Harvard Project for Asian and International Relations 2015

It was just to test my limits and to share my opinion about the topics asked from the site (those were my goals) and I couldn’t believe I passed Harvard Project for Asian and International Relations 2015 because I was content already knowing I passed Phase 1 and what made the chances thinner was the very choppy interview online. Still I became one of the delegates representing Philippines under the Human Rights Panel.

What made so excited was because Harvard Project for Asian and International Relations creates a forum of exchange and facilitates discussion of the most important economic, political, and social issues relevant to the Asia-Pacific region. Since 1991, the annual HPAIR conferences have brought together students from the world’s foremost universities and leaders in the fields of government, business, culture, and academia. Each year, the team organizes two legs for HPAIR: the Harvard Conference in Boston and the Asian conference.

It’s been 21 years since Harvard Project in Asian and International Relations came back to Philippines and it is such a humbling at the same time a challenging experience to be part of history being one of the 20% who are Filipinos. During the length of the event we were exposed in different business plenaries, workshops, panel discussions, case studies and also had a career fair. The speakers were leaders coming from different countries speaking for varied fields. Aside for the human rights, I got to pass other seminars: entrepreneurship, Asean Identity and Diplomacy and Women in the corporate setting.

After the opening program, I made friends with people who are in the Human Rights Panel. They are amazing leaders from different countries and one of them was Alicia Lo despite her disability she was able to come here in the Philippines with her  very supportive mother. Alicia is currently studying in London and she was one of the best people I met in the conference.

Instant friends because of Human Rights! From the left; Alicia Lo from London, Kelly Wong from Hong Kong, Yusun Lee from South Korea, Camila Alvirado from Peru, Therese Dela Pena from UP Diliman-Manila, and me

Human Rights Panel
The highlight of my experience was being in the Human Rights Panel sessions which later on upgraded into a family. The main goal of the Human Rights family was to evolve solutions for Human Rights in Asia. The organizers brought together practitioners from regional governments, businesses, non-profit organizations and civil society groups to discuss challenges to and innovations in combating human rights issues in Asia. Most importantly, the panel connected and fostered the next generation of human rights leaders in Asia and beyond.
Our moderator was Caitlyn Ryan who is a Master of Public Policy candidate at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government with her assistant, Montita Sowapark. It was amazing to meet my other halves- Human rights advocates and discussed pressing issues in Asia-Pacific region and thus, worked with them during our case studies. As a Spark! Fellow, I was able to relay the activities and advocacies of the organization as well – promoting Spark! Ph to the other nationalities.
Here is the summary of my experience:
Day 1 : Modern- Day Slavery: The Many Faces of Human Trafficking
Today, there are more slaves in the world than ever in human history. An estimated 20 to 30 million people are forced to work against their will, often without compensation and in dismal conditions. Human trafficking takes many forms – forced labor, sex trafficking, forced child labor, child soldiers, child sex tourism, involuntary domestic servitude, debt bondage – and survivors of the crime can be found in every country in the world. We will look at the different forms in which human trafficking is manifested in Asian countries, and the innovative efforts being taken to combat this grave human rights violation.

Nieves Confesor – Chair, Panel of Declaration Expert-Advisers to the International Labor Organization
Natalie Jesionka –
Founder, PRIZM Project and Member of Board of Directors, Amnesty International USA
Sam Inocencio, – Field Office Director, International Justice Mission Philippines

I got the chance to asked our panelists questions and also related with my mates under the panel. They were amazing and it felt amazing too to be with them in the same room. The forum started with a brave soul from Dela Salle and I asked after with a lot of questions and that started the fire in the room ; everyone became brave enough to share the cases in their country and how to solve them.

Day 2 : Dangerous Speech
Access to speech expression are highly restricted by many governments in Asia. This panel will look at how innovations in technology, media, and communication have allowed individuals and groups to catalyze dialogue regarding controversial issues and enact socio-political change.
Pinkaew Laungaramsri – Assistant Professor, Chiang Mai University
Sam Gregory – Program Director, WITNESS
T. Kumar – International Advocacy Director, Amnesty International Asia
Ravi Agrawal – New Delhi Bureau Chief, CNN International

Problably very informative and helpful. Even though I was late I got the chance to listen to the panelists who are activists in their fields and also heard the other youth leaders talk about their stories about this freedom of speech each country must have.

