Insights and opinions from our contributors on the current issues happening in the region


Creating Jobs

March 21, 2022

Like breathing fresh air after being cooped up for too long, people rejoiced after Alert level 1 was declared in NCR and many regions this month. Mobility has returned to pre-pandemic levels, a clear signal that the country is recovering from the COVID-19 Omicron surge. Of course, optimism is offset by concerns about developments in Ukraine and its global repercussions. Right here and now, we are reeling from the dramatic increase in fuel prices and bracing ourselves for the expected surge in the cost of basic commodities.

The news that the Philippine unemployment rate dropped to 6.4% in January 2022 as against the 6.6% in December 2021 is, thus, welcome. This is equivalent to 2.93 million jobless Filipinos, lower than the 3.27 million unemployed in December last year. It is also lower than the 3.96 million jobless Filipinos in January 2021. The employment rate increased to 93.6%, higher than the 93.4% in December 2021 and the 91.2% in January 2021. In terms of magnitude, the number of employed persons increased by 1.77 million. This increase in our labor participation rate is a sign that our economy is beginning to recover. The declaration of the lowest quarantine restrictions in Metro Manila and nearby provinces, which account for about two-thirds of the economy, raises hope for our economic recovery.

Emilia Gabin is one of the many Filipinos who hope that the reopening of the economy will not only help recover losses, but also bring back the jobs wiped out by the pandemic. Emilia is a micro-entrepreneur from Barangay Alejandrea in Jiabong, Western Samar. Her food processing enterprise produces adobong tahong, tahong and shrimp crackers, and squid chips. Emilia started her venture by selling the snacks at P1 per pack in nearby schools and bus stations. She joined CARD, a microfinance organization which lent her money to increase production, and her micro-enterprise grew.

Misfortune touched Emilia’s business in 2013, when Super Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda) devastated Visayas. With perseverance, she and her family were able to turn things around. The capital infusion and marketing support from CARD helped them open branches in Tacloban and Catbalogan. After the products were registered with the DTI in 2015, her business expanded, and she opened more stores to sell her brand of JJED Food products. She developed new seafood-based products, sourced raw materials from the community, and her micro-enterprise provided jobs and livelihood to many. She even started to market their products in Metro Manila.

Then the pandemic happened. At that time, JJED was heavily into production, preparing for a DTI Trade Fair in Manila. This did not push through due to the pandemic, and the lockdowns had devastating effects on the micro-enterprise. Product distribution became difficult, and eventually, they had to close stores because there were very few walk-in customers. When their stocks expired in storage, they decided to just stop production. The business stoppage was heartbreaking for Emilia, not just because of worries for her family, but because her workers and their families also lost their livelihood. Her suppliers also lost their source of income.

COVID-19 concerns aggravated their economic woes, but Emilia did not lose hope. She reopened her business as soon as the quarantine restrictions were lifted in 2020. Her employees happily returned to work and resumed production. But everything has changed due to the pandemic: mobility remained limited, and safety concerns made everything difficult. So, Emilia decided to diversify, and thought of products which she can easily sell to neighbors and nearby communities.

She made lumpia, mixing JJED’s main ingredient, tahong and other seafoods, with local vegetables in their area. It was a hit, and soon, Emilia was selling lumpia even in places as far as Leyte. This product allowed Emilia’s enterprise to survive and serve many areas which remained on high community alert levels throughout the pandemic. Eventually, the economy began to reopen and her clients from NCR and other provinces returned. With the support of CARD, she re-opened her stores and actively sold her products online. Soon, she has resellers from as far as Canada and Dubai.

Emilia and her family admit that 2020 and 2021 were difficult years for their small business. But they never thought of giving up it up, thinking of the workers and suppliers who depend on them for livelihood. And so, they plod on, participating in DTI Trade Fairs, exploring new markets opportunities and developing new products. Their food production enterprise is not big, but the employment and livelihood opportunities it provides cannot be gainsaid.

Enterprises like those of Emilia’s, with an asset size of up to P100 million and less than 200 employees are classified as micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs). The sector is responsible for 40 percent of our Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and employ more than 5 million workers or approximately 63 percent of our workforce.

