Philippine philanthropy

MANILA, Philippines—Globalization, deregulation and privatization have altered not just the economy of nations, but also much of everything else in the world. Tariffs, quotas and trade preferences are being eroded. So are employment, travel, communications and investment barriers. Call centers, overseas employment, Internet access and cell phones have been globalized.

Mega shift to philanthropy. Political and economic power is gradually shifting from the government to the private sector. No longer are governments solely responsible for granting relief from poverty, disease, homelessness, and yes, global warming. With mind-boggling corporate profits comes the corresponding duty to alleviate these scourges of mankind.

The passion for civic duty of the world’s richest couple best demonstrates this “mega-shift” in social responsibility. Bill and Melinda Gates, assisted by rock star Bono, built the world’s largest charity with their endowment of $29 billion (repeat, billion dollars) to save lives, especially in Africa, through vaccinations and public health care.

A year and a half ago, billionaire Warren Buffet gave a staggering $30 billion in blue chip Berkshire Hathaway shares to augment the couple’s charities. This sum is roughly equivalent to about P1.3 trillion, larger than the entire budget of the Philippines. Bill Gates will soon retire as chair of Microsoft “to focus more on philanthropic work.”

Philippine response. In our country, the private sector’s effort to help the less fortunate was pioneered by the Philippine Business for Social Progress (PBSP), now chaired by Manuel V. Pangilinan who also heads the most profitable enterprise here, the Philippine Long Distance Telephone Company. PBSP members contribute a fixed percentage of their net income to a common fund to pursue humanitarian causes.

The hands-down favorite of Filipino philanthropists is education; and rightly so, because—as I wrote last week in this space—it is the most important source of the “intangible wealth of nations.” Early on, the Eugenio Lopez Foundation and Ayala Corporation endowed and gave birth to the Asian Institute of Management. The Lopez-controlled Meralco donated the land for the Ateneo Law School in Rockwell and the Ateneo College of Medicine at the power company’s compound in Pasig.

The taipans acquired schools to help them dispense quality education at the least cost. Thus, Lucio Tan took over the University of the East; Alfonso Yuchengco, the Mapua Institute of Technology; and Emilio Yap, the Centro Escolar University. Henry Sy’s SM Foundation set up the Asia Pacific College, maintains 500 scholars at any given time, and donates classrooms to public schools. While focused on community development, San Miguel Foundation nonetheless sponsors scholarship, school-building and teacher-training programs.

George S. K. Ty’s Metrobank Foundation established the Manila Doctors College and the MDC College of Nursing. It elevates educational standards through its annual “Search for Outstanding Teachers.” As chair of the board of judges of the 1998 search, I marveled at the enormous attention given this contest. For instance, the top officials of Metrobank listened patiently for three days when the judges were interviewing the finalists. To cultivate a culture of excellence, Metrobank also searches for outstanding policemen, soldiers, young painters, sculptors, and other artists.

On his 80th birthday last year, John Gokongwei donated half of his personal holdings (amounting at that time to P10.25 billion) to the Gokongwei Brothers Foundation that, in turn, gave hundreds of millions of pesos to the University of San Carlos and the Ateneo de Manila.

Medical and other services. Another favorite charity of local bigwigs is medical service. Long ago, Metrobank endowed the Manila Doctors Hospital to help elevate the latter’s medical standards. Robert Kuan sold his “Chow King” empire to Jollibee to concentrate on his chairmanship of St. Luke’s Hospital.

Recently, Metro Pacific Investment Corp. infused money and management expertise into Makati Medical Center and turned it around financially in one year. SM Foundation owns mobile clinics, wellness centers, and hospice units. It also refurbishes entire wards of government hospitals and converts them to “Felicidad Sy Wards.” The Tan Yan Kee Foundation has donated hundreds of millions of pesos to build hospitals, school buildings, churches and houses for the homeless; and to finance scholarships and train teachers and doctors.

Ayala Corp. has infused social responsibility into its core enterprises and management philosophy. It has expanded its reach—from serving mostly the affluent communities to tending the needs of the low-income groups. For example, by venturing into water distribution, it extended service even to informal settlers who, prior to Ayala’s take-over of Manila Water Company, were not entitled to water connection.

Beyond that, Ayala has a passion for youth leadership. Annually, it selects 75 of the country’s most outstanding campus leaders, and gathers them in the three-day all-expenses paid Ayala Young Leaders’ Congress “to hone their leadership potential and to inspire them to lead lives of integrity and work for the good of the country.”

So too, the big media players have allocated part of their resources to social amelioration. Notable among them are the Kapuso Foundation of GMA7, Bantay Bata of ABS-CBN and Newsboy Foundation of the Inquirer.

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