GK’s Tony Meloto meltdown


I was never sold on Gawad Kalinga. I’ve always equated it with a specific kind of religiosity that to me reeked of conservatism. I also always thought that it became a convenient way to do Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) for many-a-Pinoy company: go build houses, get a tax shield!

It might be why this meltdown with GK Head Tony Meloto did not surprise me. Certainly I took it with a grain of salt. At the same time, there are some jokes that are just difficult to forgive. Without a transcript or recording of the speech itself, we’ve got a she-said-he-said between the University of Hawaii-Center of Philippine Studies (UH-CPS) and Meloto. It’s reason enough to have this discussion on sexism and elitism.

The speech undone
From April 8 to 11, UH-CPS celebrated its 40th Anniversary with an international symposium, where Meloto was to deliver a speech to an audience of “academics from all over the world, the UH community and Filipino community leaders and members.” (CPS Statement)

UH-CPS has since written a statement outlining what they thought was offensive about Meloto’s speech, and apologizing for having invited him at all.

According to the UH-CPS statement, Meloto “characterized the Philippines as ‘broken,’ and poor people in the Philippines as ‘hopeless’ and ‘violent’.” Meloto also talked about his “philosophy of ‘social’ entrepreneurship [as]simply a celebration of global free market capitalism and the efforts of white, male, European and US entrepreneurs to bring prosperity to ill-fated Philippines.”

But “most disturbing” about Meloto’s speech, said the statement, was its sexism. “His belief that the ‘greatest asset of the Philippines is our beautiful women,’ and that the future of the nation can be advanced by using them to attract the ‘best and the brightest’ men from the West, and enticing them to invest in the Philippines, was outrageously sexist and deeply offensive to everybody in the audience, as well as patronizing and disrespectful to Filipino women in particular.”

Meloto also talked about “the need for Filipino women and their white husbands” to produce what Mr. Meloto (apparently humorously) called “cappuccinos.”

To UH-CPS, Meloto “appeared to present such a policy of seduction and reproduction as a solution to the problems of economic development in the Philippines.”

Meloto responds
I do not doubt the sincerity in Meloto’s response to UH-CPS (GK website, May 26). But it does reveal a man who demands that we take what he says at face value, and imagines an audience enamored by wit and humor, no matter how politically incorrect.

Meloto cannot believe he’s been called sexist and elitist “especially after hundreds of speeches in the Philippines and abroad, and after caring for the poor every day, protecting women and children and promoting pride as a Filipino everywhere I go in the last 20 years.” He also asserts that UH-CPS could have written him first for the courtesy of a reply, “before unleashing it to social media.”

But he misses the point: UH-CPS wrote that statement to apologize for having invited Meloto, and to declare that they did not share any of his views. That statement was not about “hating on him” as Meloto’s defenders have asserted; it’s about one organization taking responsibility for having picked the wrong speaker for its symposium.

Meloto is correct though about the online mob. But he has to realize that many were not sharing this statement unthinkingly. If at all, it was an opportunity for others to air their own experiences with regards Meloto and his speeches, or what they thought was problematic about GK as an institution. Many are valid critiques by the way.

Also: just because he has never been told that he is sexist or elitist, does not mean he is neither. It’s entirely possible that no one has had the balls to come out with it because he is Meloto after all, with his own battalion of defenders, a sacred cow to some extent.

Elitist and sexist
Meloto asks: “How can I be elitist when I spend almost every day of my life with the least privileged in the slums, with victims in calamity areas and the landless farmers?”

But charity is elitist. There is nothing that makes one feel one’s power over the less privileged than notions of charity, of being in control of another person’s life, and in relation to GK of re-creating the poor’s life into one that is “acceptable,” because “decent” and “productive.” For Meloto to think he is no elitist because he does charity work tells me that he does not problematize GK at all, and that’s utterly disappointing.

Meloto asserts that he is not sexist. What he did was speak “candidly about bright foreigners finding the Philippines as the land of opportunity, hub for social entrepreneurs and the most beautiful country in Asia, including our women.” His own daughters married foreigners who have since decided to live in the country.

He invokes his work in GK as a measure of his non-sexist nature. In GK Villages, men are disciplined through values formation, and domestic and community violence against women are not tolerated. He asserts that where “Men are usually the criminals,” “Filipino women are our biggest blessing because of their caring and nurturing nature” and that he has “nothing but the highest respect for our Filipina women who are the heart of our home and community.”

But Meloto’s statements reek of sexism, even as he uses these to assert otherwise. The woman as “blessing,” as “heart of the home,” as those who can get foreign men to stay in the Philippines, and who can get pregnant with cappuccinos, are nothing but sexist assertions that peg us to the roles of nurturer and mother, asserting our value solely in relation to men.