We need to support MSMEs, as they are the key to economic recovery. They are engines of growth, helping in poverty reduction by creating jobs for our growing labor force. How can we help Emilia and entrepreneurs like her? There are a few things we can do:

1. Provide financial support – the government can provide loans, grants or subsidies to provide MSMEs immediate relief. As proposed in the Bayanihan stimulus package, it should incentivize financial institutions to provide credit to give the sector much-needed capital infusion. In the long-term, tax relief and wage subsidy programs for key industries may even be considered.

2. Ease the regulatory burden – simplify registration requirements and reduce the cost of doing business. This is important, especially since majority of MSMEs are into food production.

3. Business development support – provide financial literacy and business development training to help MSMEs access credit, ensure viability and address liquidity issues. Given the pandemic-shaped landscape, they also need training on how to operate in a digitalized market environment.

Big things often have small beginnings. Let us support our MSMEs.



The true value of suffering

March 16, 2022

“BEHOLD, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death, and hand him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and scourged and crucified, and he will be raised on the third day.” (Mt 20,18-19)

With these words, we have to understand that like Christ we have to learn to suffer, to see the redemptive value of suffering. We have to realize that in this life of ours in this world, we can never avoid suffering in one form or another.

Suffering is part of our human condition that is wounded by sin and all sorts of weaknesses and our natural human limitations, and the fact that we are meant to live a supernatural life which we can never attain unless we are truly with God, and the fact is, we seldom are truly with God. We can only be completely suffering-free when we are with God in heaven.

But we are given a way of how to handle our suffering properly, to the extent of converting our suffering as a way to our own salvation and eternal happiness. And that is always to follow the example of Christ as he went through all the suffering in his redemptive life here on earth.

We have to be willing to suffer the way Christ suffered for all of us. That way, we attain the true essence of our humanity which is love, channeling the love of God for us in us. No wonder then that Christ himself said: “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (Jn 15,13)

No wonder also that as St. Peter said in his first Letter, “He (Christ) did not retaliate when he was insulted, nor threaten revenge when he suffered. He left his case in the hands of God, who always judges fairly.” (2,23) We have to learn to restrain our urge to make revenge whenever we are offended in some way by others.

It is this willingness to suffer that would show how, like Christ, we can go all the way to giving ourselves completely to everyone, irrespective of how they are. That is also why Christ commanded us, as an integral component of true love, that we even love our enemies.

In true love, the lover goes all the way to identifying himself with the beloved with the view of giving the beloved what is objectively good for both the lover and the beloved. There is a kind of unification between the two that is based on what is objectively good for both.

We have to train ourselves to develop this kind of love. And we can use the usual conditions, concerns and circumstances in our daily dealings with others to develop that kind of love. Whenever some differences and conflicts occur among ourselves, we should be willing to suffer for the others, bearing their burdens, even if we also try to sort out and settle these differences and conflicts as peacefully and charitably as possible.

This willingness to suffer should be an active thing, not a passive one, waiting for suffering to come. We have to look for the opportunities to suffer. That would be a real proof that we are truly in love. What is more, such attitude would help us in protecting ourselves from temptations, sins and all other forms of evil!





NAMFREL welcomes the new COMELEC Chairman and Commissioners as it urges more transparency in the 2022 elections

A press statement by the National Citizens' Movement for Free Elections (NAMFREL)
March 10, 2022

NAMFREL wishes the new Chairman and Commissioners of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) all the best in their new posts. Their appointment comes at a crucial period as the Commission prepares for the upcoming May 9, 2022 elections.

Foremost of the challenges ahead is securing the elections and ensuring that it is conducted in a fair and free manner. The Automated Election System Law requires that the electoral process "shall be transparent and credible, and that the results shall be fast, accurate and reflective of the genuine will of the people" (Section 2, Republic Act No. 9369).

NAMFREL believes that the Commission's adherence to this policy of transparency and inclusivity is important in order to earn public confidence and to boost the integrity of the Commission, and of the elections.

