The Challenge for Generation X: Build and Sustain

Over dinner at a “sustainable restaurant,” my college friends and I were catching up with each other’s lives and talking about the many decisions that we need to–and have had to–make at this life stage, the early 30s. We talked about the friends in our group that had already left the country, and were facing their own unique sets of challenges in their adopted homelands, and we found ourselves asking: Why do people leave in the first place?

A consensus arose from our cozy group of three. Our generation, Generation X–those who were born, and raised at the cusp of the transition between analog and digital–was a bit more detached from the country because we did not have to fight the wars that our parents, and grandparents did. We were born and raised in relative comfort, and with more options than were ever available before. Many of our parents’ peers who had left the country in the ’60s and ’70s felt that they had no other choice. Today, a good number of us leave because we WANT to.

I admitted to having been part of that demographic–that frustrated, disillusioned set who thought that the only way up… was OUT. I used to scout feverishly for opportunities to study, and stay outside (and never look back), and I once–very recently–almost took the plunge when an offer was given by an organization that I thought would be part of my “dream job.” To me, then, nothing worked anymore, and I was willing to do anything to get out of here, to where everything was safer, more comfortable, more progressive, more… different from here.

What stopped me was seeing my friends who had been out for several years now start to come home–with the intention of staying home for good, and using what they had learned outside to rebuild a life here.

Noting this, our dinner trio then talked about the challenges that our generation now has to face. Our grandparents grew up at a time when the whole world was at war, and our parents came of age at a time when the Philippines was yet again struggling to wage a war against tyranny and was trying to topple a dictatorship. Our parents’ generation succeeded with EDSA, but they failed in sustaining the momentum of People Power because they thought their job would be over once the new government was installed. We, too, grew up witnessing EDSA Dos, but we saw what happened to the Arroyo administration, and even after a “People Power” election we are seeing how the Aquino 2.0 administration is unraveling. It is not enough to tear things–even bad things–down. What is even more important now is to learn how to build the right things from the ground-up.

The difficult lesson that we need to learn from other generations, we then concluded, is how to BUILD and SUSTAIN change. Winning a war is the easy part; rebuilding after the destruction is the hard part. Toppling a dictatorship or electing a president with an overwhelming mandate is the easy part; participating in governance and strengthening institutions is the hard part. The reality though is that the hard part comes when it is now OUR generation’s turn to start stepping up and leading the charge.

Gawad Kalinga build
Photo from

So what are we to do? For starters, let us not give up on our country, and believe that all hope is lost. Despite the grim news that make it to our daily headlines, let us be grateful for the fact that, for instance, we have a superb Justice Secretary (and this is now my own personal bias showing) who is hell-bent on doing her job properly against all odds. We have the likes of Heidi Mendoza, who has shown us the kind of integrity and courage that we ought to demand from our all levels of our government. We have social entrepreneurs who are re-imagining and re-inventing the status quo to show us new possibilities for offering livelihood, empowerment, and hope. Let us engage our bureaucracy and our systems to make sure they work, instead of entrusting them to the unscrupulous hands that have dirtied them in the first place these past few decades.

For another, let us go out and explore the world and all its possibilities, but let us come back home to transfer all this technology to THIS country, where such discoveries are greatly needed. Whether it’s systems in education, science and technology, the arts, enterprise, governance, or society, let us take what we can from the best of the world and see how we can adapt it to our own needs. Like the Ilustrados of old who saw the world and dreamed of an enlightened Motherland, so, too, should we find enlightenment and then illuminate THIS corner of the world.

Lastly, we shouldn’t be afraid of sticking to things to make them WORK. It’s always exciting to try out something new, and a bit more tiresome and boring to stick around for the long haul. It’s easier to leave when the going gets rough, and bit more draining (and sometimes thankless) to stay and work things out.

But that’s the irony of change, isn’t it? You know you’ve succeeded when you’ve already reached a point where not too much change is needed, and where you can then focus on the job of sustaining something and making it a part of everyday life. In our case, change has begun. Whether we can build on it and keep it going is the burden that now lies on our shoulders.

