, February 2, 2005  (STAR)  HIDDEN AGENDA By Mary Ann Ll. Reyes  -  Somebody faxed me Manny Pangilinan’s speech delivered in Cebu recently before a convention organized by the National Federation of Filipino American Association.

Frankly, I was ready to dismiss it mainly because it was too long and because I did not see immediately what MVP had got to do with a nontelco conference. But a tiny voice egged me to take a look. And may I say that I was amused by the openness of his speech.

Here was one of the highest paid and most successful managers in the region saying before a group of OFWs that yes, I am one of you and he meant it. He begins his story almost 30 years ago, when a young man from Pampanga left the Philippines to work in Hong Kong.

In 1981, he founded an investment firm based in that crown colony. He only had six people, 50 sq.m. of office space, capital of less than $1 million, and a mandate to grow the business regionally. That company is called First Pacific, and obviously, that person is him.

Today, First Pacific is listed on the Hong Kong and New York stock exchanges. It includes in its portfolio the largest noodle-maker in the world and the dominant phone company in the Philippines, First Pacific has over 50,000 employees across the region. He says that people often ask him why he decided to come back from Hong Kong.

Why not stay in Hong Kong and live the comfort of a first world environment? The simple answer he stressed is that this is home for him. "I believe in the Filipino. I believe in the Filipino of Rizal, and of Ninoy Aquino – who all left home and, after having touched the embers of enlightenment, came back," he said.

He admits that there were indeed moments of sadness and isolation in his 23 years in Hong Kong. "But always after dark nights came bright mornings. It was the sunlight of our shared values as a people – hard work, our music, the ability to laugh at ourselves, and in deep and abiding faith in God. These are the values that keep us grounded, and give us courage. These are the values that shine for Filipinos everywhere, however – and lonely – far they may be," he continued.

To quote from his speech which I may say is a gem because there are very few times when he would allow anyone to break through his oftentimes icy barrier and afford one a glimpse of the person behind the legend: "My story is like yours – for I am one of millions of overseas Filipino workers.

Like you, I had to adjust to new cultures, bury myself in work, acquire an intimacy with loneliness and longing, yet always hope to come home to a better life. "My own experience working and living abroad have brought me face to face with our new heroes. You’ve known the biting cold of winter, the pang of disappointment and exclusion, the pain of loneliness, of Christmases spent alone or amongst strangers.

You’ve endured much, all for the sake of a chance to live a life of dignity and earn a decent living for yourselves and your families. But more than sharing with the listeners his experience as an OFW in Hongkong, he tries to offer an answer to that oft-repeated question: Why do Filipinos excel abroad?

First, he says that the imperative to excel is driven by necessity, by the need to survive on foreign soil. "In our country, we have an excessive support system of family and friends to whom we can turn when in need. Abroad, Filipinos have few such similar options. They either succeed or fail." Very true. Second, the drive to excellence is nourished by the culture of the foreign environment where Filipinos work.

Usually, these foreign environments have institutions that are run professionally, where laziness, favoritism or corruption are not tolerated. Thus, Filipinos either perform or lose their jobs. Hong Kong, he emphasized, is an outstanding example of a working environment where excellence is rewarded and recognized. It’s community works to world-class standards of excellence and professionalism. Its strong meritocracy insures that results – not personal relationships – represent the principal measure of performance.

And Hong Kong acknowledges and rewards success. This is the essence of its work ethic. It celebrates success and elevates its successful icons, as opposed to our crab mentality which has a tendency to bring people down. I agree 100 percent. Third, he says the working environment abroad is often more agreeable. There is less politics and less corruption. Work is simply work, and performance as a standard is common overseas. So one’s value to the organization is measured by the quality of your work, not by whom you or your family may know.

Fourth, working abroad usually means competing in an employment pool where the levels of skills and of competition are high.

Therefore, Filipinos working abroad must raise their level of play to succeed. Puede na is simply not acceptable. Fifth, compensation is obviously better. Salaries for the same type of work here are higher overseas.

Better pay serves as a huge incentive to excel. And lastly, access to knowledge, to advanced technologies, to superior tools, training, and equipment, help spur excellence and enable a worker to do his job better in any field, be it medicine or investment banking.

That access, he stressed, implies openness to competition, openness to new ideas, openness to the world. In the case of Hong Kong, this enduring quality has been its singular strength. It is not paranoid to things foreign, like we are in this country, he adds.

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Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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