Dear President Noy,
You spent over a good 2 hours last Monday telling the story of the Philippines’ progress over the past 5 years. I thank you very much for your hard work, and I hope you’ll allow me to return the favor by telling you a story this time.
This particular one takes place on the 27th of July 2015. You were obviously delivering your final State of the Nation Address (SONA) near Batasang Pambansa with the entire nation’s eyes and ears on you— while I, on the other hand, was at a quiet restaurant, table-for-one, working on a presentation.
I was just getting ready to head out when, all of a sudden, at 5:59 pm, my friend Albert started calling me on the phone. I immediately picked it up and on the other end he just kept shouting over and over again, “Nasa SONA ka! Nasa SONA ka!” (You're at the SONA!)
While that commotion was happening, another friend was calling me up. Along with those two calls, my phone kept on vibrating from an influx of text messages and notifications that were coming in so fast I had to put the phone down.
About just 2 minutes after that call, I had over 20-something text messages and I kept receiving even more notifications from Facebook, Viber, and Twitter. There was so much coming in that I had to turn my phone off for a while just to save the battery because I still had a dinner to attend.
When I finally made it home, I was ready to check that photo of me you used in your presentation and see the fuss that came with it. Once I got my laptop running, and in the span of a few hours of dinner, I had never seen so many notifications in my life.
“X people posted on your wall,” “X people like a photo on your wall,” “X people mentioned you…” was all over my feed. Friend requests from people I’ve never met were coming in, and several posts and photos I still haven’t managed to reply to up to this day remain unanswered. I had never received this much attention, and it remains the craziest experience I’ve ever had with social media in my life.
This is what one photo can now do in this generation, Mr President. And after an experience this daunting, only one thing comes to mind for me to say to you: I owe you a very big thank you – but not for the 15 seconds of fame.
I’ll be honest when I say I was very touched by the short time under the spotlight. There’s no denying that. But, as I wrote on my own Facebook wall, what continues to fill my heart with great joy is knowing that so many people in my generation were actually watching the SONA that day.
Growing up in this day and age, I experience first-hand the rampancy of hearing that “there’s no hope for this country.” Yet, there I was on a random Monday night, working on a presentation, minding my own business, and receiving a flurry of messages from several of my friends – all during the actual airing time of the SONA.
When I got home that night, I even went through the posts and noticed timestamps from all the notifications. I realized they were also all during the time you were speaking.
In the midst of a widespread culture of hate in this country, I am reminded that my generation – the millennial generation, does care about the welfare of the Philippines. In the midst of all the attention a single photo has garnered, I am reminded of the moving words Cardinal Tagle shared back in 2013 during my graduation.
He explained how his near-papacy experience made him popular with the media and, in turn, raised the status of Filipinos all over the world. He explained how he didn’t enjoy the attention but that his coverage managed to uplift other Filipinos from their own experiences of suffering. In his own words: “Hindi pala yun para sa akin.” (It wasn't for me.)
At a time when people think there is no hope for our country, I am reminded not to believe that, because I’ve seen that hope first-hand; and it’s rooted in its people, the Filipino people.
In your speech, you thanked my generation for helping contribute to the progress of this country. I hope I can speak for the most of the millennial generation when I say we are honored to share the responsibility of building this country with you, President Noy.
A Millennial’s promise
As a part of the next generation that has on its shoulders the name of the Philippines in the years to come, I want to let you know that one thing we’re already very good at is speaking out. We’re a very vocal generation.
Some may take this to mean we’re a very vain generation, given our social media pages filled with photos and statuses. Maybe that’s true for some cases – but if you turn toward the bigger picture, we show you a generation of people no longer scared to express an opinion, no matter how small.
We now we have voices, and we now know we have the means to make them louder. We now have the means to be heard.
Yes, we take selfies, but we also give our take on who should and shouldn’t run for the presidency in 2016. Yes, we share posts from 9-Gag and BuzzFeed, but we share our frustrations and joys also with the links of local and international news articles. Yes, we sometimes post about our sadness and anger every so often, but we always express our disgust and intolerance for anything closely related to corruption, and discrimination involving gender, sexuality, and religion.
We have the means to make more informed choices now, and our generations have so much to learn from each other if we can all be humble enough to do so.
Let’s learn how to communicate without the use of hate. Let’s learn from the visit of Pope Francis, his mercy and compassion, and not leave that responsibility solely to the CBCP. Let’s learn together and finally put an end to this tolerance for corruption and irresponsibility with the environment.
Most importantly, let’s learn to stop saying there’s no hope for this Philippines and start seeing what’s right in front of all of us: our people – the genuine hope for this country’s progress.
I’ve seen that hope countless times, Mr President, and it has the power to change things and move more people. It’s the same hope I see in faces on the streets and faces in profile pictures. It’s the same hope that tells me that our progress as a country isn’t a delusion, but rather a result of definitive action from all of us.
So long as that hope exists in our people, I will always be more than willing to carry bottles of water under the rain for it – because that’s exactly what this country needs: people to hope, and people to act on it.
Thank you very much, President Noy.
Serge Gabriel is a psychology graduate of the Ateneo de Manila University. He recently qualified for a scholarship to take his Master’s in Philosophy at Gonzaga University in Washington. He is currently a part-time lecturer at the Ateneo, a poet and spoken word artist under Words Anonymous, and is training to finish his first sprint triathlon by the end of the year.