Every change begins with re-imagination

Makati Skyline
The Philippines: How can we contribute towards its progress?
It has been said time and again that every act of creation in the physical world begins with creation in the world of imagination.

Before a home is built, it is first an architect’s blueprint, and even before that, a picture in the architect’s mind.

Before a song becomes a hit single, it is first some notes on a page, and before that, a few bars ringing in the songwriter’s head.

Before a book becomes a best-seller, it is first a series of drafts that form a manuscript, and before that, words, dialogues, and characters dancing around in the author’s head.

Every structure and machine that was ever built, every idea that had become a glitzy advertising campaign or a movement, every Hollywood blockbuster, every technological wonder out in the market–even every living thing on this planet, whether its birth was planned or unplanned–was created first in someone’s mind.

The mind is a truly wonderful, powerful thing. According to an article in The Scientific American , “If your brain worked like a digital video recorder in a television, 2.5 petabytes would be enough to hold three million hours of TV shows. You would have to leave the TV running continuously for more than 300 years to use up all that storage.”

But what happens when the mind is bogged down by present-day realities, by heavy baggage coming from the past, by worries about what will happen in the future–where to get the next meal, how to pay for the bills, the state of a loved one’s health? Imagination weakens, and we succumb to the false perception that every day is going to be just like the next, that nothing will change and things will always stay the same.

But consider this: as recent as five years ago, the women of Payatas were condemned to a live of poverty, working all day to make and sell rugs that were valued at just P1 each. Then in came a group of friends and colleagues that called themselves Rags2Riches, and the lives of these rug-makers, these “nanays”, were transformed. Rags2Riches worked to create more value out of the rugs by working with some of the Philippines’s most talented and internationally-renowned fashion designers, and the nanay’s products then became highly coveted fashion accessories.

A little over three years later, R2R, as the company is also called, is now a multi-awarded social enterprise employing hundreds of “nanays” who earn about 20 to 50 percent of each bag made, which in turn cost around P400-2,000+ each. The company itself has won tens of thousands of dollars, pounds, and euros in grant money to expand its operations.

All this in less than five years–all with a little help from creative minds with hyperactive imaginations.

According to the Psychology Dictionary, “Imagination is the faculty through which we encounter everything. The things that we touch, see and hear coalesce into a ‘picture’ via our imagination. The way we understand things… the way that we ‘make sense’ of things is through our imagination. The ability to problem-solve… to see things from a different perspective… to empathize… all happen because we have this technicolor, multi-channel, curious imagination. Imagination IS the ability to create perceptions. Novel perceptions. Fantastical perceptions. Hypothetical perceptions.”

But what if the perceptions could possibly become more than just fantastical or hypothetical? Ten years ago, nobody thought that blogs would have the power that they do now. Nobody had imagined how the world could be connected through social networks called “Facebook” or “Twitter.” Nobody imagined that governments would be so threatened by these new forms of communication that they would have to be shut down in certain countries. Five years ago, consumers could only wish for something like the iPad. And 25 ago, nobody would have thought that a bloodless revolution was at all possible.

Miraculous things can happen when we open our minds to the possibilities, when we break the shackles of our past and present to look at the world and all its possibilities through different lenses–when we take ourselves out of ANY box and begin to re-imagine.

The Philippine archipelago connected by high-speed trains? Why not?
Thirty years ago, we didn’t even imagine there would be MRTs and LRTs in the metro–and traffic of this magnitude. Why can’t we re-imagine Philippine transportation for the rest of the 21st century?

A country less dependent on coal and oil and powered by renewable energy? Why not?
At present, only 33% of our energy needs are supplied by coal and oil combined. Thirty-two percent (32%) is actually supplied by natural gas, and another 33% is supplied by a combination of geothermal and hydro power. Can we bring down the numbers of coal and oil? Most certainly!

