By Marivir R. Montebon
New York City
1 Unless the Lord builds the house,
the builders labor in vain.
Unless the Lord watches over the city,
the guards stand watch in vain. (Psalm 127 A song of ascents. Of Solomon.)
Daphne Ceniza-Kuok breezes to New York, from Hong Kong, at the time when homeland Philippines is raging mad over the pork barrel scam in Congress. Two things prompt her visit. As a mom, she had to send off her two children to college here, and as an advocate for social change, she makes sure her voice to end corruption as well as that of the others, are heard.
A college friend, Raul Puentespina, had mentioned Daphne through Facebook, and requested me to meet her and cover the protest at the Philippine consulate. It was to be the first leg of the hundred rallies envisioned to stop the scandalous billions worth of pilferage vis-a-vis the flash floods in Manila, an oil spill tragedy off Cebu, and the perennial increases in prices of commodities. Practically every Filipino is outraged.
Lovely in picture, but so much lovelier in person, I finally met Daphne at the rally on the last Sunday of August. She collected the signatures of those demanding to scrap the pork barrel fund and to immediately conduct an investigation into the scam. The petitioners also asked for the passage of the freedom of information bill.
She handed the signatures to Deputy Consul General Tess de Vega at the height of the rally which was participated by about 200 Filipinos from various organizations.
Daphne is a silent supporter of Filipinos (especially abused maids) in Hong Kong and has been quietly working with the International Care Ministries (ICM) in lifting economic conditions of Filipino families. She has also relentlessly campaigned for the overseas absentee voting, being an issue close to the hearts of many immigrant Filipinos.
Interestingly, many of the board members of the ICM are not Filipinos, although its programs are fully focused on eight stations in the Philippines, with key interventions on values, health, and livelihood since 1992. Its founder was Sharon Tin Tan, a Singaporean interior designer living in Hong Kong who visited the Philippines with her Filipino maid. She was struck by a young and dying woman Josephine who asked for a coffin. The lady had her dying wish granted, and it flourished to something more, as Tin Tan organized what is now called the ICM.
Today, the ICM board is chaired by David Sutherland, and acting as full time. He was formerly managing director of Morgan Stanley-Asia. Daphne sits in the ICM board of advisers and stirs the fund raising activities to be able to continue with the programs in the villages. At one time, she admits that getting the Philippine government involved in its programs had been difficult.
The ICM is energized by 150 full-time staffers. It continues to train pastors and church volunteers to manage its counseling and health programs.
My afternoon conversation with Daphne a few days after the rally at the consulate was relaxing than what I expected it to be, despite the depth of her concerns.
OSM!: You have been helping quietly many Filipino immigrants in Hongkong and are passionately involved with ICM. Despite the many good efforts of Filipinos abroad like you, the Philippines seem to be unable to rise from its own problem, the most recent of which is pork barrel scam. Doesn’t that make you feel frustrated?
Daphne: If we give up, who will do it for us? I am doing things that I can in my own personal capacity and faith. Regarding the pork barrel scam, it is still too early to say if we could rise above it. But my hope is, there will be a systemic change as a result of the people’s united effort. We should focus on scrapping the pork barrel and realigning the national budget to real programs. The pork barrel institutionalizes patronage politics. That has to be changed.
OSM!: Do you think we can rise from all these corruption and define a stable and secure future to ourselves?
Daphne: Yes we need to rise from all these. But God has to get through all our troubles. I believe that unless it is in God’s grace and protection, nothing good happens. Let me share with you a Bible passage, Psalm 127 A Song Ascents. Of Solomon. “Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the guards stand watch in vain.
My point is, have we ever asked ourselves, have I seriously prayed for my country, for my president, for my congressmen? We need steadfast action and a lot of prayers to succeed.
OSM!: As a leader, I can see that you have evolved into the political and spiritual realms. What had been your turning point?
Daphne: It is amazing how at one point in our lives, God strips us of every aspect of our confidence. In my case, the purge at the radical left movement was it. I was hammered in the head. Nauntog ako. The organization had been broken, and many of my friends had been killed or maligned. It was a time of confusion and division. That was my awakening. All efforts for change must be God-centered.
The passage on Romans 8:38-39 says this: 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
OSM!: So you think the left-led revolution in the Philippines won’t succeed in bringing about change in Philippine society?
Daphne: No, it won’t succeed, unless it is built by God.
OSM!: Who are the leaders that you look up to?
Daphne: I have been blessed to have worked with the late Sen. Jose Diokno and Tanada. They were leaders with integrity.
OSM!: Do you think the women’s rights movement makes sense?
Daphne: I believe there is no need for that if you believe that God has only one standard for us. We are all his stewards, and so there is no gender attached to it. We are all equal.