Volunteerism: Neighbors Helping Neighbors in Everyday People Power
8th National Convention
of the Knights of Columbus in the Philippines
Keynote Address of
Hon. Hilario G. Davide Jr.
Former Chief Justice
Supreme Court of the Philippines
Former Permanent Observer of the
Republic of the Philippines to the United Nations
Hon. Hilario G. Davide Jr. addresses the 8th National Convention of the Knights of Columbus in the Philippines.
Our beloved Most Worthy Supreme Knight Carl Anderson, and Dorian; Archbishop Quevedo and Bishop Odchimar; our brother Knights from the Supreme Council Stephen Feiler and Ed Laczi; Reverend Fathers; Sir Knights Alonso Tan, Dionisio Esteban Jr., Sofronio Cruz, Deputies of the Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao Jurisdictions, respectively; Former Deputies, other incumbent and former officers of these Jurisdictions; brother Knights; guests; ladies and gentlemen:
Let me begin by expressing my special welcome to our Supreme Knight, most worthy Sir Knight Carl Anderson and Lady Dorian Anderson, and to the rest of our brothers from the Supreme Council. This visit of our Supreme Knight is historic. This is his first to Cebu; and second to the Philippines, the first being for the centennial celebration of the founding of the KC in the Philippines. Your presence, Carl, will serve to inspire us to work harder to nurture and ensure the growth of a “Civilization of Love,” to which you dedicate your latest book.
Mine is the rare honor and privilege to have been invited by our Deputies as early as July 2009 to attend this 8th National Convention of the Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao Jurisdictions of the Knights of Columbus. The invitation was addressed to me as Permanent Representative of the Philippines to the United Nations. Now, I am back home; and I have the same title but with the prefix “Ex” or “Former.”
I come home with new lessons from the three years, one month and five days I had served as Permanent Representative. I learned the new skills of diplomacy, and a new kind of relationship of friendship. This short tour of duty is one of the most inspiring, productive, memorable and unforgettable chapters of my public life of nearly four decades of labors of service and of love for country and fellowmen. For so brief a period of time, exceptionally good things came. More than giving me the honor to speak for our country on issues and concerns of global impact, I was blessed with the special privilege of building and nurturing friendships and working with seasoned diplomats and colleagues who all have one shared vision: a world of justice, freedom and peace; and one sublime goal: to give life to the UN Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
There were many difficult times, to be sure. For one, the primary goal of the General Assembly of the UN is to try to create one voice, one voice from among 192 countries, each representing a population of as low as less than ten thousand to as many as several millions of people, of different languages, histories, legal systems, cultures, aspirations, longings and dreams, religions, faith; with 192 different kinds of pride, and not a little resentment from wrongs of ancestors; 192 expressions of good intentions, sometimes lost in the language barrier; and 191 kinds of friends to the Philippines that I have found in some of the most unlikely circumstances.
The underlying consciousness as we speak in the great halls of the UN is that there is not a single issue mentioned in the United Nations Charter that can be solved by any one Member State and, just as important, there is no problem in any of the 191 other countries that does not affect the Philippines. For instance, the Philippines cannot ignore that the difficulties of our friend Belarus in addressing human trafficking will affect how the Philippines will protect its own women, men, and children, any more than Brazil can turn a blind eye to Haiti, or to a faraway Typhoon Ondoy.
Whatever the problem – be it human rights, equality, freedom, war, nuclear non-proliferation or disarmament, terrorism, genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, economic and financial crisis, energy or food crisis, disability, water, or the environment and climate, the unspoken task – which when tempers are high sometimes becomes very difficult – is to treat each other as neighbors. Often not neighbors on the map, but sometimes in faith and understanding. Very recently, the Philippines hosted the first Special Meeting of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) on Interfaith Dialogue and Cooperation for Peace and Development. One hundred twenty NAM Member States and Observer States attended. Most major and non-major religions and faiths were represented, all with a desire to talk outside of geo-politics, and open a dialogue on how to live as neighbors in faith, neighbors we often don’t understand, and neighbors we might not even like.
When we talk about the fate of countries almost completely wiped out by natural disasters, or ask permission to build a well in our barangay, the message is the same. No matter how worldly we can become, the world is always bigger than we think. We must be aware that we are connected to each other whether we know each other’s names or not. And in being connected, we are neighbors. Thus, the Preamble of the UN Charter seeks this aim, among others: “to practice tolerance and live together in peace with one another as good neighbors.”