A professional football league in the Philippines–finally? Why not? Mid-last year, when the rest of the world was going ga-ga over the World Cup, we could only dream of fielding our own football team into the professional leagues. The Azkals‘ victory in the Suzuki Cup semis changed all that, and now Filipinos are realizing why the rest of the world loves football.

A Philippines that can leverage its biodiversity to earn revenues for the protection of our ecosystem? Why not?
Brazil was able to maximize the Amazon Rainforest, setting up the Amazon Carbon Exchange and getting polluters in North America, Europe, and Japan to pay for carbon credits that are now being used to preserve parts of the Amazon. Why can’t we learn from the rest of the world and adapt to create our own working models?

At the turn of the second decade of this century. it is imperative that we begin looking at our present and future through perspectives that have otherwise been called “crazy”, “impossible”, and “far-out”. It’s important for us to leave the baggage of the 25 years post-EDSA, or the 100-plus years post-Spanish colonialization, behind and begin re-imagining a future that is worthy of the lives we want to live, the lives we want for our children.

It is not at all impossible. It can be done. Why do I believe so? Because the mind is a truly powerful thing, and when enough of us engage in collective re-imagining, there is no limit to what we can achieve together. It has already begun; we just need to keep going and keep re-imagining.

Common credo of candidates with the Aquino-Roxas ticket

Common Credo or Statement and Pledge of Unifying Principles adopted by all candidates affiliated with the Noynoy Aquino-Mar Roxas ticket on November 28, 2009

A government, based on core values of transparency, personal and institutional integrity, honesty, and good governance, is a goal we must all share. To achieve this goal, we must unite based on shared principles.

We therefore present this Credo to the Filipino People so that our basis for unity is clear and unequivocal. These are our guiding principles in approaching the perils and problems of our society as elected officials, and we hold ourselves accountable to each other and the public to uphold these principles in the campaign and in office.

We believe that our democracy is best maintained, as it was restored, by the ways of democracy.

We believe that true change can be achieved only through peaceful means.

We believe that the first step towards prosperity and progress for all is for all sectors and classes to discuss our differences reasonably and with goodwill.

We believe that grievances that cause rebellion will not be solved by purely military solutions; and furthermore only a more equitable distribution of power and opportunity will enable peace to reign in our hearts and homes.

We therefore believe we must strive for a genuine national reconciliation founded on justice, even at the cost of our individual political self-interest.

We strongly believe that Social Justice is our common birthright: the working person must be given his just and rightful share of the fruits of his labor, and that to the owners and managers must be restored a regime of laws that are fair and not discriminatory.

We believe true national unity is possible if we commit ourselves to the rights and freedoms enshrined in our Bill of Rights.

We believe that if we Filipinos are secure in our rights and freedoms, we will all be motivated to live up to our duties and obligations as citizens.

We believe that a President, in order to be able to inspire and to lead, must possess the fundamental requirement of a genuine mandate from the people.

We believe that the presidency is an institution that only works, if both the president and those affiliated with the administration recognize they only hold that office temporarily.

This means, too, that we must lead by example; insisting on integrity not only for ourselves but all our appointees; upholding meritocracy in the bureaucracy; and believing in, and insisting on, the supremacy of the civilian over the military always.

We shall not hide from debate, suppress the mechanisms for the redress of grievances, or thwart the participation of the public in the formulation of policy.

We believe cynicism corrupts and corrodes our ability to dream and work for a better nation for ourselves and for our children.

We believe we must maintain at all times an unshakeable faith in the Filipino.

For these reasons, we commit to this Credo. We have each taken different roads to reach this point; but henceforth, we will be together because we are confident that we will be in lock step with the Filipino People.


Benigno Aquino III

Manuel Roxas II

Franklin Drilon
Nereus Acosta
Risa Hontiveros-Baraquel
Sonia Roco
Ruffy Biazon
Danilo Lim
Ralph Recto
Alex Lacson
Teofisto Guingona III
Sergio Osmena III

[Archived from the official campaign blog of President Benigno S. “Noynoy” Aquino III]