Speech delivered by Walter Villagonzalo during the book launching of four Filipino-Australian authors on 26 November 2016 in Melbourne)
Most Filipinos who migrate to Australia and other countries are highly educated, talented, smart and are top performers in their own field. Most of us in this room this afternoon belong to that category but the moment we stepped down from that plane from the Philippines, we start from zero again – well, practically. That tarmac at the airport is a great equaliser. What we brought with us — our skills, our background, our networks, who we know – quickly disappears or at best, reduced in significance, significantly. In the Philippines, many of us were somebody – I was, I think. I am a graduate of the Philippine Military Academy and was a Philippine Navy officer. I was a frequent visitor of Malacañang and met face to face all the presidents from Marcos to Estrada. My PMA bull ring opened most doors (figuratively) but in Australia, the only door it opens is that of Cash Converters.’
Arriving in Melbourne in 1986, my resume got me my first job as senior systems analyst but like everybody else I had to prove myself — over time. My passion in the last 20 years had been business and community. My mission had been to serve the migrant community and the local community of Wyndham. It was not smooth sailing at all. I was very close to bankruptcy several times and broke my leg while helping others. I was a full-time volunteer working on social enterprises I established – no income, no government support but with a very supportive wife, family and church. To me, serving others was a normal consequence of becoming a born-again Christian, to others in my community, I was planting seeds which recently produced fruits. In 2014, I was named a Paul Harris Fellow by Rotary International for community service. Last year, the City of Wyndham gave me the Community Engagement Award and named me Citizen of the Year — these, in addition to several awards from the Victorian government. One month ago, I was elected as a Councillor in Wyndham – the first Filipino elected to a government position in Victoria and FILCCA gave me the Filipino Achiever Award. Getting awards and recognition is not my reason for serving. I am here to glorify God – without Him, I am nothing.
The kababayans we are honouring this afternoon are proven top performers in their fields. They make us proud to be Filipinos. We are proud not because they wrote a book or a book was written about them but because the books we are launching tonight reflect the lives they lived and work they have done for others. I congratulate them all; I commend Philippine Times for organising this event and thank you all for supporting our honouries today.
Among us in this room and somewhere in Victoria and Australia are other Filipinos whose time to shine has not yet come. You have the talent, the skills, the heart to serve. Someday a book will be written by you or about you. Do what you need to do not for the honour, not for the awards but because it is the right thing to do and because you want to glorify your God. Others will see your achievement, and make us proud to be Filipinos in Australia. Mabuhay tayong lahat.