NAMFREL commends efforts by the Comelec, the Department of Education, and the Department of Information and Communications Technology to require teachers who will serve in the Electoral Boards (EBs) to enroll in the Philippine National Public Key Infrastructure (PNPKI). The enrollment would have allowed them to use their personal digital signatures on the Election Returns. This would have enhanced the security of the 2022 election results compared to previous elections, when only a pre-generated signature of the vote-counting machine was used.

However, with only nine weeks before election day, NAMFREL expresses concern on the following issues in the preparations by the Comelec, as observed by stakeholders, and which were made public during the March 9, 2022 Senate Committee on Electoral Reforms and People’s Participation hearing.

1. The difficulties met by Comelec in procuring the cable assembly needed to connect the I-Button readers to a server in order to produce the I-Buttons for digital signing. This has reduced the adoption of digital signing by the teachers who will serve as EBs merely to a pilot test in some areas, instead of nationwide. NAMFREL urges the Comelec to pursue other alternatives like seeking local companies with the capacity to fabricate the required cable assembly. A last resort, NAMFREL recommends making the election results transmission package -- which shall include the electronically transmitted election returns – in protobuf format, which shall include the xml sig and public key certificates for validation available through the transparency server.

2. Observation of the ballot printing at the National Printing Office and in the operations at the Comelec Sta. Rosa warehouse has not been opened to election observation groups, including accredited citizens’ arms. NAMFREL observers were invited to these in previous elections. NAMFREL urges the Comelec to open the ballot printing and the operations at the Sta. Rosa warehouse for observation by stakeholders, including accredited citizens' arms.

Stakeholders’ request for information on the regional hubs which the COMELEC plans to set up with DOST and DICT, and to allow observation on election day, remains pending. NAMFREL recommends opening up the facilities for observation during the election period until termination of operations.

3. The unresolved issue of the alleged hacking reported on January 10, which may impact on the credibility of the election results, and which has the potential of inviting questions on the ability of the Comelec to secure the elections. NAMFREL recommends speedy resolution of the issue.

4. The lack of guidelines as of this date to open up observation by accredited election monitors of the operations in the various data centers where the Comelec Central Server, backup server, and the transparency server are located, including access to regional hubs. NAMFREL recommends the issuance of such guidelines and to allow stakeholders, including accredited citizens' arms, to field observers in the various data centers and regional hubs during the election period until termination of operations.

NAMFREL understands the challenges that the Comelec is facing as it prepares for the elections given the varying COVID-19 alert levels. However, this should not be an excuse to curtail observation activities and to deny access to pertinent data. The Comelec may livestream activities, such as ballot printing, logistics, and Pre-election Logic and Accuracy Test (preLAT), which is not new to the Commission, as it already streams on social media the e-Rallies of national candidates daily, and its Memorandum of Agreement signing events.

The Comelec should be commended for finding ways to ensure that voters and election workers will be safe on Election Day. However, it has been recommended that the Comelec extend this diligence to the pre-election and post-election periods, ensuring the safety of other election stakeholders like election monitoring organizations, media, political parties, and other concerned groups, without preventing said stakeholders from doing their monitoring work. The cornerstone of the trust and confidence bestowed on the elections is anchored on the inclusiveness and visibility of these various processes and information to the voting public.



Our inherent desire for heaven

February 27, 2022

THAT’S true. Despite our weaknesses, mistakes, sins, etc., we have in our heart of hearts an inherent desire for heaven. As the Catechism would put it, “This desire (for happiness) is of divine origin: God has placed it in the human heart in order to draw man to the One who alone can fulfill it.” (1718)

This truth of our faith is illustrated in that gospel episode where a rich young man approached Christ, asking what he had to do to gain eternal life. (cfr. Mk 10,17-27) As that gospel story unfolded, Christ told him first to follow the commandments, and when the young man said that he had observed all those, Christ then told him to “sell what you have, and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”

Well, we know how the young man reacted to that response of Christ. It was a sad ending, precisely because the young man found it hard and was unwilling to follow what Christ told him. That’s when Christ said, “How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the Kingdom of God!...It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the Kingdom of God.”

We have to realize that to meet our inherent desire for eternal happiness, for heaven, we need to free ourselves from any attachments to earthly things, even as we use them and even enjoy them in our earthly affairs. The things of this world should be a means for us to be with God. They should not be a competitor with God.