How fitting and appropriate indeed is the theme of this 8th National Convention of our Order: Volunteerism: Neighbors Helping Neighbors.
But, who is a neighbor and how shall we treat him? The Old Testament talks of the relationship between one and his neighbor. In Exodus, Chapter 20, we have the Ten Commandments, two of which refer to the law on neighbors, to wit: (1) You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor; and (2) You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his male or female slave, nor his ox or ass, nor anything else that belongs to him. In Leviticus, Chapter 19, among the various rules of conduct are: (1) You shall not defraud or rob your neighbor; and (2) You shall love your neighbor as thyself. In Deuteronomy, Chapter 5 (The Decalogue), this is the law about one’s neighbor: (1) You shall not bear dishonest witness against your neighbor; and (2) You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife. You shall not desire your neighbor’s house or field, nor his male or female slaves, nor his ox or ass, or anything that belongs to him. And in Deuteronomy, Chapter 27, one of the curses is: cursed he who moves his neighbor’s landmarks! And all the people shall answer “Amen.”
Proverbs 3 sets this rule: Say not to your neighbor: “Go and come again, tomorrow I will give” when you can give at once; and Proverbs 24 sets this rule: Be not a witness against your neighbor without just cause, thus committing folly with your lips.
The New Testament puts more clearly the sanctity of the commandment concerning one’s relationship with his neighbor. In Matthew, Chapter 19, Jesus commands: You shall love your neighbor as thyself. And in Matthew, Chapter 22, He commands: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first. The second is like it: you shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.
In Mark, Chapter 12, Jesus reiterates these commandments and ends with these words: “There is no other commandment greater than these.”
Expanding on this commandment, St. Paul says: (1) In Romans, Chapter 13, you shall love your neighbor as yourself. Love does no evil to the neighbor; hence love is the fulfillment of the law, (2) In Galatians, Chapter 5: For the law is fulfilled in one statement, namely, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (3) In James, Chapter 2: However if you fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture “you shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well.
And now let us listen to these great minds:
Thomas Kempis: How seldom we weigh our neighbor in the same balance as ourselves!
G.K. Chesterton: We make our friends. We make our enemies. But God makes our next-door neighbor.
When Jesus taught us the greatest commandment, to love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind (Matthew 22:36) and followed it up with a second great commandment: Love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:37-40), He reminds us that we cannot just speak of our love of God, and praise Him. We must not neglect our neighbors any more than we can neglect ourselves.
The “Final Judgment” discourse of Jesus in Matthew, Chapter 25 shows us that whatever we do to our neighbors, especially the least of them, is done to God. Here in this discourse we see the Son of Man coming as King to His royal throne and the people of all nations gather before Him.
He divides them into two groups just as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the righteous people on his right and He will say to them:
“Come you that are blessed by my Father. Come and possess the kingdom which is being prepared for you ever since the creation of the world. I was hungry and you fed me, thirsty and you gave me a drink; I was a stranger and you received me in your homes, naked and you clothed me; I was sick and you took care of me, in prison and you visited me.” The righteous will then ask him: When, Lord, did we ever see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we ever see you a stranger and welcome you in our homes, or naked and clothe you? When did we ever see you sick or in prison, and visit you? The King shall reply, “I tell you, whenever you do this for one of the least important of these brothers of mine, you did it for me!”
Then Jesus continued to say that, on the other hand, whenever one refuses to do this, he refuses to do it to Him.
We are all Filipinos and, therefore, likely have a large social circle of friends and family. Look at us here today in this Convention Center. We have more neighbors who are strangers to us than are not. Many people whose names have no connection to an office mate, classmate, church mate, or golf mate are calling for help. We would be limiting our generosity otherwise. The only other way to reach out to our neighbors is to volunteer.
Volunteerism is the empowered spirit to help without being asked, to respond to a call without being called. That empowered spirit is the spirit of love.
We are used to acting when we are called upon to act, and to respond to a need of someone. We must remember those who do not know how to call; or worse still, are afraid to call out. I wish to stress that volunteerism is seeking out where one might be needed, without being asked, and without asking anything in return.
In this regard, I must confess that we are now entering the expertise of my wife, your sister Gigi. I often talk to people about answering the call to service and duty. People answer in different ways, whether running for office, or becoming a public servant. I have done these things. But to seek out voices of help that are not often heard, and find where one might be needed, this is your sister Gigi.