Day 3 : Bending Tradition: The fight for LGBTQI Rights
As Asia continues to develop and democratize, traditional values are often coming into conflict with growing LGBTQI and feminist communities. This panel will explore the current obstacles faced by the LGBTQI communities in many Asian societies and the ways in which these communities and allies are finding solidarity, subverting traditional norms of gender and sexuality, and demanding access to equality.
Cristina Cristobal – Proj. Coordinator, Asia-Pacific International Gay and Human Rights Commission
Joanne Leung – Chairperson, Transperson Research Center Hong Kong
Jennifer HsinChieh Lu – Director, Tongzhi Rexian
Popo Fan – Independent Filmmaker and Director, China Queer Film Festival Tour

THE MOST EMOTIONAL PART OF THE HUMAN RIGHTS PANEL! Everyone was touched by their stories and felt the panelist passion in their struggle for their advocacy. What surprised me was after the forum everyone slowly confessed their true identity. Some shared it was the very first time they shared it to someone and that made me feel so honored that hugged  her so tight.

Day 4 : Case Study presentation and Competition
Our team was composed of a practicing Human Rights lawyer from New Zealand, a student of medicine in Pakistan and two activists from Hong Kong. We were tasked to have a solution for Nepal’s Forced Child Labor in the carpet industry and won the second place.

HPAIR International Night

It was included in the e-mail sent to us and I had this crazy idea to promote Cebu in the international conference and my friends who passed HPAIR as well agreed. Only three of us from Cebu got in, namely; RJ Diana and Seane Aljas they are both from University of San Carlos. It was a nice joke at first and then they realized I wasn’t joking at all. Even though it ‘s a crazy idea well it was a crazy idea that will help promote Cebu and ofcourse, let us show the world how proud Cebuanos we three are.

We had a slot even without any audition tapes because of my strong-worded e-mail I sent. It was one way for us to focus more in our other activities because each of has had responsibilities with our organization so we had no time to practice at all. I was so glad the organizing team agreed to my proposal.

That was one crazy idea I am so proud of! That one in a lifetime opportunity turned into reality.

The three of us during our performance. Photo courtesy: Ivan Zamorano
Harvard Project for Asian and International Relations 2015

Story behind Cebu International Youth Day 2015

Weird how things work out in their own way sometimes. Last May, we had been struggling what topic our organization, the Josenian Junior Diplomats should cover this year. Our choices were World Humanitarian Day or International Youth Day. And I chose the latter.

The next step was to decide what topic and who will be the speakers. I really had no inspiration that time but I think there was a divine intervention that I came up with the concept. I was patient enough to connect the dots. The concept was born because of a book, a friend and a music video.

The book was The World is Flat by Thomas Friedman. I finished this last summer as well. It was about globalization and how everyone in the world no matter what status or your race is; you can compete with anyone in the world because we are all standing in the same platform. Then I had my ‘Eureka’ moment, I realized not everyone knows about this and thus, everyone should know about this.

The friend was in the name of Mikkel Wilkinson Yang who I met in my event: ASEAN Integration the last year and crossed paths again last summer. He was the one who recommended the book and helped me out with the problem about ‘what upcoming event’ should I do.

The song was Kelly Clarkson’s People like Us motivated me more. It described what I observed in the city that there are a lot of active youth leaders but the number of those who aren’t are even greater.The song told me that the more we should take care of these leaders.  Here is a sample of the lyrics:

We come into this world unknown
But know that we are not alone
They try and knock us down
But change is coming, it’s our time nowHey… everybody loses it,
Everybody wants to throw it all away sometimes
And hey… yeah I know what you’re going through
Don’t let it get the best of you, you’ll make it out alive
OhPeople like us, we’ve gotta stick together
Keep your head up, nothing lasts forever
Here’s to the damned, to the lost and forgotten
It’s hard to get high when you’re living on the bottomOh whoa oh oh whoa oh
We are all misfits living in a world on fire
Oh whoa oh oh whoa oh
Sing it for the people like us, the people like us

So one night I got all the dots connected. I saw my friends’ activities on facebook ranging from politics and what not. Then I thought of a program that will tackle everything at the same time still relate to each other. I saw my one friend’s post about a social movement called ‘Because I said I would’.