In fact, to even equate the Filipina with the beauty of the nation is the oldest sexist (and colonial!) metaphor in the book. Meloto speaks of us like a tourist product to be marketed, one that is reason for foreigner to come visit the Philippines.

It’s bad enough that when you do a Google search for Filipino women, the prostitution and mail-order-bride sites come up. We don’t need a Ramon Magsaysay Awardee unthinkingly invoking the same about our women.

Someone like Meloto should be far better than that.


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  1. Dr. Rowee Delgado on

    To all who accuse Meloto of any wrongdoing, you are a reminder of how the Roman soliders and Pharisses persecuted Jesus. For such a people as you He prayed this prayer: Forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.

    Press on Tito Tony, we are with you. “He will make your innocence radiate like the dawn, and the justice of your cause will shine like the noonday sun.” Ps.37.6

  2. Robert Galacia on

    One of the worst articles i read in my life. Wasted my precious minutes reading this.

  3. I can’t understand Meloto’s defenders here. No one is questioning his contribution and sacrifices in the article. But regardless of how much he has given to the community, his notion of peddling Filipinas to produce cappuccinos is gravely offending. If he was misunderstood and didn’t mean it, then clarify and apologize. If he meant it, then I don’t care about his heroic acts. He’s a shame for us Filipinas

  4. a very thought-provoking article.. agree greatly on our concept of “charity”.

    Been hearing him say things like “the poor do not have dignity”.
    that very notion of not having dignity already puts those who “help” on a pedestal.

  5. 1Cor:11 “When I was a child I thought and reasoned like a child, but when I grew up, I gave up childish ways.”

    It is not a weakness to accept that sometimes “tayo ay nagkakamali”. As Christians, we don’t take delight in wrong, but rejoices in truth. (1Cor 13:6)

  6. I have heard Tony Meloto make these statements several times in front of different audiences. In front of a predominantly Filipino audience, his comments were well received including the “capuccino” babies because of the context it was expressed in – that is his own children married white men and had children who were half-Filipino and half-caucasian. The men chose to live here and raise their children here because they loved the country and wanted to make contributions to the country.

    On the Filipino women, he elevates them by saying that they are beautiful and I think he was referring to their inner beauty of strength in holding families together through their untold sacrifices – not emphasizing physical beauty. Thus, the point was not making them a selling point to caucasians.

    However, I agree that is would appear very strange to be making these statements in front of a University audience.

    He gives speeches all over the world and sometimes he uses a cookie cutter speech approach. This one back fired. I hope he will be more discerning about the content and delivery in the future. But whatever it is, the man is human doing extraordinary things. If you look at this heart, I don’t believe you will think he is sexist and elitist.

  7. Richard T. chu on

    Thank you for the well thought-out article. We need more of this kind of critical thinking to spur dialogue on how best to help the country. We all have our roles in helping the country, and yours is to ask our people to continually examine our motives and ideals. Mr. Meloto and his supporters can take this matter to reflect on what they are doing. Helping the poor, while certainly laudable, can be done with some questionable motives or faulty understanding of equality and respect for human dignity. Let this be an occasion for self-rejection and not a time for shooting down the opinions of others., if they truly believe that what Mr. Meloto said was inoffensive, or even correct, then argue along those terms, not on the thousands of homes GK has created.

    • right. GK builds even on critical and hazardous areas without complying with goverment laws, to circumvent which, exemption from such laws were secured.

  8. Meloto’s Philanthropies are stuff of legends. Building not only homes-but communities with new sense of Hope and Responsibility. Amazingly some refuse to see it-because it seems impossible for a person to be so Noble, so much Contribution to Humanity. U better believe it-such person exist-a Hero in his own time.A Saint? or Better?

  9. Nobody is perfect what he said is wrong what he is is another flawed person but was he relevant to this world yes in a way for doing something for others is your article justified yes for reminding him of his foolishness. This is but life.

  10. Padilla was the original founder of CFC , when money became an issue because GKs’
    solicitation activities using the poor as the bait, accumulation so much funds , those they split from the Padilla’s groups.MONEY IS THE CAUSE OF THE SPLIT

  11. Albert Santillana on

    It’s so funny hearing typical Pinoy reactions on this matter. The focus of the contention is on the personality (Meloto) and his works (GK)when neither of which was the issue. The real issue was how Meloto’s speech was received by the audience in Hawaii. He may be a saint for all I care, but the fact is his speech was not properly received, understood or deciphered by those in attendance. I don’t know the reason behind UHM’s letter but they could have handled it more tactfully by calling for a dialogue with Meloto before releasing such a statement. Both sides could have handled the situation with more finesse.

