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When the academe and the non-profit collide: Part 1

Over the past decades, the world, spearheaded by Western (in particular American) society, has been living with the presence of its abstract little friend called political correctness (or “PC”) – a concept that has polarized society from everyday language to Biblical translations. Used in the proper context, PC can build fortified bridges; overused, misused, or abused (heh), PC can also rip those bridges apart.

An example of the latter, or rather the ugly battle ensuing therefrom, has been circulating in the Philippines this week involving one of the last people one would typically expect to be embroiled in such a sensitive matter – and a man I personally look up to as my idol and mentor, one who has inspired me to change the way I both live and think: the Father of Gawad Kalinga, Tito Antonio “Tony” Meloto.

Antonio "Tony" Meloto, the founder of Gawad Kalinga, speaks at the 2nd Social Innovation Camp on 21-22 April 2012.Photo copyright 2012 Allister Roy S. Chua

Antonio “Tony” Meloto, the founder of Gawad Kalinga, speaks at the 2nd Social Innovation Camp on 21-22 April 2012.Photo copyright 2012 Allister Roy S. Chua

Last Monday, articles started appearing all over news sites in the country concerning a statement that the University of Hawaii’s Center for Philippine Studies had prepared and released about a speech given by Tito Tony there, given one and a half months prior, in honor of CPS’s 40th anniversary. The statement slammed Tito as a “sexist, misogynist pig” who was in addition to that “elitist” and “having a colonial mentality”. The reason behind this was that in his speech, Tito Tony apparently described Filipina women as beautiful and the country’s greatest asset, and that they should attract “the best and brightest” men of the West and bear mixed children he termed “cappuccinos”. Furthermore, he supposedly spoke about the poor as “hopeless and violent”, but that through GK, their lives were being transformed one by one.

Even before Tito Tony and GK released the former’s official statement in response, the Internet had become like Marmite: people rallying left and right, for and against Tito Tony. Those who stood by him either flatly denied Tito’s being what UH-CPS called him or through their experienced related the work Tito had done for the country for the past 20 years. Those who went against him said that although they recognized the social work Tito and GK had done, they could not, should not, and would not condone the remarks he made in his speech. Such comments were found everywhere: on articles about UH-CPS’s statement, on those about GK’s statement, and even on Tito Tony’s official Facebook page and Twitter account.

Now, I have not read or heard Tito Tony’s speech (and I join those who call for it to be published), though I have read both UH-CPS’s and his statements. However, I will also add that I volunteered at the GK Enchanted Farm all throughout my senior year at college through the training-and-development organization I joined, and thus have personally gotten to know, hear, and most importantly love Tito Tony. From my own experiences hearing him speak – and I have done so a lot of times – I know that the remarks about women are examples of Tito Tony-esque humor. Yes, I have heard those remarks many times before, and everyone in the audience, myself included, were merely amused (by the humor) and even inspired (by the speech’s overall content). And those remarks are taken from his circumstances: Two of his own daughters have married an Englishman and a Filipino-American respectively (the Filipino-American, though Filipino, grew up in the US and thus with a different cultural perspective than we do). The original cappuccinos are his own half-Filipino, half-English grandchildren, and that is his term of endearment for them.

523831_437374802940514_259509730727023_96292362_546028634_nAnd in fact, Tito Tony respects and honors women (all individuals, actually) very much, finding and recognizing both their outer and inner beauty – even if that woman herself does not. The joke of beautiful women attracting foreigners is Tito Tony’s vehicle of conveying a message to the world: the Philippines is the land of opportunity today, and the world is invited to converge here the same way it does in New York or London. It isn’t widespread social problems we have, but widespread social opportunities to make a difference that is all-inclusive for both people and planet: the future hub of social enterprise. Tito Tony really is a Builder of Dreams, and he does so in his own way, given his own Life Kit.

Personally, my own views on social development somewhat diverge from those of GK’s, but this is not the time to discuss the matter. It is also not the time to discuss the score of the wonderful work that Gawad Kalinga has done from giving homes to the homeless and the sustainability programs therefrom – or even the many bumps in the road it has encountered along the way. But I will discuss in a follow-up post reactions made by both sides and how what should have been a quiet and thoughtful avenue for learning had escalated into a fiasco that threatens to ruin both the most prestigious university of Hawaii and an internationally-renowned organization and movement.

Update: Click here to read Part 2.

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