NCAF, in partnership with the US Embassy, conducts the “THEWILLTOSERVE: A Forum on Service, Leadership, and Social Action”


On September 5, 2018, Wednesday, the Ninoy and Cory Aquino Foundation (NCAF), in partnership with the United States of America Embassy in the Philippines, conducted the “The Will to Serve: A Forum on Service, Leadership, and Social Action,” at the Solution Space Event Place inside the Jose Cojuangco & Sons Building along Dela Rosa Ave, Makati. The forum was a gathering for student-leaders and young professionals to learn about the different characteristics and values of a servant-leader from notable Filipino speakers and share their own insights on what makes an effective servant-leader. The event was attended by thirty-five (35) college-level students and young professionals.  The main goal of the forum was to spark a conversation among the youth on the values and responsibilities of servant-leadership and its importance in these challenging times.


The forum began with some words from NCAF President and Executive Director, Rafael Lopa. Mr. Lopa emphasized three choices that one must make in continuing the “fight”: the choice to be disturbed, the choice to act on that disturbance, and the decision to be faithful to the call. The choice to be disturbed, according to Mr. Lopa, is being aware of what is happening in your community and asking the questions that need to be asked. It is asking yourself if you are going to do anything about that disturbance. The choice to act on that disturbance is the challenge to do something in your own little way, wherever you are. It is also the recognition that deciding on something requires the acceptance of its possible consequence. Mr. Lopa said, “‘Pag umoo ka, may hihingin ‘yan pabalik. (When you say yes [to the call], it will ask for something in return.)” Lastly, the decision to be faithful to the call is staying true to the mission brought about by the disturbances, despite challenges. He mentioned that the speakers for the forum consisted mostly of women who have encountered these three pivotal choices in their own lives, and he invited the participants to listen closely to their stories and be inspired by their strength and commitment to their mission.


The participants then listened to various speakers from different sectors of society, such as former Isabela Governor Grace Padaca, writer and journalist Paulynn Sicam, Rappler co-founder Glenda Gloria, former DSWD Secretary Dinky Soliman, and Youth Southeast Asian Leadership Initiative (YSEALI) Cultural Affairs Associate Ryan Louie Madrid.


The first speaker, former Isabela Governor, Gov. Grace Padaca, talked about servant-leadership. She shared about her story growing up with a lifelong condition and the heart necessary to get through those challenges. She also remembered her experience during Martial Law and how these experiences inspired her to fight for what she believed was right. Living in her birthplace of Isabela, Gov. Grace grew dissatisfied with the state of the local government, run by political dynasty, the Dy family. Though, she was hesitant at first, Gov. Grace decided to run against the Dy family and eventually became the first woman governor of Isabela. Gov. Grace cited Robert Greenleaf’s definition of servant-leadership, saying a servant-leader is one who listens, empathizes, heals, is aware of self and others, persuades rather than coerces, conceptualizes, stewards, commits, builds community, and foresees a hopeful future.


Afterwards, writer and journalist-activist, Paulynn Sicam talked about “Calls, Choices, and Sacrifices.” She too talked about her experiences during the tumultuous time of Martial Law and how she had to decide to stand up for her freedom to speak and defend the truth. She quoted United States President Franklin Roosevelt, saying, “It is not enough to talk about peace, one must believe in it. It is not enough to believe in it, it must be acted upon.” She recalled being tasked by former President Aquino to be part of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR), specifically to negotiate peace with the communists. Ms. Sicam shared that many times during this period she admittedly wanted to give up and “throw in the towel,” but she pushed on because she wanted to live in a country where her children and grandchildren could be safe. She ended by urging the participants that “whatever you go into, do it with passion and commitment, and compassion. The worst we can do is to settle for less than what you can really be.”


Next speaker to take the stage was news journalist and Rappler co-founder, Glenda Gloria. Ms. Gloria talked about the difficulties journalists have been experiencing the past couple of years under the current administration. She likened the attacks against the press now to those during the martial law era. Ms. Gloria emphasized the importance of “perspective”. Without it, she says every attack is magnified and your team is contaminated by a siege mindset. She ended her talk by saying, “If we choose silence, we will not be able to live with that.”


After a quick lunch intermission, the next speaker who shared her “Vocation Story” was former Department of Social Welfare and Development Secretary (DSWD), Dinky Soliman. Sec. Dinky shared of her earliest experiences growing up in Tarlac and studying at the University of the Philippines  college. Being exposed to the rise of student-activism and the atrocities of Martial Law, Sec. Dinky was inspired to work in the baryos, meeting the marginalized and oppressed where they were. She lived with them, learned from them, engaged them in dialogue. She emphasized the importance of helping people see the power within themselves. “They must increase, I must decrease,” Sec. Dinky said. After college, Sec. Dinky shared going into community building work, until she was invited by then-President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to be Secretary of DSWD. Though apprehensive at first, she took on the challenge to be the mediator between government and the people in far flung areas and the minorities of society. Sec. Dinky admitted that she was forced to resign when President Gloria’s acts of helping the poor were no longer for their betterment but for personal political gain, heightened by the President’s then political scandal. Although her decision brought many hardships to her life, Sec. Dinky knew she needed to do it for her children and the good of the Filipino people.  She said, “Development and poverty reduction can only happen when we have good governance.” She followed this up by saying, “When public leaders become servant leaders, that’s when democracy is truly activated.” Sec. Dinky talked about the “graceful use of power” where one’s use of power does not dis-empower another person. Amidst the challenges she faces, Sec. Dinky shared that what keeps her going is her faith in God and that He resides in the Filipino people. She said that she continues to believe that good will triumph over people, and that one has to practice “strategic patience”.


Youth Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative or YSEALI Cultural Affairs Associate, Ryan Louie Madrid, shared with them various projects of YSEALI alumni and informed them the opportunities available should they join the organization. He emphasized YSEALI’s three (3) main objectives, namely, Strengthen Youth Leadership, Develop Regional Networking, and Support Community Projects.


Afterwards, Ryan Bradeen, US Embassy Assistant Cultural Affairs Officer, took the stage to say some words in behalf of the Embassy. Mr. Bradeen first acknowledged and thanked the speakers who spoke for the forum. He thanked NCAF, Ten Accomplished Youth Organizations (TAYO), and all the organizers of the event. He especially thanked the participants for attending. Mr. Bradeen invited the participants to “do something, get started.”


NCAF President and Executive Director, Rapa Lopa, closed the event with a few words. He alluded to the stories of the speakers and how some of the challenges they shared from before are seen happening again now. He comforted the participants that feeling exhausted and frustrated due to recurring issues is not uncommon, but urged them to draw inspiration from the admirable individuals who spoke today and how they are willing to continue the fight amidst all that they’ve already been through. Ultimately, Mr. Lopa invited the participants to turn to love, especially during the moments when they feel hopeless and beaten. He said, “The only thing that will keep us moving and find courage, and take that extra step is when we really, truly choose to love.”