MANILA, NOVEMBER 17,  2003   (STAR) By Former President Corazon C. Aquino - I am honored and happy to be with you today for this 9th IAVE Asia-Pacific Regional Conference in Manila, first because ever since I ended my term as President of the Philippines, I have myself become more and more involved in volunteer work for the development of our people and our country. So we have more in common than you probably ever imagined.

And second, on a more personal note, I am proud to be in the company of your conference chair and the chair of the Philippine Association for Volunteer Effort, Mrs. Virginia Davide, who needs all the support we can give her and her husband, the beleaguered but still admired Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Hilario Davide Jr. at this difficult time.

It was in August 1997 when I was first invited by Mrs. Davide to the First National Conference of Volunteer Managers of the Philippine Association for Volunteer Effort. At that time, PAVE was a young organization – only three years old – and brimming with plans and on how it could become a part of the national and international volunteer community.

I recall the eager faces that responded when we, the speakers, hurled them the challenge to make volunteerism a way of life.

I am heartened to know that those same faces are here today, and many new ones, too. In nine years, PAVE has come of age and has become a strong pillar of volunteerism in the country. Allow me to congratulate PAVE for your accomplishments. I would also like to extend my appreciation to the government’s Philippine National Volunteer Service Coordinating Agency for providing the volunteer sector the support and the enabling environment for a healthy government-NGO cooperation in volunteer work.

The theme and objectives of this conference – Breaking Barriers, Building Bridges – through information and communication technology and public-private sector partnership – are most timely and relevant. Over the years, volunteerism has grown into a major activity around the world. While volunteer work usually begins as a small and simple undertaking that stems from a personal desire to help our fellowmen, for many volunteers, it eventually evolves into a vocation – an overwhelming commitment to respond to the changing times and the environment.

So the young college graduate who decides to put in a couple of years of volunteer work "to give back to society", could find himself or herself in a full-fledged lifetime career of helping others help themselves.

As volunteerism responds to provide assistance to those in need of humanitarian support, it must also pave the way for people and communities with common goals and aspirations to link up and bond.

In this era of information and communication technology or ICT, we have at our fingertips technologies that significantly reduce national and international borders and stimulate the pace of human interaction. A whole new world is flourishing in cyberspace and it is open to everyone and all sectors to explore and exploit.

Many organizations have discovered that ICT is a cost-effective means of acquiring, diffusing, adapting and generating knowledge, skills and emerging practices in the field of volunteer work. My own organization, the Aquino Foundation, has founded its activities on ICT. Through our website, we are promoting what we have called the People Power People Movement where the public, especially the youth, can find opportunities to donate their time and resources in the service of their fellowmen.

Earlier this year, I launched the search for outstanding projects and programs by civil society, local governments, and non-governmental organizations that would exemplify the work of what we call People Power People. These are volunteer organizers and workers whose work empowers others to improve their lives and that of their neighbors and communities.

They build homes for the homeless, take care of abandoned and abused children, train the handicapped for livelihood, help the families of child cancer victims, give indigenous peoples the skills and confidence to run their communities, establish schools in out-of-the-way places, or empower women and children to resist violence. One such people power person is Mayor Jesse Robredo of Naga City who has taken the constitutional provision on people empowerment to heart and literally shares governance with his constituents.

The accomplishments and on-going activities of the first 20 People Power People are found in our website with information on how they can be reached by potential supporters and volunteers.

This is the era of co-existence and co-prosperity characterized by inter-dependence, convergence and integration. Technology has created the "global village" or the "borderless society", resulting in the accelerated delivery of services, exchange of skills and expertise and able management of risks and resources

This same technology is also the tool and venue for free and even licentious if not outright prurient speech and information, resulting in the misuse of this wonderful resource that should be utilized for the betterment of mankind.

Let us use the vast and free resources of ICT to meet the challenges that continue to confront us and that should be addressed, so that everyone, especially the less-privileged, can take advantage of the opportunities presented by volunteer service. While it is an accepted fact that volunteers play a significant role in socio-economic development, the technical cooperation, cultural interactions and learning’s between volunteers and partner groups and communities have not been sufficiently documented.

We must assiduously document and disseminate whatever information there is on volunteerism to the general public in order to provide direction for the energies of people out there who want to do volunteer work, as well as recognition for those who are already doing volunteer work. Such information must be shared, exchanged and linked, using existing technology, to promote accessibility, especially among grassroots workers in the countryside.

Shared responsibility and long-term commitment between the public and the private sector must also be enhanced for the sustainability of cooperative action. Funding support is also a major concern.

In 1997, the Philippine Long Distance Telephone Company, using the technology at its fingertips, launched Project Codewan or the Countrywide Development – Wide Area Network, a free Internet service designed to promote communication among NGOs and people’s organizations all over the country and make the benefits of enhance communication through ICT work for them.

Codewan may have been a little bit ahead of its time since it took the NGOs and POs a while to realize the potential of the services it provided,, but PLDT continues to offer the service for free, along with CyberDyaryo, a news service that carries stories about the work and issues important to civil society.

This is only one application of ICT by the private sector for development work.

As the scale of interventions in the sphere of volunteer work expands and the contributions of volunteers continue to spill across national boundaries, the success of volunteerism will depend more and more on technical ingenuity and the capacity of different groups in different communities to work together. While each community and nation must still plan and work out its own concrete programs for development, communication and partnership are the keys to bring about meaningful and lasting progress.

Filipino society has long been powered by the spirit of volunteerism. When Ninoy volunteered to risk his own safety to bring home the message of peace and reconciliation to the dictator and the Filipino people when he decided to return from self-exile in the United States in 1983, he set off the spark of volunteerism in the land, In the run-up to our victory in EDSA in 1986, there were always warm bodies willing to volunteer for whatever work had to be done – as organizers, marshals, marchers, placard makers and carriers, first aid teams and what-have-you – for those many protest marches and rallies we mounted to get the dictator to resign.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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