This is the speech delivered by Filinvest Development Corporation chairman Jonathan Gotianun during the 2nd Board of Trustees Speaker Series of Xavier Ateneo on Friday, September 1, 2017 at the Limketkai Luxe Hotel.

VISIT AT XAVIER ATENEO. Business tycoon Jonathan Gotianun, photographed by Anthony Jacob Karagdag, during the former's visit to the Center for Integrated Technologies prior to the 2nd Xavier Ateneo Board of Trustees Speaker Series.


Maybe I can share with you something before I start my I-hope-not-so-boring speech.

I was so excited to come that I woke up at 2AM and took the 4:15AM flight so that I can be here around 7AM, and we can start the day’s program. I wanted to support the effort. In order to support the effort, I had to know more about the school and what its aspirations are so that maybe going forward we can cooperate in ways that will make the dream a reality. 

Since I’m not as extemporaneous as our President Duterte, I do not actually know how to make speeches, I thought I’d just write down some of the thoughts that occurred to me when I was coming here. And in fact, I just finished my speech after I arrived and I worked on it before our meeting started. So anyway let me just start off by saying “Good evening, friends!” It is really an honor to be among the educators and friends of Xavier University. 

When Father [Roberto] Yap [SJ] invited me to come to be a speaker tonight, I was initially hesitant to do so. After all, you know, as a person living in Manila I thought to myself: What would I know about Mindanao that you aren’t already aware of? Will whatever I say be relevant or be of any use to anyone of you?

The only reason I changed my mind was the thought that my coming to Mindanao might, in some way, contribute to the success of the senior tech-voc high school which we’re expanding at the present time. After I decided to come to visit you, I did a little research and I want to show you a few slides.

But really that slide is too early.

I did a little research regarding the situation in Mindanao and frankly what I found was not a pretty picture.

The truth is that Mindanao continues to lag behind the rest of the Philippines in almost all measurable aspects of development. 

Let us look what the data tells us, as presented in the following slides. 

The truth about Mindanao (You may download his presentation here.

The first slide shows us the relative distribution of the population and the contribution to [Gross Domestic Product] GDP of each of the major areas of the Philippines. You can see Mindanao despite having 25% of the population, it only contributes 15% of the country’s GDP. Clearly, this is a problem as there is a great disparity compared to Luzon and the Visayas.

In terms of GDP per capita, Mindanao is clearly lagging behind the other super regions, with ARRM having the lowest GDP per capita of Php27,000. While Luzon’s NCR has the highest GDP per capita with Php400,000. This number is 16 times greater than that of ARRM’s. This shows a great inequality and points to the big gap in terms of development.

In terms of average annual family income, again we see Mindanao behind Luzon and Visayas. Again, ARRM is the lowest at Php129,000 per annum. Of the bottom 5 regions, 3 are in Mindanao while 1 is in Luzon and another 1 in the Visayas. Know, too, that the average annual family income in ARRM is only one-third of NCR’s.

Take a look at the next slide at the average annual family savings figure. Mindanao has the lowest figure and all the top 3 regions belong to Luzon. Of the bottom 3, 2 are in Mindanao and 1 in Luzon. The lowest figure is ARRM at Php17,000 per year. The highest is Region 2 which is four times greater than ARRM’s. So, regions with low annual average family income are also those that have the lowest annual savings figures.

As far as the labor force participation is concerned, we can see that the overall participation rate seem to be similar across regions with most of these between 60-65%. These participation rates are relatively low but there are regions that are even lower than 60%. And with ARRM, labor participation rates being the worst at 48%. 

When we look at the issue of functional literacy rates, Luzon is clearly leading the pack. While the 2 other super regions of Visayas and Mindanao play catch-up. All top 3 regions of the highest literacy rate belong to Luzon. Of those of the bottom 3, 2 regions are in Mindanao and 1 in the Visayas.

Of those between 6 and 24 years of age, out-of-school percentages are also the highest in Mindanao when compared to other regions in the country. All three regions with the lowest out-of-school youth percentages are in Luzon.  While the three worst regions with the highest out-of-school youth percentages are all in Mindanao.

With respect to indicators of health, one could see that from this graph that the life expectancies are lowest in practically all areas of Mindanao, both for males and females. Apparently, females live longer than males in all regions. That’s surprising? But if you want to live longer whether you are male or female, on average you have a significantly better chance to do so just by living in Luzon. Again, ARRM has the worst condition showing the lowest life expectancy for both sexes. 

Another interesting statistic one might look at has to do with under five mortality rates per one thousand live birth across a region. Mindanao shows the worst numbers. The top 3 highest mortality rates occur in here. Compared to the region with the lowest under five mortality rate of 21 in Luzon, three regions of Mindanao have mortality rates two and a half times or more, at 49, 52, and 55 kids dying before the age of 5.