Boom! I just had an idea and that was to have different aspects to be discussed in two parts: Inspiring the Youth and Youth in Action. The first part is about the people who are experienced already about topics and are the reason why we are called the ‘youth’. These are composed of leaders ahead of us meaning they are veterans in their fields in the national level. For the second part, are leaders who are currently struggling their advocacies here in the city.

I thought of starting the second part with the world being flat and the rest will be how to be a millennial in this flat world. I believe all these areas won’t be possible if in the first place we will not say ‘Yes’ to our responsibilities as the Youth of this country.

The World is Flat. We don't know that it is happening. We are equal and we can compete.
1.The World is Flat. We don’t know that it is happening. We are equal and we can compete.
Find your brand and develop it then you'll be indestructible.
2. Find your brand and develop it then you’ll be indestructible.
The new trend is not to be part of the trend but to be against it.
3.The new trend is not to be part of the trend but to be against it.
Because I said I would then I will. Let's make our promises into actions.
4. Because I said I would then I will. Let’s make our promises into actions.
We only hear stories about LGBT but we want to hear it from the LGBT perspective. Is Cebu exclusive enough?
5. We only hear stories about LGBT but we want to hear it from the LGBT perspective. Is Cebu exclusive enough?
Say yes to opportunities but don't forget the responsibilities of this answer.
6. Say yes to opportunities but don’t forget the responsibilities of this answer.

Then after more details for the event, we had an online campaign which starts with our desires for the future and for the world. We always had promised or said that I want a world that is ____ and because I said so I will ___________. So the first ones who answered were the speakers who had really cool answers.

August 2015

The date was set and the speakers’ list was final. For the first part I had speakers coming from different fields; Sir Bill Felisan who is a police officer with an inspiring story, Kuya Darren Gonzales for YouthVote, Kate Alyson Ramil for feminism and Fiona Jade Lim for Social Entrepreneurship.

August 15, 2015 – Marcelo Fernan Press Center, Lahug, Cebu City.

The day has come where from one  crazy idea to this big event. I registered the event in United Nations Youth Development Program in the map of International Youth Day event maps. The crowd was overwhelming!

The audience during the actual event.

The program started around 9 in the morning and with the Navy officer to open the event. The officer was so active with helping the youth and all.

Part 1: Inspiring the Youth

Kate Alyzon Ramil with her talk: 15 things I learned as a feminist. The first one who spoke under Inspiring the Youth.

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“IYD’s talk on feminism reminded me that feminism isn’t about superiority rather it talks about equality and empowering one another. But just because I want to be equal with men doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate men who are chivalrous.” – Jerusha Adamae Tan

“Be a wise voter and not a Bobotante!” -Darren Gonzales, second speaker says during his talk about YouthVote.
The police officer who was a street child for how many years.
Fiona Jade Lim the last speaker for the “Inspiring the Youth” part wherein she talked about a Greener and Livable Cebu.

Part 2: Youth in Action

Selected Cebu youth  leaders were selected to talk about topics concerning the youth. Starting with the World is Flat.

First speaker: Mikkel Wilkinson Yang talking about the World is Flat.
Alem Garcia for Branding 101
Going against the norm by Shari Julla Gonzalez
Danica Blanche Chua Fernandez talks about “Because I said I would movement”

“I learned that promises aren’t merely words. They’re so much more. When you promise something to yourself or to someone else, you’re making a commitment to fulfill that promise. It shouldn’t be taken lightly.” -Juniper Elle Abella

Isaac P. Saguit , UP-Cebu student leader talks about Cebu’s inclusiveness

“Cebu city is one of the first city in the country who passed an anti-discrimination ordinance but we LGBT people must strive hard to fight for our equal rights nationwide.” – Renato Alondres III, AB International Studies 3

Yes Man – Matthew Basabe talks about the “Power of Yes!”

Here are some of my friend’s reflections:

“The youth is so much capable of making things possible. They are equally as competent to those who have experience if they really want to. Desire and compassion can drive success to reality.” -Cherry Bo Fernandez, AB International Studies 2

“Out of all the many talks, I favored his because he talked about saying YES to life. I do admit that I rarely take risks because I think too much of what other people may think about me. I’ve always been playing safe and usually finding the easy way out. I keep declining offers because of my inferiority and fear of failure. During his talk though, he shared a story that showcased a person’s self-esteem regardless of how they look and how one sees themselves. He emphasized on the issue of self-confidence and believing in yourself no matter how different you are from the rest. His story of becoming Mr. Basabe despite his being short and stout made me think “So what if others seem to be higher than me?” because eventually I realized, just like what he said, we all possess something special in us. All we’ve got to do is use it. But we never would know our own capacity if we don’t take risks.. if we don’t grab the opportunity.. if we don’t say yes.