That is why we have to live in the strictest sense possible the virtue of Christian poverty that allows us to use the things of this world to give glory to God and to lead us to heaven.

We cannot overemphasize the strategic relevance of this virtue. With all the glut of material and temporal things now on us, we need to be more conscious and adept in living and developing this virtue of detachment.

I don’t think we can afford to be casual about this concern anymore. The worldly things are now so attractive, so tempting and so riveting that if we are not careful, there’s no way but be swept away by its rampaging worldly laws and impulses.

This virtue has the primary purpose of emptying our mind and heart of anything that can compete or, worse, replace the love for God and for others which is proper to all of us.

It’s not about running away from worldly things, much less, of hating the goods of the earth and our temporal affairs, but of knowing how to handle them, so as not to compromise the fundamental law of love that should rule us.

To repeat, it is not just a matter of emptying ourselves but rather of filling ourselves with what is proper to us. In short, we practice detachment to acquire and enhance the attachment that is proper to us as God’s image and likeness and as God’s children.

It’s quite clear that a requirement for entering heaven is detachment from earthly things. This should be clear to all of us, and should guide us in the way we use the things of the world. These things should lead us to God and to others, not isolate us, building up our own world and destiny.





Commemorating EDSA 1, the lessons we must learn

NCCP statement for the 36th year commemoration of EDSA People Power Uprising
February 25, 2022

The National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP) is one with the Filipino people in celebrating the 36th anniversary of the 1986 EDSA People Power Uprising. This momentous event in history showed to the world how we as a people acted valiantly together to put an end to a much-abhorred dictatorship. As we commemorate this occasion, we invite the faithful for a deep and meaningful reflection.

Those who stood their ground during those dark times taught us that we should not take for granted the basic freedoms that are now enshrined in our Bill of Rights. We should never forget that during the dark days of Martial Law, basic rights like the freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and the freedom to peaceably assemble, to name a few, were violently curtailed. The numbers speak for themselves: around 70,000 people were imprisoned; 34,000 were tortured; and, 3,240 were killed.

While the people’s civil and political rights were being violated, the country was being robbed blind by the dictator, his family, and his cronies. These were all documented and proven in court. Ferdinand E. Marcos and his wife Imelda were even listed in the World Guinness Book of Records with the dubious distinction of committing the “The Greatest Robbery of a Government”.

Several administrations have passed, and the promise that was the 1986 People Power Uprising seems to have been squandered. Under the different post-Marcos governments, the majority of our people remain mired in poverty while only a handful became richer. Human rights violations also persisted and the climate and culture of impunity worsened.

Under the present dispensation, these problems became even more glaring and we have been common witnesses to the erosion of human rights and the dignity of the people. The War on Drugs that took thousands of lives, the various reports of corruption, the militarized and unscientific handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, the negligence during typhoons and other natural catastrophes, and the special favors given to Pres. Duterte’s friends and allies were all reminiscent of the dark years of Martial Law.

Nevertheless, we must never forget the courage and vigilance of the people that spurred EDSA 1. Moreover, EDSA 1 taught us the lesson that if the state fails to honor democracy and freedom that must be enjoyed in full by its citizens, then it becomes the people’s responsibility to fight for and restore it. It is a reminder for the sovereign people and a warning to government officials that the people’s collective power is capable of bringing down rulers from their thrones and sending the rich empty (cf. Luke 1: 52-53), especially when human life, rights, and dignity are threatened and disrespected. Denouncing evils in our society is a sacred task and we must work collectively to ensure God’s plan of ushering peace and justice in our land.

Now that the National Elections is imminent, may we muster the same courage, vigilance, and active participation of those who fought 36 years ago. Let us choose candidates who have a proven record and platform for respecting human rights, promoting peace, and advocating for people’s economic agenda. We must resist any candidate that will potentially bring back, in any form, the Martial law years. May we continue to guard our democracy by making sure that no dictator or those who benefited from the plunder of our nation, will ever gain a foothold in Malacañang ever again. Let us continue to pray, act and hold fast in protecting our rights and democracy. May the spirit of those who fought for freedom during the 1986 People Power uprising continue to guide us.



