For seven years, before joining the Senate, I was a social entrepreneur, working in microfinance and micro enterprise programs in rural parts of the Philippines. Our institution primarily worked with women sari-sari storeowners, providing them financing support; training and linking them to companies they otherwise would not have access to.

Through the years, we came to a conclusion that many other social enterprises started after ours would also adhere to – if you provided access to opportunities, Filipinos would step up, take these opportunities and do well for themselves and their families.

We witnessed for ourselves how our nanay-partners improved themselves through our program and that of our microfinance partners. Many of them who didn’t finish high school and had humble beginnings were slowly but surely becoming savvier entrepreneurs who were providing more for their families through their micro businesses.

The Filipino that we saw was not lacking in talent or drive, but rather, just lacking in opportunities. There were of course individuals that refused to work hard and learn, but they were always in the minority; the majority recognized and wanted the opportunities and at the end of the day, did well with them.

It was the same case for our work with the youth. The more popular image of the Filipino youth is involved with teenage pregnancies, drug abuse, violence in gangs and too much DOTA-playing.

Yet, in our years serving the sector, we found thousands of outstanding youth organizations serving their communities, a brotherhood assisting the welfare of indigenous peoples, former street children teaching arts education to their peers, transformed tambays training for disaster rescue, and a group of young people teaching financial literacy and entrepreneurship to former combatants and children of war.

It’s the same formula for the Filipino youth. Give them the proper guidance and mentoring, show them that they can do something worthwhile for themselves and for other people and see them grab these opportunities and make the most out of it.

I’ve been both a witness and an advocate of this fundamental truth that Filipinos can achieve if given the right tools and support. But unfortunately, still to this day, a number of our countrymen do not believe in our own capacity for goodness and greatness.

For every believer in entrepreneurship, there are those that say that Filipinos are Juan Tamads and not built to be our own bosses. For every advocate of the Filipino youth, there are those that believe that the youth are useless, apathetic and only concerned with their Facebook and video games.

With regard to the Bangsamoro Basic Law, the same opposing perspectives apply. There are those who believe that development in the area cannot be achieved under Moro leadership, while there are those that believe that our Moro people can reverse the vicious cycle of poverty and violence through their self-determination.

There are those that speak with certainty that funds given to the Bangsomoro will be used primarily for guns and to line the pockets of corrupt politicians, while there are those who see classrooms and hospitals being built, water systems, electricity and social services finally being delivered to the communities.

Somewhere between these two perspectives lies the best course of action – a careful optimism that sees all angles but has that positive outlook at its heart and as its driving force.

Make no mistake though, action, reform and change can only happen if you start from a perspective of hope, rather than one of distrust, discrimination and pessimism.

We don’t talk enough about the politics of hope. In our minute-by-minute, 140-character, news cycle-led world, it seems that the politics of hope has become passé or even considered naive by the armchair analysts.

Optimism has seemingly lost its luster amidst the talk of vengeance, distrust and disappointment with our leaders.

But the truth is that in my line of work, I have been blessed to come across stories of change and hope, of true political action and reform, of new translations of people power, of unsung and unmentioned heroes who, like me, still believe in what the Filipino can be.

This column will hopefully be that oasis for fellow optimists and hopeful out there.

First published on Manila Bulletin



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