The Senior Executives Class Batch 9 – Punyagi was privileged to have Mr. Antonio “Tony” Meloto,  father of Gawad Kalinga (Tagalog words that mean “to give care”), a global movement meant for building sustainable communities within slum areas, share with them his  story  during their Phronetic Leadership module.

Mr. Meloto told  the class that he retired from Gawad Kalinga (GK) in 2017 and is now a happy farmer in San Jose Bulacan. He mentioned that his journey did not end with his retirement in GK as the Chairman, and is now in the 3rd phase of his journey building sustainable and innovative communities throughout the Philippines. 

He said that the whole journey of nation building was a bliss and an honor for him to be part of.  His view of phronetic leadership entails critical roles in the process of knowledge creation and design innovation. Mr. Meloto finds it an exciting venture to think out of the box, or as he said, “out of the normal”, especially at this time of the pandemic when the challenge is to see clearly the pathways to the new normal. He praised people who naturally possess virtuous habits or capabilities as they are what can be called as “phronetic” leaders. As he stated, “They are leaders who pursue the common good by starting to create social as well as economic value and put their micromanagement with the aspirations about the future.”

Mr. Meloto  explained that he has always tried to bridge the big picture, the big aspirations, the big dreams, and the big goals with the day to day action as a Christian leader. This he considered as the first phase of his journey – faith and action. He recounted that his journey as a phronetic leader started with the building of a spiritual movement of Couples for Christ in 1993. He began with the family ministries of Couples for Christ to talk about transformation of not just individuals but entire families. He noted the importance of fortifying the foundation of families, as communities are made of families – just as a nation is made of citizens who also belong to families. And as an offshoot of Couples for Christ, he later founded and built Youth for Christ, Kids for Christ, Singles for Christ, Handmaids of the Lord, and Servants of the Lord. Mr. Meloto started a holistic approach towards human development. He became a movement builder even though his background was corporate. He viewed that his Economics degree and stint at a big multinational company was a means to transform himself.

A native of Negros Occidental, Mr. Meloto shared that he was not born privileged as he grew up with no land of their own, nor a home or a car. He went to a public school, walked his way to school and saw education as his way out of poverty. This was something he realized was his one asset that no one could steal from him. Working hard on whatever little asset he had  earned him an educational scholarship in the USA in 1966 at the age of 16. While studying at a school in California, he discovered that a brown-skinned Filipino like himself could excel in school and was just as smart, if not, smarter than natives in a foreign land. And that’s also the reason why he raised his children to see first of all that God did not make a mistake in making them Filipino. He came to realize that Filipinos of his color and in the poorest community should not be looked at as mere workers, laborers, or tenants but to see them as family. Mr. Meloto believed that the beginning of his journey began with discovering God’s plan for him, the reason God created him, and why God made him Filipino. He became the transformational leader that he is now upon discovering early in his life God’s plan for him – he was God’s instrument to do what is right and what is fair or what is just. And so the first phase of his journey was about the phase of social justice – restoring the dignity of the Filipino through spirituality.

Mr. Meloto came to realize that with the different phases of his journey, he’s fortunate to have the opportunities that not all Filipinos are given. Having this in his mind, he had to go back to where he came from. Sadly,  he pointed out,  a lot of Filipinos who rose from  poverty would oftentimes forget where they came  from.  Subsequently, it took Couples for Christ to help him discover God’s purpose for his life. The spiritual movement  transformed into a social movement called Gawad Kalinga (GK). Mr. Meloto emphasized that loving God, loving our country, and loving our people are the best expressions of loving his own family.  The community of the poor is an untapped resource  of the country especially in the rural areas because we have failed to value the land and failed to see that the poor are our human capital . He deduced that development in a 3rd world setting  is anchored on mercy and charity and this was his first challenge at the community level – to treat the poor as family and teach them the way to live not just spiritually but economically. Prominent and private companies collaborated with the GK Ministry to perform their corporate social responsibility (CSR).

GK Villages were born from Mr. Meloto’s experiment in Bagong Silang in 1995. There were close to 2,000 rejects of the community and he wanted to give back a sense of dignity to the least and the lost, many of whom were gang members. The GK team then built the first community in Bagong Silang with colorful homes that housed 30 families, and also  built a school for the children that had water and electricity. But because this was a very indigenous model that recognized that the poor did not have money to pay for the houses, they had an agreement that the poor instead provide sweat equity. So it was not charity, meaning, the poor had to put in a thousand hours of sweat equity plus undergo  about 13 weeks of values formation. Mr. Meloto and his GK team felt that since they build communities and give teachings on good citizenship and good governance, the informal settlers should also help what they can.

Building a community culture and values inspired a lot of people and eventually more than 700 major corporations made GK  their CSR. To name a few there rose the  Procter and Gamble Village, the Unilever buildings, Colgate Smile Village, Smart Village, and Globe Village. GK, to Mr. Meloto, has been the road map to end poverty.

Mr. Meloto took delight in telling the scholars that he is currently at this final phase of social progress which is transformational leadership. He happily shared his insights about it. He began by saying that his simple journey at 71 years old opened a new door to reach out and to raise the new middle class room for farming communities. His retirement allowed him to start a new movement called Paraiso meant for farmers. Basically, it is an economic platform that provides a certain quality of life to the elderly poor. Mr. Meloto’s interest to date is certainly in social entrepreneurship.

He also enticed social businesses to help care for the elderly poor who have no access to medical care. He said he may be limited with resources, but with a concept to build on,  he can take care of a thousand of them in Batangas and rally all his friends of the same age who are blessed with great success or are now living their senior years in comfort and pleasure. Mr. Meloto said that he would like his contemporaries to also look at the needs of the elderly by creating healthy food options and providing regular access to them.

He shared 4 golden rules he lives by : First is, do not stop loving your country. Second, do not stop caring for people. Third is, to demand greatness from yourself as a  Filipino, and the fourth is , to inspire greatness in other Filipinos.

Finally, probably the most memorable quote Mr. Meloto shared during the session was about his great love. “Helping others is my way of expressing my gratitude to God. He told me early on to take care of the poor. ‘[In return] I’ll take care of your children.’ It’s the same promise that God gave to Abraham – you know, when Abraham was willing to sacrifice Isaac. He said, when you care for the poor, your descendants will be as numerous as the stars in heaven. And the poor are my family. So their children are my descendants.”

“Yes, I am privileged. I raised all my children through Couples for Christ and the family ministries. And I’m amazed because without Couples for Christ, there would not have been Gawad Kalinga.” The Senior Executives Class Batch 9 scholars became enamored , some even got teary-eyed, by his inspiring life story that they  discussed plans to have a field trip to Paraiso and volunteer in their programs and training as soon as it is safe to travel. The class in unison exclaimed after the talk that they feel deeply privileged  to have a once in a lifetime session with a profound man and phronetic leader such as Mr. Tony Meloto!