Philippine National Red Cross Chairman and Senator Richard Gordon raised PhP3.2 million pesos for victims of Typhoon Frank—including those in the sinking of M/V Princess of the Stars—and other victims of disasters, after more than a thousand people who attended his birthday celebration on August 5 pledged their continuing support to the Red Cross and manifested this support through their donations.
Gordon's birthday celebration, which became a fund-raising event for disaster victims, was hosted by travel media personality Susan Calo-Medina and PNRC governor Andrew Nocon.
It is not so well-known that Gordon usually does not like to hold big parties on his birthday. He would rather prefer a simple celebration with his family and close friends. It was only at the prodding of Buhay Partylist congresswoman Carrisa Coscolluela that Gordon reluctantly agreed to have a party.
For Gordon however, holding such a big event was not just an opportunity to celebrate: he saw fit to put the celebration to good use in order to benefit the unfortunate victims of recent disasters in the Philippines, particularly those who lost their homes, loved ones and livelihood to Typhoon Frank and the sinking of the M/V Princess of the Stars.
Therefore, Gordon agreed to have his party only if it were turned into a fund-raising event, to generate financial aid for disaster victims through the Red Cross. Essentially, Gordon wanted to give gifts to disaster victims instead of receiving gifts for himself during his birthday.
Gordon's plan was a resounding success: at the end of the party, he was able to raise PhP3.2 million which would be forwarded to the Red Cross and used to help victims of disaster. It also showed his outstanding ability to gather and unite support from the corporate world to high-society to political figures—more than a thousand of whom attended the event--in order to raise money for a good cause.
Again, this move was vintage Gordon; the senator and PNRC chief had in fact, earlier declined to accept a talent fee that was due to him after he agreed to endorse a brand of medicated soap. That talent fee, amounting to PhP 6 million, was also forwarded to the Red Cross.
The turnout for Gordon's birthday party-turned-fundraiser showed how credible and respected a figure Gordon is among various sectors in society. President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo herself, former President Fidel V. Ramos, Vice-President Noli de Castro, and Senators Manny Villar, Loren Legarda, Juan Miguel Zubiri, Francis Pangilinan, Frank Drilon, Juan Ponce Enrile, Joker Arroyo and (former Senator) Francisco Tatad all came to the event to pitch in for the fund-raising effort.
The fund-raising was also gained international support as the Royal Embassy of Cambodia and Austrian Ambassador Herbert Jager gave their respective contributions for the Red Cross.
Representatives from big corporations, all of whom are generous supporters of the Red Cross, also attended the event to heed Gordon's call to help disaster victims. Philip Morris alone, in fact, donated PhP 2 million. Other corporations who donated include Equitable PCI Bank, Phil. Crop Insurance Corp., Subic Bay Development Management Corporation Inc., Querubin Rubber Corp., Hanjin, International Advertising Corp., Solar Entertainment Corp., and Liwayway Marketing. All of them cited their profound respect for Gordon and the goodwill he created between them and the Red Cross, as the chief reasons for them to extend their support.
Gordon's friends, whether in politics or not, also gave generous amounts for the Red Cross as their gift to the celebrator. Among them are Gov. Enrico Aumentado, Gov. Adelina Rodriguez, Cong. Hermia Roman, Cong. Mary Ann L. Susano, Hon. Pryde Henry A. Teves, Hon. Lorna Silverio, Maj. Gen. Delfin Bangit, General Narciso Abaya, Dr. James Dy, Rosie & Carlos De Leon, Mr. & Mrs. Wilfredo Fernandez, Cesar Virata, Victor Villavicencio, Ramon Moreno, and Victor Lazatin.
Even Gordon's former classmates in the Ateneo de Manila University and the University of the Philippines Law School Batch 1972 also came not only to celebrate but to also give what they could to the fund-raiser.
Organizations and institutions who showed their support to Gordon and their generosity to the Red Cross are the Liga Ng Mga Barangay-Olongapo City, Reserve Officers Legion of the Phils., APA Law Office, Department of Tourism-Cordillera Administrative Region, PMA Class 72 and the Philippine Coast Guard Auxillary.
Gordon's guests at his birthday bash unanimously expressed one reason for why they are so willing to lend their support: they all believe in Gordon and in the sincerity of his sense of mission to help others. They said that this faith and trust in Gordon's commitment to help the less fortunate is what spurs them to give their support to the Red Cross swiftly, generously and without a second thought.
And yet, even a veteran of disaster and emergency response like Gordon could still be surprised—the senator and PNRC chief was moved by the presence of two very special guests at his birthday: Evangeline Triumpante and Salvacion Aguila.
Triumpante and Aguila are two out of thousands of beneficiaries of a housing program that Gordon and the PNRC spearheaded to help victims of super typhoon Reming. All in all, Gordon and the Red Cross—together with families and communities affected by Reming—were able to build more than 13,000 typhoon resistant homes for families who lost their houses and livelihood due to the super typhoon.
Gordon told guests at his birthday that the 13,000 homes were built without fanfare and media attention, saying the Red Cross undertook the housing program "silently" and only when it was completed did the news spread through the media.
