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Just recently, I had the chance to watch the movie Life of Pi while traveling with my family to catch our cruise ship Crystal Symphony in Los Angeles for a 19-day cruise. Imagine, we will be bonding with the whole family of around 40 people, including my father Joecon and my mother Marivic, my siblings and their spouses, as well as my nieces and nephews (as seen in this photo taken during a recent family gathering), as we travel to Cabo San Lucas, Costa Rica, Columbia (crossing the Panama Canal), the Keys, up to New York. Anyway, the movie is about an Indian boy and his family who took a ship to migrate to Canada. As they sailed after a stop in Manila, the ship sank during a storm, and he finds himself in a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger. Well, we do not have any animals in our cruise, and we are praying to have calm seas until we reach our destination. But kidding aside, the Life of Pi greatly reminds me about how the way life is in the Philippines.
When Martial Law was declared about 40 years ago in 1972, it is hard to miss the similarity between Pi and the Philippines having been â€œstranded at seaâ€ for such a long time. During these years, life became challenging and many Filipinos decided to seek opportunities overseas, either as workers or as migrants, for a better life. But who would have imagined that one day, this situation would turn into the biggest source of our foreign reserves? As a family-oriented nation, Filipinos are inclined to help their families who are left behind, which caused the repatriation of dollars to contribute to around P80 billion today in our reserves. Others who decided to live abroad and move their families have not cut ties with the people here. They continue to send money back home, and they also serve as the biggest source of tourists or balikbayans, which is remarkable. The transformation over the past 40 years into earning the gold standard as an investment grade country gives us the greatest pride that we are no longer the Sick Man of Asia.
One would wonder, how did Pi manage to survive while staying in a lifeboat for over 200 days without food and water? It was through his resourcefulness and hard work to source water from rain and to fish using whatever means was available. When all his options were gone, he turns to God for help. Pi is a spiritual person. He was basically a Hindu, but due to a challenge by a friend who dared him to drink holy water in a church, he somehow was able to learn about Christianity. The life in the Philippines is similar, where many Filipinos are facing extreme poverty. Like Pi, Filipinos turn to other means in order to look for a better future for the children, just like how many of them went overseas to find work. But being a Catholic country, our faith has held us up for quite a long time. We were able to withstand the blows in life, just like how Pi managed to keep himself alive despite living with a tiger, which symbolized the challenges that we face. One had to believe that there is indeed a God that provides in times when one is about to give up, especially if that person survived after being stranded at sea for over 200 days.
If we would look back at the events within the last 40 years in the Philippines, we saw the first sign of divine providence when the yellow revolution happened which brought down the dictatorship and brought back democracy through Cory Aquino. This is when change began. Then just three years ago, Coryâ€™s son, who was nowhere from the list of potential presidents four years ago, has brought a different kind of change. Not much has changed in the countryâ€™s infrastructure, as we still have congested airports and the worst traffic in our main highways. But he aimed to change something that is far more important than physical structures â€” the attitude, which is the root of every person. A mindset change is the hardest thing to accomplish, and I have to say that our president has been able to accomplish this through divine intervention. P-Noyâ€™s simple policies like â€œno wang-wangâ€ and â€œkayo ang boss koâ€ are symbolic of his new type of leadership. The fight against corruption and greater transparency in government is possible, and it is indeed happening, just like how it is resonated to the public. Our foreign investors saw the changes through how the government is being run today, and they like what they see. Mindset change is very powerful; it takes years to build infrastructure, and sometimes it takes generations to have a positive mindset change. But with a leader that has been blessed, it can happen within a generation.
After seeing the life of Pi who survived at sea for more than 200 days and that of the Philippines for 40 years, I think we have finally seen the turnaround and the start of solving poverty. I am not saying poverty will be eradicated overnight, but the elements are there as we pursue an inclusive kind of growth. A lot of opportunities will come being an investment grade country, and this will give us the chance to improve the lives of our people. But the government and the business sector cannot do it alone, since change also has to happen within the individual. Prayers have to be accompanied with hard work. And as the election happens next week, let us vote for candidates who will sincerely work for the betterment of those who are struggling in poverty.