A Filipino of Faith
AS A MATTER OF FACT - Sara Soliven De Guzman (The Philippine Star) - September 7, 2020 - 12:00am

The Philippines will celebrate 500 years of Christianity next year. As we look back at the past, we should try to understand the journey of our nation and the quest of the Filipinos.

All these years, our faith in God’s love and the power of prayer has pulled us through our triumphs and miseries. My father, the late Maximo V. Soliven whose birth anniversary falls this month, would often quip, “For all our faults, weaknesses and shortcomings, and our darkest sins, God’s love and redemption are what sustain us as a people.”

In December 2005, just a few days before Christmas, my father was rushing home for a change of clothes for his appointment in Malacañang, when his car broke down along Paseo de Roxas. It was rush hour. Amidst the heavy traffic, he got out of his car and tried to hail a cab, but all in vain. Desperation was at its height, when a white Chevrolet Ventura pulled up to the curb and the driver rolled down his window and asked him with a smile if he needs help. Of course, my father said yes. This was an experience of a shining gesture that my father never forgot. Just when his faith in the Filipino wavered, a Filipino comes along to restore that faith.

After an exchange of business cards, they started knowing more about each other. The man was Alex Lacson, author of the bestseller, “12 Little Things Every Filipino Can Do to Help Our Country.” My father wrote in his column, “A Filipino of Faith”, Alexander Ledesma Lacson, it turned out, modest as he was in bearing, was a graduate of the University of the Philippines College of Law, 1996, and took up graduate studies at the Harvard Law School in Cambridge, Massachusettes, USA. His wife, Pia Peña – it turned out even more amazingly – is the daughter of an old friend, Teddy Peña from Palawan! She, too, is a lawyer – U.P. 1993 – a legal counsel for Citibank. They established a foundation together to help underprivileged children through school and are now subsidizing 27 young scholars in different public schools in Alex’s native Negros Occidental.

Alex, it struck me from our conversation, is an eloquent and devout Catholic. He believes God must have destined our people for some great role – why, in all history, he reasoned, were we Filipinos the “only Christian nation in Asia?” One thing is certain: He and his wife Pia practice their Christianity – and live it.

Four years ago, he and his wife had a serious discussion about migrating to the US or Canada because the Philippines, as a country, appeared hopeless since things only got worse year after year. Pia and Alex had asked themselves the question: “Is there hope for the Philippines to progress in the next 20 years?”

They reasoned: If the answer is Yes, then they would stay. If it was No, they would leave and relocate abroad while they were still young and energetic. There were long discussions. One day, the realization, Alex recalls, struck them: the answer to that question was in themselves. The country would improve, Pia and Alex finally understood, if they and every other Filipino did something about it. Leaving the Philippines was not the solution. As Lacson put it in his book: “The answer is in us as a people; that hope is in us as a people.”

I kept an open line with Alex even after my father died in 2006. His name became a household name to us because my father would always use the Alex Lacson story to inspire us – that if we do our part in nation building in a big or small way, our country will one day get its glory back.

Last week, Alex launched his first novel, “Five Hundred Years Without Love.” It was a holiday, National Heroes’ Day, very timely.  It made the holiday more meaningful. The novel is a comprehensive and wholistic view of the country’s present-day social cancer, 133 years after Dr. Jose Rizal wrote his “Noli Me Tangere” in 1887.

During the launch three speaker-reactors were invited: Prof. Solita Monsod, Ben Punongbayan and Manila Archdiocese Administrator Bishop Broderick Pabilo.  Bishop Pabilo said: “The book is easy reading because the language is simple and engaging but it is also hard reading ... we cannot separate our personal lives from the situation of our country ... we are in this situation because of the social cancer that is fed by greed and self-centeredness.  This is the challenge to us – can we let go of our own self centeredness, noticing the cancer that is eating up our own people ... to go and live more simple lives and serve the poor and thus contribute to the renewal of our society?”

In Noli Me Tangere, Jose Rizal exposed the country’s social ills during the Spanish period: corruption, abuses, injustices and immoralities of the friars and Spanish authorities. In his novel, Alex Lacson painstakingly exposes the various root causes of our country’s social malaise at present.

The last 500 years were a period of greed, abuse, injustice and immorality. Those with the power and influence took advantage of the poor, ignorant and powerless. Many Filipinos lived without dignity. Five hundred years without love. We were colonized and enslaved by foreign rulers – first by the Spaniards, followed by the Americans and the Japanese. Today, the worst enemy of the Filipino people is the Filipino himself.

Edited by Paulynn Sicam, former Commissioner of the Commission on Human Rights during the term of President Corazon Aquino, writer and editor, “Five Hundred Years” is not only about the social ills of our country. It is also about hope. In the last portion of the book, Alex Lacson talks about “A Dream Philippines.” It gives us a vision of a developed, prosperous and more humane nation which can be achieved through a package of economic reforms based on the successful policies and programs of 12 countries that could serve as model countries for the Philippines.

The novel is about how we can build a country with love, brethrenhood and the common good as its foundations. It is about how we can make the Philippines a better country.

Lastly, the book is about faith. Lacson’s faith. He wrote: Sixty years ago, South Korea was a very poor country. Ninety percent of its people were extremely poor. It was called the impossible country by many foreign writers. Sixty years ago, Singapore was also a very poor and backward country.  China was in the same condition sixty years ago. In fact, the Philippines was in a much better position than Singapore, South Korea and China.

If these countries were able to find their path to development and progress, the Filipinos can also find the way to a better future. We have all the essentials we need to succeed as a people.

During this pandemic, our true colors come out.  It is the best time to do self-reflection and, for our public servants out there, possibly some soul searching. So many are suffering. Do we need to add more pain through all the greed, ills and lust in public office? Isn’t it about time we work with acts of kindness, generosity, fairness and justice?

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