Your sister Gigi has long been an advocate of volunteerism. For fifteen years, from 1986-2001, she was the Director of the Philippine National Volunteer Service Coordinating Agency (PNVSCA), a government agency under the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA). This meant, among other things, organizing national and regional conferences for volunteers for many, many years. Even when she was no longer Director because she retired from the service, she continued to help the agency by coordinating several events. She became an active member and/or officer of the International Association of Volunteer Effort (IAVE) and and the Philippine Association of Volunteer Effort (PAVE). More important than encouraging others to volunteer, however, is that she of course, leads by example. She still always volunteers. (Sometimes she volunteers for me?). She is one of the first to volunteer to be trained as a Court-Appointed Special Advocate and Guardian Ad Litem for children in conflict with the law who are brought into the courts. The program was a call to service to correct and improve the treatment of our children in conflict with the law, while our country lacked funds to pay the people needed to do it.
The PNVSCA is an agency that, among other things, fills in the gaps in the many important services our government promises that our poor country cannot always – or does not – always, for one reason or another, have enough funds to support. The agency is a central ground. There are many under its umbrella, or kin to its cause.
The challenge of volunteerism, especially in relation to our neighbors, is stronger on the Knights of Columbus and, therefore, on each one of us Knights. This challenge comes most strongly from the cardinal principles of the Order itself: charity, unity, fraternity and patriotism. A neighbor or neighbors is/are the fundamental focus of these principles, especially of the principle of charity, which is rooted in love. whose root is love. And love of neighbor, as Jesus teaches us in Matthew and reiterated in Mark, is the second greatest commandment.
Brother Knights, we are all here, leaders of communities and beacons of faith. Every year, if not every day, we challenge ourselves to do better, to live better, to fulfill our duty to our God, our country, our fellowmen, and our family with love. At this Convention, we must remind ourselves not to pursue this excellence of faith and duty on our own. We must do it together. We must remind ourselves that we cannot wait to find something to do; on the contrary we must oftentimes go out and look for help ourselves. We challenge ourselves to be greater things, but greatness is not in high sounding positions or large acts of kindness or generosity.
For the Knights of Columbus, for each one of us, there are many calls. There are many needs. For instance, the most immediate call and need are in what we see today. As elections in our country draw near, we will hear speeches about everyone’s needs, about everyone’s promises, how to fix the country, etc. But we know all about big talk and big dreams, and big accusations and big announcements for fixing things. We know all about our people power, our going to the streets in camaraderie and outrage. This was almost 25 years ago. We were reminded of people power a little last year, when President Corazon Aquino passed away. There were songs about how proud we were to be Filipino. We do not lose the spirit of people power because we have not taken to the streets. We might lose the power of EDSA when we do not know how to live it every day, and to stand beside our country and our neighbors without the lights of TV cameras or the threat of tanks. These calls and needs are in our immediate lives. They are in our Barabbas, and in the faces that we see on the streets every day. In these elections let us mobilize our efforts to help our electorate form a principled judgment and exercise faithfully their sacred right of suffrage – their weapon to uphold their sovereign authority – to ensure that those elected would be men of integrity, honesty, humility and competence; men whose commitment to uphold the public trust character of their office is pure and genuine.
As I said, helping our neighbors is a core value in the cardinal principles of our Order. It follows then that the Order in the Philippines, through the three Jurisdictions and the Councils under each must have a continuing plan of action that would make them truly dynamic and aggressive in the pursuit and enhancement of its various programs of activities – church, civic, youth, community, fraternal, patriotic, etc. For instance, we have to be in the forefront in the fight to protect the life of the unborn from the moment of conception, and to preserve the institutions of marriage and the family; in the fight for justice and truth; in the fight to empower the poor and the marginalized; in the fight to preserve Mother Earth which is now threatened because of climate change; in the fight against graft and corruption; in the fight against dangerous drugs and gambling, and all forms of evil that degrade man and society.
Let us all be active instruments in promoting a civilization of love.
As I have said many times before as an ordinary KC member, then as Grand Knight, District Deputy, and State of Advocate, the KC must mean in the larger, wider and deeper sense, not just Knights of Columbus, but Knights of Christ.
Let us then take full advantage of this 8th Convention and, thereafter, remain unceasing in living the spirit of its theme: Volunteerism: Neighbors Helping Neighbors. Let us make it our everyday people power.
I thank you, and God bless us all.