  12. john encabo on

    TAMA YAN. GAHAMAN YAN SI MELOTO.ANG NAGAWA nang mga members ng couples of christ ay hindi niya binigyan ng kahalagahan. inangkin niya ang gawad kalinga. LUMAKI ANG KANYANG ULO/

  13. mikhail hieronymus on

    Tony Meloto’s speech is ELITIST AND SEXIST, PLAIN AND SIMPLE. He insulted the Filipinas without knowing it, according to him. Ms Santiago is right. Meloto should apologized. If he maintain his stupid logic, then he is a moron.

  14. Mr. Meloto forgot that his audience are Americans and in country where elitism and sexism are not tolerated in public discourse. You can’t make jokes and politically incorrect statements about women and get away with it. This a case of cultural competence, I truly agree with the organizers that it was a mistake to have speak at the event.

  15. I can’t help but imagine the thousands of nurturing and impoverished women you claim to defend reading this article in the comfort of their GK homes. it must be infuriating to be used as an excuse to tarnish the legacy of a man who’s helped them immensely.

    I am shocked at how you can just brush aside the achievements of a man for the sake of political correctness. Get off your high horse of “social justice” and try writing about corrupt politicians instead.

    You are also wrong in your definition of charity. Charity is giving without immersing (i.e all donations, no work) This guy doesn’t have the money to build all the houses. It’s his life’s work to make sure these houses get built and these communities are taken care of. He’s in the trenches, fighting the war, while you sit in your airconditioned home, claiming some imaginary high ground, writing about how women should be seen equally. Spare him the feminist lecture. The guy believes in gender roles and is 60+ what do you expect?

    • Also, since we are in the spirit of making this a conservative/liberal conversation, your article reeks of a special armchair liberalism too. Do me a favor: pick up a shovel and build a house, then we can talk about social injustice.

      I have not. But I don’t make a living out of whining about social issues at the expense of someone who’s contribution to the world is 10,000 times more than I will ever hope to give.

  16. At the end of the day, facts are just that. A speech was made, some were offended, and the UH sent appologies for the offense percieved. How everyone lionizes the individual and sets aside the original topic is very filipino. We feel things deeply. Unfortunately it is not the emotions that are in question but whether what was said is right or wrong; or at least expressed in a correct manner. Clearly it was not because the people were not receptive. And, as for the writer, she may express what she will. Take it or leave it. Its a free country. To arbitrarily dismiss Meloto’s words, or the writer’s, is censorship, both ways. There is more in this story, on both sides, than what is mentioned here. Incomplete facts are easily stated to sway the minds of readers one way or another. The reader has to be more critical. To respond off the cuff to this article shows just how easily we judge without knowing all of the facts. This is simply dangerous and is a reason why the Philippines is still the way it is, and the grass is always greener at the other side of the fence. Both sides are trying to censor the other in this case. Meloto is offensive ergo none of his statements have merit. A hard stance to take when the stereotype of women became such because it IS the reality most face. Just stipulating statements of others as a justification of your own views is not a proof of validity. That is an error, a falacy. Be careful, no matter how smartly you write, that you do not put error in your logic.

  17. Wow! The infamous crab mentality of the Philippines at work. A pity there is too much of people like the author who thinks their “holier than thou” piece can do some good to the nation. Where the closest thing they did to the helpless was to write about them. Exceed what Tony has done and then you earn the right to criticize him.

    • “Exceed what Tony has done and then you earn the right to criticize him.”

      -Do we need to be singers first before we can criticize a singer? Weak argument. Following your logic, you should also exceed the writer (Ms. Santiago) before you can criticize her criticism.

      “..too much of people like the author who thinks their “holier than thou” piece can do some good to the nation.”

      -Based from what? Can you back this with data? By the way, “their” should be “they’re” which is short for “they are”. “Their” connotes ownership.

      The point is opinions and criticisms must be subjected to reason and logic in order to be valid. I think the writer presented valid arguments in her article. According to a Harvard study, as an individual becomes more and more powerful, the more he becomes apathetic to those beneath him.

      Imagine your self saying Meloto’s speech in front of your mother, sister, or daughter. Is it really alright to reduce women simply as brides for rich foreigner grooms?

      “Where the closest thing they did to the helpless was to write about them.”
      -Dr. Martin Luther King and Dr. Jose Rizal wrote about the helpless, and they changed the world. Have some respect for real writers, writers who are not afraid to call out those who are wrong.

      “You are not entitled to your opinion. You are entitled to your informed opinion. No one is entitled to be ignorant.”
      ― Harlan Ellison

    • It’s not crab mentality. I don’t need to exceed Tony to earn the right to criticize him. All I need to do is not be sexist and that makes me better than him.

  18. Thank you Ms Katrina for yet another well-written piece. It is critical and yet kind. It is informed without being academic. And it begs the ire of many an internet troll as well as, or perhaps, reveals a nation that still reeks of a mindless culture of patronage.

