[Speech delivered by Charlito “Kaloy” Manlupig at the Baccalaureate and Investiture Ceremonies, 69th Commencement Exercises of the Notre Dame University in Cotabato City on 24 March 2018. This year’s theme is ”Transcending Cultural, Educational and Ethical Boundaries Through F.I.R.E.S.’ (Faith, Integrity, Respect, Excellence and Service)]
Thirty-eight years ago, I was there where you are – excited, happy, a little nervous, and frankly, clueless about the future.
This stage brings back so many good memories to me. For several years, I played the role of Jesus Christ in the Cenaculo right here on this stage where I would ask the person who played the role of a Roman soldier to hit me hard with the lashes so I could feel Christ’s pain and agony. I also played the role of Tevye when we staged Fiddler on the Roof.
Like you, I am privileged. Many are not as privileged to have hurdled one of the biggest obstacles in our country.
In the midst of our celebration, one hard reality must not be forgotten. For each one of us here, there are nine others who will never have the chance of even reaching college. Our education system has become like a fraternity initiation where only the best, the bravest, the luckiest and perhaps the best-connected survive. I checked the latest data, and still, out of ten children who start going to school, only one would reach college.
Close your eyes, and imagine yourself celebrating as you step on the heads of nine poor young people. That is the sad reality until now.
During my college life here at NDU, I was introduced to Paolo Freire who offered a new pedagogy with a new relationship between teacher, student and society, and taught us that learning is best achieved thru experience and dialogue by going beyond the confines of the classroom. I was also introduced to Ivan Illich who opened my eyes to the reality of how schools imprison us, of how difficult if not impossible it is for the poor to have access to education which may be their only chance and hope of finally breaking free from the bondage of poverty.
I can imagine that the Oblates had this in mind when they first established NDU (then Notre Dame College) in 1948, when Cotabato was not yet the thriving city that it is today. Back then, the Oblates were already beginning to re-imagine and reshape the rural areas of Mindanao by making education accessible especially to those in the margins. Even when “inclusive education” was not yet a catch phrase, Notre Dame education system was already in communion and dialogue with the Lumads, the Moros and the poor settlers. And today, we have great, excellent and outstanding Moro and Lumad leaders. Notre Dame education became their bridge to transcend their limits, limits that were imposed by our history and our imperfect exclusive society.
That is how radical the Oblate Missionaries are. That is how radical NDU is.
As NDU alumni, we are called upon to pursue the mission.
Let me talk briefly about Balay Mindanaw, a small Mindanao-based, Mindanao-focused, and Mindanaon-led NGO which I helped set up in 1996.
Balay Mindanaw began with nothing except a few good women and men who wanted to help transform Mindanao right here in Mindanao, and volunteered to be part of the journey towards equity, development and peace. We had no money, no office, no track record. Only us, volunteers. That was twenty two years ago.
Our first volunteers are now key managers, leaders and mentors. And when we respond to disasters, we have a large pool of volunteers from here and abroad.
Balay Mindanaw is a house that volunteers built. Now it is a home of volunteers. Modesty aside, it is now one of the most recognized NGOs not just in Mindanao, not just in the Philippines, but globally too.
I am sharing this with you because most of what I brought to Balay Mindanaw, I learned as a student here in NDU. Here, I learned academics. But I also learned life skills. Aside from Economics, Sociology, Accounting, and other subjects, I also learned cooking for seminars, student organizing and volunteering.
I am now a fulltime peacebuilder and a humanitarian worker. I consider this as my passion and my vocation.
It was at NDU where the seed of this vocation was planted and nurtured.
I can never forget that night, and the days and weeks that followed, 42 years ago. A few minutes after the stroke of midnight on August 17, 1976, a violent earthquake occurred in the island of Mindanao spawning a tsunami that devastated more than 700 kilometers of coastline bordering Moro Gulf in the North Celebes Sea.
I looked out the window and saw that Cotabato City was on fire. I found out later that many city landmarks either caught fire and/or collapsed – the NDU Auditorium and Science Building, Sultan Hotel and Theater, Sagittarius Hotel, and many others. Many people were trapped under the ruins. The cries for help coming from the beneath the rubbles continue to haunt me until this day.
The city was virtually isolated as the Quirino Bridge connecting the city to the highway to Davao also collapsed.
I wandered aimlessly around the city. I eventually went to NDU, and learned another new term: disaster response volunteer. NDU was among the first to rise and respond by providing shelter, food and comfort to the earthquake victims. Everyone who needed care and comfort were attended to – Muslims, Lumads, Christians.
Being a newcomer in the University, I did not know most of those leading and managing the emergency response headquarters. I simply approached them and volunteered myself. The first task given to me was to distribute tablets to sanitize drinking water in the evacuation centers, eventually getting “promoted” as part of the Disaster Management team after a few weeks.
It was a life-changing experience for me. I witnessed people helping and caring for each other. I found new friends in my fellow volunteers. These friendships formed amidst the crisis continue to get stronger up to today.
It was also during those times that I discovered my passion for working with and for people. As I reflect on how I responded to the recent disasters like Sendong, Pablo, Bohol earthquake, Yolanda and the Marawi crisis, I give thanks to the crisis caused by the Cotabato earthquake and tsunami for teaching me my first lessons in disaster response, and to NDU for planting the seed of volunteerism in my heart.
I am now a passionate disaster responder and humanitarian worker because NDU was the among the first to respond to the crisis.
Now back to you: You are privileged. But privilege comes with responsibility. You are called upon to do your share in making our society better.
We are called upon to reach out to the “nine others.” We are called upon to be living examples of NDU education, of Faith, Integrity, Respect, Excellence and Service.
The work that the Oblates, the Administration, Faculty and Staff of NDU has started is not yet complete. There are so many people and communities that remain unserved and unreached. There are still so many “stones that are unturned”.
We are all called upon to pursue the Mission.
As I thank the Oblates and the NDU community for having contributed significantly to my redemption and growth, I renew my commitment to a journey of service to others because no one should be excluded. To you dear parents, congratulations and thanks for your sacrifice.
Congratulations, my fellow NDU alumni! There is so much work ahead for all of us.
(Charlito “Kaloy” Manlupig, an AB Economics graduate and former campus minister and faculty member of Notre Dame University, is the founder, President and Chairperson Emeritus of Balay Mindanaw Group of NGOs. Balay Mindanaw’s main office is in Cagayan de Oro City)