Love, education and poverty
(Valentine ruminations)

February 12, 2022

There are many reasons to celebrate this month. February 1 marks the Lunar New Year, also known as Chinese New Year, which will be celebrated across the world until February 15. Omicron may have given us an inauspicious start in January, but I am so glad that we are kicking off the Year of the Water Tiger with news that COVID-19 cases are declining nationwide.

February 14, of course, is Valentine’s Day. Many lucky couples will celebrate this holiday with love, flowers and chocolates. My wife and I will make do with our usual morning tête-à-tête over kapeng barako and pandesal, our weathered hearts full of celebrations past. With our kids and apos, the love of friends and colleagues who are like extended family to us, every day feels like Valentine’s. And we are grateful for that.

I am also praying that the IATF will brighten our hearts on February 14, when it announces the updated alert levels as it continues to monitor existing restrictions in light of the decline in COVID-19 infections. The Philippines is now back to moderate risk status, an improvement from the previous high and critical risk classification. I hope that we can all look forward to the reopening of the economy. Let us show our love for others by following health safety standards like frequent handwashing, observing physical distance, and wearing of face masks.

There is another reason to celebrate February 14. It is the 21st anniversary of the CARD-MRI Development Institute (CMDI), a globally-recognized learning institution grown from our humble corner of the world, the scenic province of Laguna. How CMDI came about is also a love story, hewn from our decades of rural development work with the marginalized sectors.

CMDI began as the training unit for personnel of the Center for Agriculture and Rural Development (CARD), a non-government organization, which provides microfinance and related services to poor women. As CARD grew into several mutually-reinforcing institutions (MRIs) in response to the needs of our expanding clientele, our capacity-building needs also became more complex. We were rather naïve when we started CARD in 1986. Full of idealism, armed with limited funds and boundless hope, we thought we only needed to provide microcredit to transform the lives of our clients. But things were not that simple.

You see, poverty has many roots, and lack of education is one of them. Working directly with the poor --especially those in the rural areas -- we saw this firsthand. Our clients suffer many forms of deprivation and their needs go beyond microfinance. Providing them with funds for livelihood is good, yes, but more is needed: financial literacy, training in microenterprises, marketing support, microinsurance, and a host of other things.

Thus, we established the CARD Training Center in 2000 in Barangay Tranca, Bay, Laguna. In there, we trained not just our staff, but our clients. Later on, other organizations also approached us for their training needs. And this is how our training unit evolved into the CMDI: a learning resources network that provides an array of practitioner-led training and education services to our staff and members, as well as other microfinance practitioners seeking advanced education in applied microfinance. It is now a government-recognized educational institution with facilities in Baguio, Pasay, and Masbate, as well as a campus in Tagum, Davao.

Nelson Mandela once said that “Education is the most powerful weapon we can use to change the world.” The story of CMDI certainly proves this truth. As of December 2021, CMDI has trained 1,570,848 clients under its Credit with Education (CwE) program. Imagine the multiplier effect that more than a million individuals trained on health, business, microinsurance, disaster preparedness, and credit discipline could have on their communities. The impact of these trainings had been felt not just by our clients and their families. Through many disasters and emergencies, our clients have become community leaders, sharing with others what they have learned from us.

To help break the inter-generational cycle of poverty, CMDI now offers affordable education to clients and their children. It offers Senior High School, TESDA-accredited courses and baccalaureate programs. CMDI has granted more than 15,000 educational scholarships to poor and deserving students.

Why focus on education?

Education is crucial because it directly correlates with many solutions to poverty, including economic growth and reduced income inequality. It is also the highest aspirations of our clients: that their children get an education. To poor parents, sending their children to school is the greatest act of love.

Many Filipinos lack access to education. According to DepEd, more than 3 million were not able to enroll last year, while the latest PSA data (2017) show that we have 3.53 million out-of-school youth, half of them from families whose income fall within the bottom 30 percent of the population. Based on PSA’s 2018 Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI), which serves to complement the income-based measure of poverty, indicators on educational attainment consistently had the highest incidence of deprivation among Filipino families.

