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MANILA, Philippines – The head of a pro-poor Philippine organization has received flak online for his speech at the University of Hawaii at Manoa that many in the audience found self-serving and sexist.
In a two-page statement, a copy of which was recently posted on its Facebook page, the university showed its disappointment in the speech that Gawad Kalinga (“give care” in English) founder Tony Meloto delivered at the 40th anniversary of the Center for Philippine Studies (CPS) in April.
“For many, Mr Meloto, who received the prestigious Ramon Magsaysay Award in 2006, is a visionary who represents important values in our community – a man of action who seeks to help the poor by providing them with sustainable housing,” the CPS said.
Gawad Kalinga , an organization founded in 2003 by Meloto, claims to have built one million homes in the Philippines for informal settlers.
He was invited to speak about the CPS’ anniversary, but “Mr Meloto did not focus on the CPS anniversary event itself or UH-Manoa, who co-sponsored his visit.” His speech “focused almost entirely on Mr Meloto himself, and the accomplishments of himself and his family.”
Still, the center said, “what distressed many of those in attendance was not what Mr Meloto ignored but what he actually said.”
He allegedly called the Philippines “broken,” and described the poor as “hopeless and violent.” Then continued to tout GK’s work as “almost magically transformative, bringing hope, peace and tranquility to the urban poor.”
What was most disturbing about his speech, the CPS said, “was his sexism.”
In one breath he talked about “beautiful women” as the greatest asset of the Philippines, and in the next, he enticed foreigners to invest in the Philippines.
“Equally offensive, Mr Meloto went on to share his views on the need for Filipino women and their white husbands to produce what Mr Meloto humorously called ‘cappuccinos’ and appeared to present such policy of seduction and reproduction as a solution to the problems of economic development in the Philippines.”
The CPS said these are views they “completely and utterly reject.” It noted that those views upset many members of the audience and produced “nervous laughter” in responses to his “off-color” jokes.
While the event was a month ago, CPS said they are releasing this statement now “in order to acknowledge our own responsibility for the invitation extended to Mr Meloto, and to apologize to those who were offended by his views.”
Rappler has reached out to Gawad Kalinga several times for a statement. A staff member said that GK would reply when they are ready.
Although not directly addressing the University of Hawaii’s statement, Meloto Tweeted from his account: “When bad things are said about you, just do more good. It’s love for God, country and the poor that gives me the strength to move on.” – Rappler.com