materialism, resulting in unjust social structures that exclude the poor from the benefits of development."
200 Years Of Entrepreneurship And Social Service
There is the stereotype image of many ethnic Chinese entrepreneurs as successful ones. In my research on the 200-year- entrepreneurial history in the Philippines of our family surnamed Li (pronounced "Lee" in Mandarin and "Dy" or "Dee" in the Hokkien dialect) from Chio-Chun Village of Fujian province, I found out a disproportionate huge number of descendants of our immigrant ancestor had excelled not only as pioneer entrepreneurs, community leaders, bankers, industrialists, but also as educators, philanthropists, medical doctors, religious leaders, even activists and a World War II resistance leader executed by the Japanese invaders to Manila.

On May 2, this writer donated to the Bahay Tsinoy Museum in Intramuros led by Teresita Ang See a large 1913 government certificate containing names of several prominent family members of the fourth and fifth generations who had then jointly donated a school to our ancestral Chio-Chun Village. The first to gain prestige and success was the 19th century "rags-to-riches" lumber tycoon Dy Han Kia, the leader of the family’s third generation in the Philippines and my great-great-grandfather. Dy Han Kia was also a philanthropist who maintained very close ties to the Catholic Church during the Spanish colonial era. The leader of the fifth generation was Dy Han Kia’s grandnephew 20th century "lumber king" and China Bank founder Dee C. Chuan, six-time president of the Chinese Chamber of Commerce who passionately championed the most daring civic, social and even political causes.

Ambassador Howard Q. Dee is part of the family’s dynamic sixth generation in the Philippines. Pope John Paul II nicknamed him "Our Lady’s Ambassador" due to his consistent discussions with His Holiness on Our Lady of Fatima.

When asked how he felt when GMA issued Executive Order No. 1 appointing him Presidential Adviser on Indigenous Peoples’ Affairs to help tribal minorities, and how our ancestors were part of a once oppressed ethnic minority during the Spanish colonial era, Dee replies, "It makes my social work for the oppressed poor and the indigenous minorities even more meaningful."

Ambassador Dee is co-chairperson of Task Force Tabang Mindanaw with businessman Fernando Zobel de Ayala, as well as president of the Assisi Development Foundation, Inc. (ADFI). Tabang Mindanaw was formed in April ‘98 to assist over 900,000 families suffering a food crisis due to the El Niño. Named after St. Francis of Assisi, ADFI "designs, plans and implements innovative and effective interventions that empower the poor and the marginalized, working to attain their full human development and, together, advocating for just societal relationship and structures."
Reform Core Values, Not Just Change Regimes And Politicos
How serious is the mass poverty problem of the Philippines? Ambassador Dee answered, "Forty percent of Filipinos live in sub-human destitute conditions – a social volcano waiting to explode."

Is Ambassador Howard Q. Dee pessimistic about the widespread corruption, mass poverty and social injustice, which continue to condemn the Philippine economy to mediocrity? He said, "I am encouraged to know that many groups today pursue social transformation as the means to combat our social ills and national malaise. But can social transformation be attained by way of volunteerism? Not by itself, our recent history tells us. People Power brought millions of people to respond to a call to duty – to remove an offending head of state. Yet, after the change of guard, no social transformation has taken place."

Yes, there have been reforms here and there but there is no transformation of the core values of society. The unjust structures and their perpetuators remain, unscathed and untouchable. According to Dee, if we wish to transform society, we will have to go beyond the removal of the evildoer. It is not enough that we are anti-evil, whatever the "evil" is…

Dee said, "We must stand for some good, a value that we can pursue with passion and missionary zeal, a value larger than the value of our own lives, a value that will transform us as we transform the world around us."
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Thanks for your numerous comments and suggestions sent to or or P.O. Box 14277, Ortigas Center, Pasig City.

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