CMDI, then, is our humble contribution to filling this educational gap. Providing training to clients empowers and enables them to change their lives. We provide affordable quality education to help our clients realize their dream of securing their children’s future. It is also an act of love on our part.

And because February is the month of love, let me end with this quote from Brazilian educator and philosopher Paulo Freire: “Education is an act of love, thus, an act of courage.”

We are courageous in our love.





Let’s go viral and trending

January 20, 2022

LIKE Christ, we should try to attract as many people as possible in order to lead them to Christ. In a sense, we should be like today’s influencers in the media and the cyberworld who with their gimmicks manage to go viral and trending with whatever messages they want to convey.

Of course, we should do this with the proper rectitude of intention, which is that everything should be done for the glory of God and to truly help people in their spiritual life and in their relation with God and with everybody else. We have to rid ourselves of any ulterior motive.

In the gospel, we can see how Christ managed to attract many people mainly due to his tremendous power of preaching and the miracles he made. But in all these, he always warned the people not to make him known. He did all the wonderful things trying his best to pass unnoticed. This can be observed, for example, in the gospel of Mark, chapter 3, verses 7 to 12.

We need to realize more deeply that we are meant to have a universal sense of apostolate, of helping lead people back to God. Let’s always keep in mind that mandate Christ gave to his apostles before he ascended into heaven. “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” (Mt 28,19-20)

It’s a mandate that is actually meant for all the disciples of Christ and believers of God. We have to have a universal sense of apostolate. As one saint would put it, of 100 souls we should be interested in 100.
For this purpose, we cannot exaggerate the need for us to master the teachings of Christ, the doctrine of our Christian faith. Of course, we can only achieve that if we make the effort to identify ourselves more closely with Christ, who is not only a historical character, but a living person who continues to guide us and to share his power with us.

We also have to learn how to adapt our language to the mentality of the people, always taking note of their culture, their temperament, and all the other conditionings that describe them. Let’s remember that the Christian faith is full of mysteries that certainly are over our head, and the challenge is for us to know how to make them appreciated, loved and lived. Obviously, we always need to beg for God’s grace for this purpose.

But we have to know how to convey the supernatural truths of our faith in a human and attractive way, without compromising the integrity of these truths. We should always be monitoring the developments of the world as we go along, so that we would know how to present the Christian doctrine in a way that flows with the wavelength of the people today, especially the young.

This is when we can try to use appropriate memes and other catchy slogans, so popular these days. With rectitude of intention, let’s not be shy from making our evangelization to go viral and trending.

Again, in all of these, we should never forget that the first means we have to use are the spiritual and supernatural ones: prayer, sacrifices, recourse to the sacraments, continuing study of doctrine and formation, etc.



Best gifts for the season

December 23, 2021

Pandemic or not, the Christmas season is here. With the cool amihan wind comes a hopeful air, so soothing after almost two years of uncertainty and fear. These days, Christmas carols play in malls and radio stations, parols light the streets, and holiday decorations brighten our homes. Many Filipinos, young and old, are preoccupied with gifts: what to gifts to give, what gifts to receive, worries about being unable to give to loved ones. The devastation wrought by Typhoon Odette has put a damper on things, but, like what happened in the wake of Typhoon Yolanda in 2013, the catastrophe has brought out the best of the Filipino. People from all walks of life are trying to chip in, with social media filled with news about donation drives, prayers for those affected and a myriad of stories of how people are reaching out to those affected.

Gift giving at Christmas is a Christian tradition that is widely practiced around the world, symbolic of the tributes made to the baby Jesus by the Three Wise Men in the story of the Nativity. It is heartening to see that in this difficult time, in the wake of Odette’s devastation, even with the threat of Omicron and fears of another COVID-19 surge, people are rising above difficulties to give the best gift of all: themselves.

Unusual, but Necessary Gifts

We all strive to give gifts that our families and friends would appreciate. The internet is full of lists of gift suggestions – food, toys, bags, shoes, books, household, and office items. Everything from day-to-day stuff to the bizarre and unusual is being offered. And there is also my personal favorite, the list of gifts that give back. These are the ones that support important causes, with proceeds going to charities, non-profits, and communities.