His victory paved the way to more and more opportunities.. Like he said “It was just one YES, yet it opened many doors.”
Also, he shared something about it finding yourself.. He was a “party animal” yet he was also a very generous man.. He locked himself in his room for a month just to figure out who he really was. His two sides contradict each other and he didn’t know who he was already. After a while, he realized “Why couldn’t I be both? That’s what I do. That’s who I am.” So he didn’t stop his life, he carried on with who he is. He wanted parties and so he’s in Spectrum. He wanted to continue his advocacy of helping orphans and so the Spectrum parties’ proceeds go to his foundation. He used innovation. He didn’t change himself. He embraced himself. He balanced his desires and his passion which I find very amazing. It just proves that you don’t need to be categorized into a single label. If that is who you are, don’t change. Be real!” – Phyllis Saromines , Beauty Queen
Story behind Cebu International Youth Day 2015

Alter ego

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Mirror, Mirror, On the Wall.”

Blogging equals sharing yourself

and this is me sharing my alter ego

Here are my thoughts I wanted to shout to the world

My feelings fragmented into articles

My dreams I aspire

My blog is myself.

It’s where who I am, what I do and who I want to be collides.

This is me in different million things.



I told one friend about the clean-up we are having and I asked her where is the best area in Cebu to do the activity since I’m not familiar with the city. She answered that it would be more meaningful if it’s in the riverbanks or coastal areas. So we researched for the nearest one to make it easier for the volunteers. We now have the Gulf of Guadalupe River. Yey!

Well, I got to know the place better through google map and yesterday, I ventured out with another friend to look for the area and to tap the barangay officials. It was a real challenge getting to the right path because we were in a maze- a.k.a. slums area. The place looks different from the map I researched and my friend kept asking if I’m not scared or am I sure of what I’m doing and going. I told her that we should just enjoy getting lost because that’s where the fun starts. I said it with a wink.

After walking for hours, we finally got to see the very dirty gulf. “This is then the area we will clean tomorrow. Wow. Just wow. We were dazed by the sight- trash piled up.”

We went around the river and went to the barangay. We were asked to wait and so we waited- for around three hours. THREE HOURS?!! Good thing I had my book and my friend likes talking. So instead of getting pissed, we used the time for catching up.

Hooray! The man who promised to come back returned after the sun set and he led us to the farthest point of the slums- the gulf of the river. He introduced us to one of the officials and that was when our perspectives changed. He told us the area, the problem, the people and what they initiated to solve this it. I decided to record the middle of the interview because I want to replay the sincerity of his voice as he talked about the challenges they face everyday.It was very moving to know that they created an NGO for the concerned fishermen who wanted a clean river, gulf and seas. They also initiated some agriculture stuff in the area but there are things he said I would never forget:

“Ang kulang nato tanan kay ang disiplina. Sige ratag reklamo nga way buhat. Kinahanglan di ta mag-agad sa mga tawo nga naay sweldo ug sa gobyerno. Dapat mismo kita manghilok kay oo tinood man jud nga di mahurot ang basura peru maghulat diay ta nga kita tanan matabunan ug basura?! Oo nagpuyo mi sa squatters peru di man ni tanan gikan sa amo- gikan na sa bukid ug sa uban nga naa sa unahan. Ngano sige man tagpasa2 nga hugaw man sad ni sa tanang tawo- madato o ma-pobre. Disiplina ra gyud ato kulang ba…”

“The only thing we lack is discipline. We always have something to say without actions. We should not be dependent to the people who have salaries and to the goverment because we, ourselves should act because yes, it is true that the trash will not disappear but do we have to wait for our trash to devour us?! Yes, we live in the slums but not all the trash comes from us. Why do we always pass the blame to one or the other when in fact- these are all HUMAN’S trash, our trash – may it be the rich or the poor. Discipline is the only thing we don’t have…”

Join our team later and hear more about these inspiring fisher folks. Let’s ride the boats for a cleaner and greener Cebu!

‪#‎iam5million‬ ‪#‎letsdoitPH‬