Gordon praised Triumpante and Aguila, both women heads of their respective households, bread-winners and sources of hope, inspiration and dignity for their families. The senator and PNRC chief said that the two women represented what is best in the Filipino. He also pointed out that if all Filipinos took inspiration from Triumpante and Aguila, then true peace, progress and prosperity would not be just dreams but a reality for the entire country.
Gordon said that Triumpante and Aguila, by leading their respective families in building the typhoon-resistant homes, proved that even in the face of great adversity, the Filipino can rise up and better his or her lot in life.
He recalled his amazement at seeing how, from raw structures the PNRC provided to the two women, they were able to transform these into beautiful, functional homes fit for their respective families.
"They will be able to carry this country by themselves…quietly did this…pagbalik namin, semento na yung lapag, built their own…these two people represent a great country.
"What we can do for our country, to uplift this country, bring back the dignity of this country…these two ladies makes me proud," Gordon said in his speech.
Other surprise guests at Gordon's birthday celebration included survivors of the M/V Princess of the Stars who thanked him personally for the medical treatment, stress debriefing and other help that they received through the Red Cross.
The members of the Aeta tribe who survived the Mt. Pinatubo explosion thanks to Gordon's efforts to evacuate them were also present, as well as the victims of the Cabanatuan earthquake who were rescued from the rubble, also through the intervention of Gordon and the Red Cross.
Gordon has received two Red Cross Gold Humanitarian Service awards for his accomplishments in humanitarian work in the Philippines. He was first conferred the Gold Humanitarian Service Medal during the Red Cross Biennial on December 2007.
The first time that award was given however, Gordon politely declined to accept it, citing delicadeza—he felt that as Chairman of the Philippine National Red Cross it would not be proper for him to accept the award. He also said that at the time, he felt that he still did not measure up to the accomplishments of his mother Amelia Gordon, who is a former Governor of the Red Cross and also a recipient of the Red Cross Gold Humanitarian award.
On his birthday however, Red Cross Governor Justice Leonor Ines Luciano conferred on Gordon the Gold Humanitarian award, and finally convinced him of the rightness of his acceptance.
In finally accepting the award Gordon said, "the real award is that you know yourself…are worthy, and you said yes, you don't need any."
The conferment of the award to Gordon was witnessed by his mother Mrs. Amelia J. Gordon (also a former Red Cross Governor and Gold Humanitarian Awardee), his children and grandchildren.
The second time that Gordon was awarded the Gold Humanitarian Service Medal was in April of 2008, which was given to him by Japanese Red Cross President Tadateru Konoe. According to Konoe, the Japanese Red Cross awarded Gordon the medal for his humanitarian efforts in saving victims in the 2006 Guinsaugon, Leyte landslide.
Man of action, man for others
Gordon highlighted one main tenet of his life in his birthday speech: "To give and not to count the cost". Ample evidence of Gordon's deep, personal commitment to this guiding principle was presented to guests through AVPs created by the PNRC Communications team, who wanted to give their own tribute to him.
Guests were surprised and applauded enthusiastically upon watching the AVP showing Gordon in action during the disaster of Typhoon Frank: how he cancelled an official trip to the United States as part of the presidential entourage, in order to visit areas hit by the typhoon in order to help victims.
The AVP showed Gordon tirelessly moving from one disaster area to another, personally overseeing relief efforts, giving orders to Red Cross staff and volunteers, attending assessment and planning sessions with local officials, traveling by banca, and even wading through waist deep floodwaters if necessary in order to reach victims.
Guests expressed amazement over how personally Gordon took his job as PNRC Chairman, making sure that he personally came in contact with victims and listened to their stories and their problems firsthand. They were impressed at how Gordon worked through his own exhaustion, buoyed by his desire to help others, and risked his personal safety at disaster sites.
Guests also marveled at Gordon's efforts and accomplishments at modernizing the Philippine National Red Cross in order to widen its reach and broaden its capacity to help more disaster victims. Guests were particularly impressed at how Gordon was able to acquire high-tech ambulances equipped with the latest communications and life-saving devices, making them mobile emergency rooms and trauma centers.
Guests also watched an AVP detailing how Gordon was also able to convince the government of Japan to donate fire trucks to the Red Cross. With these fire trucks, the Red Cross may now help victims struck by massive fires that usually occur in crowded urban poor areas.
PNRC Secretary General Corazon Alma de Leon, in her speech, could only say words of praises to Gordon for his untiring efforts for the Red Cross.
"Chairman Gordon is truly a man for others. He is determined to help those who are in need, to be of service to the most vulnerable individuals," de Leon, who is always with Gordon in visiting disaster areas and also relentlessly extends her hand to give help, said during the event.
In his speech, Gordon sought to inspire guests with his vision for a better Philippines and his belief in the power of the Filipinos' innate yet underestimated and underused capacity for cooperation, volunteerism, bayanihan and compassionate action.
"Let's move forward and make this country the humanitarian center of the world," Gordon said.
Guests said they all came away from Gordon's birthday celebration richer in spirit and more inspired by his vision. They said that they saw Gordon—who was earlier given a Gold Award by the Japanese Red Cross for his earlier humanitarian accomplishments—as someone who will go out on a limb to help those in need, and has the ability to unite and inspire others to work together to accomplish great things quickly and effectively, to bring about the greater good.
Guests at Gordon's birthday celebration came away more convinced and grateful that he is truly a man of action and a man for others. #