This year, I hope we give gifts that transform lives. We can still give our loved ones their favorite stuff, but we can buy from sources where part of the proceeds goes to charity. We can also make donations in the name of our loved ones to support causes that are important to them.

Maybe, instead of giving cash or toys to our inaanaks, we can open a kiddie savings account for them, giving not just the monetary value of the items we originally intended to give but also paving the way for financial literacy. This is important, because recent studies show that Filipinos struggle to understand basic financial concepts, with a Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) survey showing that 41% of Filipinos can only answer one of three financial literacy questions correctly and a meager eight percent can answer three. BSP data also show that about 36.9 million Filipino adults have no bank accounts. This significant number of unbanked Filipinos (48% of the country's adult population) is brought on by factors other than low-income levels. To address the situation, BSP is promoting financial inclusion. The DepEd is integrating financial education in the K to 12 Basic Education Curriculum. The private sector is also helping, with fintechs and banks reaching out to low-income groups and helping microfinance institutions serve the poor in remote and underserved areas. This Christmas, we can help their initiatives in our own little ways. Aside from kiddie savings, we can get kids started on financial literacy by giving them books or board games that help explain basic financial concepts.

We can also give the gift of education, probably the most transformative gift of all. We can donate to scholarship funds. Finance a poor kid’s education for a semester. Or enroll family members in online courses or projects that will give them new skills – painting, designing, photography, pottery, cooking, baking. The possibilities are endless.

The gift of livelihood is another great offering. While not everyone is in the position to offer direct employment to others, we can still open doors by giving referrals and linking people to those with job openings. We can also tell our kasambahays about government offices or MFIs that provide livelihood opportunities so they can encourage their family members to join. Maybe, we help someone turn their hobby into a business. If your teenager enjoys writing fiction, you can give him a subscription to online resources that would help him get published. If your sister makes lovely artworks or handicrafts, you can enroll her in courses that would help her sell her creations online. You can help your titos and titas who like to bake get started on their online food delivery business. Or you can refer them to organizations like the Center for Agriculture and Rural Development Mutually Reinforcing Institutions (CARD MRI), which supports micro-small-and medium enterprises.

As we are now almost two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, health is important. Let us give loved ones gifts that will help them take care of their health. Give healthier versions of your friends’ favorite foods. Give them fitness tracker gadgets to help them monitor their daily goals. Or give them yoga mats, water bottles, small exercise gears like dumbbells and jump ropes. And because we live in the midst of a pandemic, the best gift of all would be face masks. Washable ones, so we can minimize the carbon footprint. In fact, it would be good if we can give away face masks to strangers.

And in the wake of Typhoon Odette which displaced hundreds of thousands of our kababayans, let us give the gift of charity. Join one of the many donation drives to assist victims. Government agencies and private sector have called for volunteers. Many MFIs and mutual benefit associations are also playing a big role in helping clients in relief and rehabilitation. Let us all join these efforts and help affected communities in Palawan, Southern Leyte, Eastern Samar, Agusan, Surigao, Cebu and Bohol. They have lost their homes, livelihood, loved ones. The communities are still submerged in floods, infrastructures had been destroyed, and so they lack food, water, clothing, and other basic necessities. Helping them would be among the best gift we can give this Christmas.

Letting Gifts into Our Lives

It has been a difficult two years since COVID-19 entered our lives. Then, just as things were beginning to improve, Typhoon Odette came. Yet, amidst its devastation, the all-important Filipino value – malasakit – still pervades. Filipinos are helping those affected by Odette, giving their resources, time and effort to even in this difficult time of pandemic. It is a giving of self that should be celebrated.

Gifts are signs of affection. It is an important part of human interaction, defining relationships and strengthening bonds. And it is often the giver, rather than the recipient, who reaps the biggest rewards from a gift.

And so, as we greet the holidays, let us give the best gifts we can: gifts that will help our loved ones cope with the changes and challenges of the times. Let us give lasting gifts. The gift of hope. The gift of education. The gift of trust. The gift of livelihood opportunities. The gift of financial literacy. Gifts that contribute to people’s financial security and health. These are unusual gifts, true, but they have the greatest potential for transforming people’s lives.

Life itself is a gift. Let us give gifts that will keep on giving.



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