    Ika nga ni Dong Abay… “MAG KA KA RO ON… NG RE BO LU SYON!”

  19. binusjejwari on

    To the 2 unthinking defenders above. Have you lived in a Gk village. I have interviewed some people who have. You would not want to live there especially if you are a woman. Don’t be fools and don’t help Meloto make more fools of others by your naive endorsements. That is not the work of godly people.

  20. You are talking a lot of nonsense.

    Were it not for Meloto and the Gawad Kalinga, how many people in the slums would continue to be living in the such desperate conditions? What about you? What have you done to alleviate the sufferings of the people in the slums?

    All you do is talk, talk, talk . Please shut up!!!

  21. Meloto should come clean and admit that he is NOT the founder of GK. He lied. Odd that after 20 years of GK, he talks about the country being poor and hopeless. Does he mean that GK hasn’t had any impact? Also, there should be an investigation into GK USA where US$2M have been reported missing.

  22. julio madiaga on

    so far, Meloto has not denied saying those words.
    if he said those words, then he should apologise.

  23. christinetan on

    Mr. Meloto must have seen oftentimes a lot of Filipinas inside internet cafe chatting with prospective foreigner husbands or mates. What he said was not sexist but a sublimal advice to our women to choose caucasian men over other races (is he a racist?) to sire them “capuccinas” who will be future beauty pageant contestants or movie stars. He was exhorting our women to continue what many of their sisters, aunts, female relatives and friends and neighbors are already doing. In my humble opinion it was not sexist but a factual statement that he tried to say in what he thought could be humurous. Is it sexist to state the truth, Ms. Santiago?

    • That is precisely why it is sexist — that is objectifying women. Just because some women do it does not mean it’s right or just in the first place. Moreover, giving “advice” like that sounds like prostituting Filipinas (pakasal ka sa foreigner para makaangat ka sa buhay). Then why GK? I thought the purpose of that was to help the poor have decent homes and livelihoods, to establish back their dignity and humanity. But for women, the way out of poverty is through their sex? It’s not so different from mail-order brides messages. And again, it does not mean that because some are forced or feel like they have no better option that they resort to that makes it right. In fact, what needs to be done is to change the attitude and thinking that is the better way out or the only option for women.

  24. Carlo L. Adan on

    Meloto has achieved a lot of good–but he is rather questionable as a pro-life Christian.
    Kaya sila nagparting of ways with what’s their name, yung Couples for Christ couple who founded GK which Meloto took over.

    Malas na lang si Tony Meloto na nasagyupa nya ang mga feiminist at ang katulad nitong si Radikalchick Katrina S Santiago. Itong si Radikalchick ay naghahanap ng society na sakto sa paniniwala nya ang lahat. Kaya walang papasa sa kanya.

    • Karl X. Bendix on

      Tony Meloto is no saint. And I can’t help but agree with your second paragraph.

  25. Meloto’s case fits the saying of a person seeing the broken tree than the forest, or an individual being distracted by a drop of ink on an immaculate sheet of cloth. Many people feel, think and talk like they are Buberian ‘holier than thou’ philosophers. Speeches and messages should be understood for the deeper messages and truthful facts they carry than resorting to emotions that merely show our educational idiocy and shallowness. GK has done so much for the poor and the people behind it have good and honest track records. I always thought we invite speakers to hear their side, not lambast them for using presentations that are contrary to our standard. What hyprocrisy!

  26. Jose A. Oliveros on

    What about you, Ms. Katrina Stuart Santiago? What have you done to the poor, homeless and destitute people whom Tony Meloto has been serving during these past years? I hope you will answer all the comments to your column today in your next column.

    • Leodegardo Pruna on

      I still think that we have to respect the opinion of the writer. Freedom of speech is a hallmark in our Constitution. The writer is providing us a picture of Meloto which may not be easily observable but she has a point to make. As, for Meloto, the GK was a product of the Couples for Christ movement not the other way around and to take the honors as well as presitige from the CFC would be a grave wrong. God bless the Philippines.

    • Resty Refuerzo on

      People excel in different fields. It just so happens Katrina’s talent lies in writing and exposing what otherwise is hidden between the lines.

  27. Esteban Coscolluela on

    Meloto has done so much for this country. He has made a lot of difference in the lives of thousands of the poorest of the poor in this country. You should be ashamed of this article. No wonder this country has continued to remain third world because of people with crab mentality like yours.

    • I respect that you think highly of the man and his work, but come to his defense with an argument that his words were not elitist and sexist unless what you really mean is that elitism and sexism are okay.

    • Leodegardo Pruna on

      It was Meloto who started it when as a matter of fact the UH was simply apologizing to its audience who found and probably reacted to Meloto’s speech. The writer simply aired her views on the matter. God bless the Philippines.