Last January, I was invited to join the business delegation of President Duterte in his official visit in India. Rex Daryanani of the Indian Chamber Philippines, who has been a big supporter of Go Negosyo and the initiatives for MSME development encouraged me to join the delegation. Then, Indian Ambassador to the Philippines Jaideep Mazumdar invited me to attend their National Day which coincides with the official visit. Ambassador Mazumdar really worked very hard to get Prime Minister Narendra Modi attend the ASEAN Business & Investment Summit which I chaired last year.

I then had one of the best surprise of my life when I arrived in New Delhi and the Ambassador told me that I would be awarded with the Padma Shri Award. At that time, I had no idea of the award. So I had my secretary research it and this is what she found.

The Padma Awards is one of the highest civilian recognitions given by the Republic of India. Awardees are announced annually on the eve of India’s Republic Day. Since 1954, Padma Awards are determined by a committee constituted by the prime minister.

This year, there are 84 Padma awardees. The awards recognize simple people who have done great work for their respective industries and contributed to the country. The award does not give a special privilege or any cash reward. Instead, it is given to the people who are considered the unsung heroes of India. For 2018, the Padma Awards is extended to 16 foreigners, including one from each ASEAN member states. So being one of the Padma Awardees and the sole recipient from the Philippines is a great honor.

I never knew the importance of the award until my taxi driver was so glad to meet a Padma awardee upon asking us why are we in New Delhi. But the real moment I felt the honor was during the practice for the ceremony where I met other awardees. I was in the company of men and women who have done great work from all fields. In fact, many awardees were already of advance age. Some of them were already in wheelchairs and needed assistance. They are ordinary Indian citizens with the passion to serve, teach, heal, and have shown great compassion. I somehow felt that I still have much more to give.

The investiture ceremony was held last Monday at the Rashtrapathi Bhavan Palace. The palace is the home of the president of India and it was such a sight to see. The ceremony was simple with no speeches. It started and ended on time. It was led by President Ram Nath Kovind, with the attendance of Prime Minister Modi. The event was even covered by their national television and was live streamed online. We sent the link to the entire Go Negosyo community. As my name was called, Prime Minister Modi remembered me as I walked forward and bowed with my hands pressed together. A gesture of Namaste in Hindi which means “I bow to you.” I did the same as I approached President Kovind.

After the awards, we were led to this huge and beautiful room where official photos were taken and the foreign awardees had a special photo with the president, prime minister and other Cabinet members.

During the cocktails, I approached Prime Minister Modi and he asked me how our President Duterte, who he considers a good friend, is doing. I told him that President Duterte was doing well and his ratings were good because of the programs he is implementing. Prime Minister Modi is fond of President Duterte and admires him and his leadership.

Prime Minister Modi was also happy that I got the award. He remembered how successful and well-attended the ABIS was last year. He was very friendly to us and even told my wife Marissa that he admires me and what I do for our country.

During the dinner, I was seated beside a fellow awardee, a Buddhist monk from Vietnam. They believe in reincarnation and I asked him what happens to us when we die. To which he answered that it all depends on what we do while we are living. He reminded that we need to do good things and help other people.

That made this recognition so special to me. For the past 13 years, we in Go Negosyo, have shared time, expertise, and knowledge to inspire and empower more Filipinos to never give up. We face many challenges everyday and it is encouraging to have someone inspire us to continue reaching our goals.

This recognition is a reconfirmation that we are on the right path of helping others. I am proud to share this award to the Go Negosyo Kapatid community, including our mentors, sponsors, conglomerates, and advocates who are one with us in the advocacy of poverty alleviation through entrepreneurship. Our entrepreneurs are doing their part and helping micro and small entrepreneurs scale up. 

This recognition would have not been possible without the inspiration of my father who is the founder of NAMFREL, an organization that help restore democracy.

When former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo gave me the chance to be her adviser on entrepreneurship 13 years ago, it led to the birth of Go Negosyo. President Duterte also gave me the chance to once again push for programs that will give everyone a chance to succeed.

I also thank our Cabinet secretaries who are working with us on various programs and most especially to Secretary Ramon Lopez, who was my former executive director in Go Negosyo for many years.  

This recognition is not just a personal merit. Instead, I treat it as a reminder of the great works that we are doing for our country.