Stunting among the 0-5 years of age is also a great concern because, among others, it can be an indication for malnutrition, high incidence of disease, or poor sanitation. We see that both the Visayas and Mindanao have pretty bad numbers. But with 45% or half the children in this age group in ARRM are considered having stunting problems. One out of two kids has stunting problems. It’s unbelievable. 

The last slide I will show you has to do with the poverty incidence among families. We see that in Luzon the percentage of poverty incidence among families is around 10%, while those in the Visayas around 20%. But the corresponding percentage for Mindanao is 30%. Three times that of Luzon. Sadly the poverty incidence among families in ARRM is 48%, a very high number. 

I think I will stop showing any more slides. My objective in showing the slides is to shine a harsh light on Mindanao and cause discomfort on your part. I hope I have succeeded in my objective. Clearly, this is indeed a very dismal picture.

Clearly, this is indeed a very dismal picture.

FOR MINDANAO. Filinvest Development Corporation chairman Jonathan Gotianun tells the crowd at the 2nd Board of Trustees Speaker Series of Xavier Ateneo: “We should recommit ourselves to the work and persevere in the pursuit of progress, not only for a select group of people but for all the people in Mindanao." Photo by Anthony Jacob Karagdag.

Why should you be concerned?

But at this time, you might be asking yourself what all these have to do with us, or with me. Why should I care about the situation in Mindanao? That’s you, not me asking, right?

Well, I can think of various reasons why you should. For one, as you are living in this place you should logically be deeply concerned about its hopelessness. The reality is that if you don’t care, who will care? Who do you expect to care? There is also the very practical consideration that whatever happens here will surely affect your future in some significant way. 

As educators, you should also be doubly concerned about the unhappy state of Mindanao. We pride ourselves in teaching others to become responsible and productive citizens in order to contribute to the development of our country. However, the sad fact is that we may believe that we have done a good job. But in truth, we have failed. We have to accept too many things have fallen through the cracks and that what little progress has been achieved is not enough as the data clearly tell us.

I’m sure it is not for lack of effort on your part. But perhaps it’s time to ask the hard questions: Why has the situation persisted for such a long time? What are the causes of it? As most of us live in cities, are we too detached from the people living outside these areas to realize how dire the situation is for them? Are we too accepting and complacent of the situation as it is? And comfort ourselves by believing we have already done our part and that there is not much else we can do?

I believe we need to ask questions about our continued responsibility towards this current situation. Obviously what we have done is clearly not enough. We need to question our approaches and our assumptions. We have to find new solutions. We should not fool ourselves into thinking that we are free of any obligation to be part of the solution. Also, to empathize is a good thing but clearly it is not enough. We need to take bold action. Bold, creative, and effective solutions to bring real progress to all areas of concern. 

We should recommit ourselves to the work and to persevere in the pursuit of progress, not only for a select group of people like you guys in this room but for all the people in Mindanao. 

As Filipinos who I don’t doubt love our country, we owe it to ourselves to do so. I would like also to believe as people of good will we have no choice as we have been called to this task.

How did the Gotianuns end up in Mindanao?

Father Yap asked me to talk about what made the Gotianun Family Foundation decide to cooperate with Xavier University in the field of tech-voc education.

In a sense, we’ve always had the connection to Mindanao. My grandfather had a small shipping company that operated out of Cebu and some of the vessels would travel here. More recently, when my parents started getting involved in business, the various companies operated in many parts of Mindanao. 

In 1974, my parents got to know Father [Pierre] Tritz [SJ] and his work in ERDA and later in ERDA Tech and Tech-Voc High School that he set up. They supported his foundation over the years. A few years ago, when Xavier High School San Juan took over the management of ERDA Tech, they determined it would be appropriate to transfer the school from Pandacan, Manila to Batangas to be closer to the industrial estates. They wanted to transform it into a three-year tech-voc high school and were talking to us about helping make this new campus a reality. The family had to decide whether or not to help in that undertaking. At that time, many other organizations, aside from ERDA Tech, were also approaching us to contribute to their work. 

After several discussions with the Jesuits running ERDA Tech, upon the suggestion of my sister in an out-of-the-box thinking, we decided instead to make a significant contribution towards a tech-voc school in Mindanao. 

What prompted us to arrive at this decision? 

First, we felt Mindanao was the area of the greatest need. We also felt that institutions in Luzon are already getting enough support. We wanted to do something in the periphery, in the boundaries, among the marginalized, in response to the call of Pope Francis to engage with others that are not in our comfort zone. We realized that this is a place that people may be hesitant to go for various reasons, such as distance or concerns about peace and order. But these were exactly the reasons why we chose Mindanao. We also decided to support tech-voc. This is the line of the vision of Father Tritz: “That if you teach a child a skill, he will be able to live a productive, happy, and principled life.”

