“Hindi ako naniniwala sa label – na DDS or dilawan. I also don’t consider myself as any of those labels. Pag kasi nag-label ka, binuo mo na yung pagkatao ng isang tao sa isang salita lang. We are, in reality, complex beings.”

In his ten years in government service, Jeff seems to have been given front row tickets on seeing the different, opposing sides in the government. But he has also learned where these sides can meet and work together to propel the country forward: RESPECT.

“Sa dulo kasi mahalaga yung respeto at least sa lebel ng pagiging tao ng isa’t isa. Para pwede kayong mag-usap, hindi yung parang parating pa lang, ayaw mo ng kausapin. Mahalaga na magkaroon ng respeto pa rin sa tao regardless sa paniniwala o pinapanigan. Pero syempre mahalaga pa ring may non-negotiables ka –kung may tao kang kausap na hindi naniniwala sa human rights, ‘yun, parang mukhang hindi mo makakatrabaho.”

His exposure to political and government issues began in high school when Ateneo involved them in activities that called for the impeachment of then President Joseph “Erap” Estrada. Jeff said this is when he saw the filth in the government and at the same time, the collective power of the Filipino people.

From the safe and comfortable confines of a private institution, he wanted to see and experience more of the ‘real life’ and so he went to the University of the Philippines – Diliman, where he believes he can have a bigger slice of that.

“When I went to UP, I joined several organizations, isa dun yung BUKLOD CSSP at ALYANSA. Dito ako mas namulat bilang isang activist at nagkaroon ng venue para makilala ang iba’t ibang sector tulad ng mga magsasaka.

Noong 2007, nag-martsa ‘yung Sumilao farmers from Bukidnon to Manila. Itong mga Sumilao farmers, sila yung mga magsasaka na nagke-claim sa 144 hectares ng lupa, bilang part ng pag-aari dapat nila under the agrarian reform program.

Ang tawag sa mga taga-UP, Iskolar ng Bayan, pero sa ALYANSA, Iskolar para sa Bayan. Sa Sumilao farmers ko nakita, ito pala ang bayan, para sa kanila pala kami. Ito pala yung dapat naming pinagtatrabahuhan.”

Leaving his comfort zone while young has surely been worth it, though the journey was not a bed of roses. For this, Jeff also learned the ropes on getting doses of inspiration.

“One way for me to inspire myself, I surround myself with friends who are also advocates. Hindi man siguro everyday na nagtatrabaho as advocate or NGO worker or CSO worker, pero at least yung mga friends mo dapat naiiitindihan yung mga ipinaglalaban mo kasi ipinaglalaban din nila.

Also, kapag iniimbitahan ako ng mga younger people, mga estudyante, na magsalita at mag-share ng experiences, pumupunta ako kasi una baka ma-insipire sila pero at the same time mas nai-inspire ako actually, parang two way process siya. Kahit ako yung nagkukuwento, nai-insipire ako kasi feeling ko ang idealism para siyang sakit, nakakahawa siya.”

Having established youth groups such as the FOI Youth Initiative (FYI) and the Philippine Anti-Discrimination Alliance of Youth Leaders (PANTAY), Jeff has always been close to the young generation, to which he has this to say:

“Para sa mga kabataan na gustong maging bahagi ng pamahalaan, isang madaling sabihin siguro: ‘Not now.’ Pero hindi e, para sa ‘kin kasi mahalaga pa rin for young people to enter government, kasi kahit na sabihin nating hindi maganda ang pamamalakad in terms of competence and kawalan ng values, sa dulo may avenue pa rin for young people to take part in government and create change, para sa ‘kin kasi walang maliit na pagbabago.”

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