To the future architects, designers, planners, and engineers

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First of two parts

LAST March 30, 2015, I had the honor and privilege to be the speaker in the 110th Commencement Exercises of the Baccalaureate Programs for the Technological University of the Philippines. It was a good opportunity for me to look back on the best practices and lessons learned since my five graduations – from elementary, classical secondary education in the seminary, college in the University of Santo Tomas, masters degree in the University of the Philippines, post-masteral education in Harvard University – and expertise gained in 38 countries.

At an early age, I made it a habit to write down daily, monthly, and yearly goals on index cards to keep me on track. The challenge, then, is to try and beat the goals before their deadlines. This persistence and penchant towards goal setting has helped me achieve many milestones for myself and for my firm many years ahead.

My brothers and I, six out of seven boys in the family, entered the seminary for the priesthood. So as a young boy, I spent most of my days serving as an altar boy and bell ringer in our church, St. Andrew Parish in Bacarra, Ilocos Norte. I learned Ora et Labora (Pray and Work) early on and developed further in the Christ the King Mission Seminary in Quezon City.


When I entered the University of Santo Tomas to study Architecture, it was an anarchic time in Philippine politics, and I later became a fervent activist, joining and leading rallies from Mendiola to Zamboanga. Despite my participation in student activism, I garnered the most number of votes in the first University elections while editing my college publication, Vision magazine. I had many extra-curricular activities like being an ROTC Cadet Officer, student tourist guide, and class president, among others.

I am very thankful for my parents, teachers, and mentors for making a positive impact in my life and for honing me into becoming the person I am now. Henry Adams once said, “A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his/her influence stops.”

Putting our newfound knowledge and skills to work
We must also realize and appreciate that the Philippines is a country with unfulfilled high development potentials. We are the first in the world in terms of marine biodiversity and also considered first in having the best sailors and seafarers. I would also like to believe that we are number one in musicians. We are the first in call centers, having surpassed India, and second in BPOs; third in the longest coastline, some countries go to war to claim longer waterfronts like Iraq invading Kuwait, and Dubai, with only 70 kilometers of waterfront, created the Palm Islands. We are fourth in gold and shipbuilding; fifth in all mineral resources and number-twelve in human resources. The Filipino expatriates are the popular choices of kings, queens, sheiks, presidents, prime ministers, developers, hospitals, schools, cruise ships, and among many other international employers.

The Philippines is more than 400 times the size of Singapore in terms of total land area. It is almost 350 times the size of Hong Kong, about eight times the size of Taiwan and three times bigger than South Korea. This century is supposed to be the “Pacific Century” and the Philippines is right in the middle. This should encourage us to make the most of our strengths on the land, natural resources and our people which the Philippines has been gifted by God.

In order to maximize the potential of our country and put the Philippines in the top 20 economies of the world by 2021, we must effectively address corruption, climate change, and criminality. Corruption, as I learned from the seminary, comes from two Latin words “cor” or the heart and “rupture” or breaking down together. With the prevalence of corruption, we seem to live in a country or society with a broken heart. It is up to the future leaders of this nation to use their education and skills in bringing our nation towards global excellence. It is said in the Bible, “Where there is no vision, the people perish (Proverbs 29:18).”

Great leaders like Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore and Sheikh Rashid of Dubai have the discipline and vision that drastically transformed their countries from being third world nations to the most admired countries of our time. From their leadership, I saw five qualities in common: vision, political will, good planning, good design, and good governance. Development is not worthy of its name unless it is spread evenly like butter on a piece of bread. Such visionary leaders best exemplify what John F. Kennedy wrote in his undelivered speech in 1963, “Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other. The advancement of learning depends on community leadership for financial and political support, and the products of that learning, in turn, are essential to the leadership’s hopes for continued progress and prosperity. This link between leadership and learning is not only essential at the community level. It is even more indispensable in world affairs. Ignorance and misinformation can handicap the progress of a city or a company, but they can, if allowed to prevail in foreign policy, handicap this country’s security.”

Part two will be published in this space next Thursday.

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