We felt that tech-voc is an area that did not get enough attention but clearly can address the need for employable skills in the manufacturing sector. We wanted to support kids who come from financially-disadvantaged families who just wanted to learn a skill so they can sustain themselves and their families right after high school. These are kids who can’t afford or who simply aren’t interested to pursue a college education. By teaching them an employable skill in tech-voc, we give opportunities for them to break out of the cycle of poverty and hopelessness.

There were also other considerations for the scale we have committed. We wanted to do something significant. By the way, the Jesuits always aim to do things that are of significance, right? Change the world and stuff like that.

So we wanted really to do something significant so that it had a good chance of succeeding. We hope that by going ahead and showing the way we could encourage others to help. Additionally, we decided we wanted to do something which may not be as newsworthy and which does not readily capture the imagination of people, such as relief work or working with street children or people with handicap. Tech-voc may not be as glamorous, but we hope it will be as transformative in its effect.

The donation of the Gotianun Foundation will just be enough to complete phase 1 of the school which can accommodate 500 students. The ultimate goal is to go beyond this and quickly expand the school to accommodate 1,500 students every year by building phase 2 and phase 3.

WORKING TOGETHER. Xavier Ateneo president Fr Roberto "Bobby" C Yap SJ recounts his early encounters with the Gotianun family on this endowment to the university: “I’ve always been impressed by his dedication and his commitment to really make this happen. This is the biggest gift for a single project from a single donor for Xavier Ateneo.” Photo by Anthony Jacob Karagdag.

Call to action. This will not work without your support.

At this point in time what is clear to me is that this endeavor will definitely not succeed without all of you. Whether you believe it or not you are the decisive factor. We need your support not only for the short term but for the long term and this can come in many forms, whether it’s monetary, time, resources, and expertise. It is up to you to decide how you can contribute to the undertaking but contribute, you must.

As educators, I am sure you will have the courage to open your hearts and embrace this challenge with us, with Father Yap. Whatever way you can choose to help, the important thing is to persevere and to keep in mind that we are all doing this for a worthy cause. Remember that many lives and futures depend on you. It may not be now but we will definitely be asking for your support in the future.

You can make a difference.

I know that by this time you must be tired and you must be thinking “I am just one of many. That I am powerless and that I won’t be able to change things or contribute much.”

But the truth is many important movements and events have been started with one person. For example, think of Mother Teresa and everything that has resulted from the efforts of this one small woman. Remember, too, that the power of one is multiplied when joined with others. If we work together we can achieve what is seemingly impossible. All it takes is the willingness to take the risk and to give more of ourselves.

They say that life is not worth living if there is no purpose. I don’t know. And I don’t know the key to happiness but personally, I believe one way is by sharing our blessings. Remember, no man is an island. As social beings, we can’t help but be involved with other people. Whether we recognize it or not, every action we take has an effect on other people. We are being asked to be responsible, too, for our neighbor. And who is our neighbor?  In Mindanao, it is the other people on this island. 

Let us make the school our purpose and our way of paying it forward. Let’s open doors of opportunities for the youth so they can lead productive lives and escape the shackles of poverty. This is our chance to be truly men and women for others. Let us heed the call to serve starting today. 

Ending. The last question. 

The next move is yours. 

So I will leave you with one final question: Will you respond with generosity?

Thank you very much and good evening to all.∎



1. The pieces of information for the graphs were obtained principally from the Philippine Statistics Authority website. The following documents were the most useful:

a. Gross Regional Domestic Product: Base Year 2000, 2014-2016, Philippine Statistics Authority, as of May 2017.
b. Annual Per Capita Threshold, Poverty Threshold, Poverty Incidence and Magnitude of Poor Families – 1991-2015, Philippine Statistics Authority.
c. Quickstat on Various Regions as of August 2017, Philippine Statistics Authority.
d. 2013 Functional Literary, Education and Mass Media Survey, Proportion of Out of School Youth, 6-24, Both Sexes, Philippine Statistics Authority.
e. Philippine National Demographic and Health Survey, 2013, Philippine Statistics Authority.
f. Food and Nutrition Research Institute, 0Department of Science and Technology, 2015.

2. The data used in the graphs listed below pertain to the year indicated:

a. Population - 2015
b. Percent share of GDP - 2016
c. Per Capita GDP - 2016
d. Annual Average Family Income, Annual Average Family Savings – 2012
e. Labor Force Participation Rate – April, 2017
f. Functional Literacy Rate - 2013
g. Out of School Youth Percentage - 2013
h. Life Expectancy (Male and Female) – 2015 
i. Under 5 Mortality Rate (per 1,000 Live Births) – 2013
j. Children (0 – 5) Stunted - 2015
k. Poverty Incidence among Families - 2015