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Thursday, January 24, 2019

Wenceslao: Taking community service seriously

LET me take a respite from all the noise in governance and traditional politics to tackle something good. I just received from the mail the glossy 2015 annual report of the Ramon Aboitiz Foundation Inc. (Rafi) with the theme “Creating Tomorrow Today.” This year, Rafi turned golden with 50 years of being, to quote Rafi’s Reputation Management Team, “an enabler of progress and development that fosters architects of change.”

As one who dabbled in Marxism in my younger years, I am always suspicious of the purpose of foundations created by capitalists. The thinking is that the phrase “corporate social responsibility” is meant to hide in altruism capitalists’ profit motive. But I have observed Rafi and know some of the people that worked in the foundation through the years. I can say a certain level of seriousness can be seen in its service.

As I went through the report, I was impressed by the scope of its programs and services. Dominica Chua, Rafi’s chief operating officer, listed the focus areas as “integrated development, micro-finance and entrepreneurship, culture and heritage, leadership and citizenship, and education.” Those are, of course, abstract words made concrete by the stories of people whose lives were touched by these programs.

A few years ago, the sister of my wife received bad news: she had early stage breast cancer. While she has a regular job, her husband is unemployed and she struggled to raise her five children. How could she hope to spend for medical expenses when her family was struggling to make both ends meet? Somebody told her about Rafi’s Eduardo J. Aboitiz Cancer Center and that made the difference. She got the medical help that she needed and has been cured of the dreaded disease.

That service is not as high profile as the others, like disaster response and risk reduction and Rafi being an engine of the Mega Cebu vision for a livable and sustainable metropolis through the Metro Cebu Development Coordinating Board (MCDCB) that, incidentally, Cebu City Mayor Tomas Osmeña shuns.

Recently, Vice President Leni Robredo, who is the current housing czar of the government, complained that only a very small percentage of the housing projects intended for victims of super typhoon Yolanda have actually been completed.

She must be referring to government projects and not those initiated by the private sector.

For example, a housing project for typhoon victims in Bogo City, one of the areas in Cebu hit by Yolanda, is now functioning. The survivors live in 200 disaster-resilient and colorful structures built in a lot donated by Wenceslao and Margarita Fernan. The community is called the SM Cares village, being mainly a project of SM Cares, a division of SM Foundation, in collaboration with Rafi, which is currently providing the village residents with livelihood and skills training.

As for the Mega Cebu vision, I remember a presentation about it given to some Sun.Star Cebu editors and reporters.

That orientation was given mainly by Rafi people, which shows how involved the foundation is in its crafting. In doing so, it has forged alliances in urban planning for Metro Cebu with those in the international community.

But my worry in this effort, one that I expressed to Rafi people, is that long-term programs could suffer from the twists and turns of the country’s politics.

Anyway, these and many other services besides are what make Rafi stand out among the foundations set up by business interests in the country. Two words in the message of its president, Roberto Aboitiz, sums everything up: hard work.

(khanwens@gmail.com/@khanwens)
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