Much hope in Mindanao

PERCEPTIONS - Ariel Nepomuceno - The Philippine Star

Has the promise of a prosperous and peaceful Mindanao arrived? In the fast-moving and hyper-connected world, the Philippines still struggles in joining the economically prosperous nations. We are far from it. Mindanao, if its full potential is unleashed, can be the strong lever of progress that will accelerate our growth and deliver concrete gains to the entire archipelago, where more than 19 million citizens still suffer from decades of poverty and deprivation.

I was invited to address the 2024 college graduation of Western Mindanao State University in Zamboanga City. I’m glad I attended it. It was an honor to be the main guest of a school that has proudly achieved its goal of mentoring young minds both in the social sciences and technical courses. Pride, confidence and excitement for the future exuded in the air. Under the leadership of the university president, Dr. Ma. Carla Ochotona, PhD, the institution deliberately strived to impart the necessary skills and knowledge that molded their students into global citizens who would thrive beyond their parochial interests. Dedication to excellence was the aspiration both of the faculty and students who fully knew that competition in the larger world can be unforgiving and perhaps, even brutal. I congratulate the university for accomplishing its mission!

It was a spectacle to see more than 1,500 students wear their colored red graduation gown. They moved in unison and marched with discipline and cadence inside a campus that received and hosted national and local political leaders, respected business executives, national government officials and foreign diplomats that would include the US Ambassador.

Understanding that the graduates, though obviously ecstatic on Cloud Nine, were also anxious, uncertain or actually bothered by what’s in store for them, I decided to share life-changing lessons that could help them navigate their next journey. I sensed that they would need more than a prepared speech with motherhood statements. I instead enumerated a list of principles that would help them further succeed in their professional and personal lives. These are principles that I personally adhere to and are common amongst the business and government leaders that I have closely worked with.

Five shared secrets that help lead to success. First in the list is a call to be organized. Always be organized up to the point of obsession to this mantra. I admonished everyone to fix their rooms, tables, bags, offices, cars, schedules, everything. The cliché that warns of cluttered things reflecting cluttered minds was relevant. Generally, top guns in the corporate world, government, military or other organizations almost always have tidy surroundings, routines and belongings.

Staying healthy and exuding positivity is also a must. Health, indeed, is wealth. And being a positive person who speaks with respect brings comfort and creates a pleasant environment for everyone. Besides, discussions are productive when participants exchange constructive words rather than vitriol and gossip.

Excellence has also been emphasized as a permanent target. Striving for it, continuously perfecting and improving one’s work, must be an uncompromised attitude. I think the audience agreed that once you have decided to undertake any major action, better strive to excel, or don’t do this action at all.

Dream. Define and describe what they want to become in the future was of utmost importance. Their individual circumstances must not be obstacles that would deprive them of their dreams. I’ve seen enough achievers who transcend the barriers that could have prevented them from becoming successful engineers, architects, doctors, nurses, businessmen, military officers and other roles in life.

I was so relieved when I saw many of the attendees nodding when I stated the fifth principle that they must fully embrace. I asked everyone to love their country. In silence, I saw approval in their smiles and eyes. Pay the correct taxes, I pleaded, vote for righteous and competent political leaders, obey traffic rules, join civic organizations, do their best in their chosen careers, don’t bribe nor tolerate corruption and many other practical displays of patriotism.

The list of the things that must be done to succeed can, of course, be longer. But these five principles must serve as a minimum requirement if they want to have a strong fighting chance and be on top of their world.

Build on natural treasures and strategic human capital. Based on what I have witnessed, there are many talented and motivated individuals in the region who could be the country’s partners in delivering our needed reforms and improvements. Mindanao has the agricultural, marine, mineral and forest resources that are more than enough to increase our overall productivity. They supply more than 40 percent of our food demand.

Tourism, especially its 27 indigenous cultural communities, can be an attraction that would bring international and local tourists. But the infrastructure such as accommodations, access and security must be assured.

Mindanao must cease from being at the backstage of our national development. Instead, its promise to bring wealth and progress must be at the center of the entire country’s desire to be amongst the world’s progressive nations. Judging by the vibrance of Western Mindanao State University, there is hope.

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