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FEATURE/May 23, 2004

BEST SPEAKER: Patricia Evangelista (middle) proudly holds the salver, one of her prizes for winning recently the 2004 Best Speaker award in the International Public Speaking competition conducted yearly by the English-Speaking Union in London. She is flanked by Dame Richardson of sponsor HSBC (left) and Lady Dean of ESU's board of governors.

UP coed tops global speechfest

By Ed Maranan/May 15, 2004

PATRICIA Evangelista, an 18-year-old communications sophomore at UP Diliman, won the 2004 Best Speaker award in the International Public Speaking competition conducted yearly by the English-Speaking Union (ESU) in London.

The petite, poised and pretty Filipina emerged triumphant in a field of 60 contestants representing 37 countries that are members of the prestigious international British institution dedicated to the idea of “Creating Global Understanding through English.”

Evangelista won her place in the finals after clinching one of two slots in her heat during the tension-filled, hotly contested morning preliminaries held at the ESU headquarters in London. With the eight finalists known by lunchtime, the action shifted to the Kinema theater hall of the imposing South Africa House on Trafalgar Square for the decisive showdown in the afternoon.

The seven other finalists came from Malaysia, Pakistan, Czech Republic, Argentina, Brazil, Morocco and Mongolia. The “native speakers” of English -- from the USA, England and Wales, and Australia -- had earlier been eliminated in the heats. South Africa, always a strong contender, also failed to make it to the finals.

The theme of the competition this year was “A Borderless World,” with as many interpretations coming out as there were speakers. The diversity added excitement to the event.

Patricia was easily a crowd favorite even during the preliminaries. Her speech was praised by one of her heat's judges as "very well crafted." Her subject matter was the Filipino diaspora and the contributions of the global Filipino, as well as her own dreams of travelling abroad but coming back to help her country.

This, plus the confident, relaxed and engaging manner with which she delivered her piece, won the judges' nod, and for her the honor of being the best in a field of outstanding young communicators from all over the English-speaking world.

There was a hush in the hall as the chairman of the board of judges – BBC veteran journalist Brian Hanrahan -- announced their “unanimous decision.” He first read out the names of the winners of the “Best Non-Native English Speaker” prize -- Malaysia -- and the runner-up prize -- Mongolia.

At the mention of Patricia Evangelista's name as Best Speaker, thunderous applause erupted.

Ambassador and Mrs. Edgardo Espiritu and the rest of the Philippine embassy delegation congratulated the winner, who was in tears as she called up her parents in Manila on her cellphone.

Evangelista accepted her prizes as Best Speaker from Lady Dean of ESU's board of governors and Dame Mary Richardson, chief executive of the HSBC Education Trust and member of the board of judges representing her bank which is this year's major sponsor of the competition.

The Best Speaker received a salver, a certificate, a dictionary and an encyclopedia. She will return to London in November to formally accept her prize at the Buckingham Palace from Prince Philip the Duke of Edinburgh who is also the president of the English-Speaking Union.

A few hours after winning the ESU speechfest, Tricia had to fly back to Manila to join up with the UP debating team that was leaving shortly for Bangkok to compete in the All-Asians Inter-Varsity Debating Championships.

She had spent almost two weeks in London, staying for a few days with her host, Loline Lualhati-Reed, who first broached several years ago the idea of the Philippines joining ESU.

Evangelista was chosen earlier this year as the country's representative by the ESU-Philippines applicant chapter after she won the competition held last March at the Ateneo de Manila University, featuring the best debaters among college organizations.

The Philippine selection process was coordinated by former Philippine Ambassador to the Court of St. James Cesar Bautista, assisted by ESU chapter president Prof. Jose

Dalisay who is also UP vice president, writer and Philippine Star columnist Alfredo “Krip” Yuson, Nicaole Curato of the UP Debating Society, Camille Ng of the Ateneo Debating Team who was last year's Philippine contestant in London, and UP Prof. Dr. Jimmy Abad. The team helped Patricia prepare for the tough public speaking competition.

Her participation was supported by Shell Philippines and the British Council headed by Gill Westaway.

* * *

Blond and Blue Eyes

(Editor's note: This is the winning speech of Patricia Evangelista. If you are a Filipino, you must read it.)

WHEN I was little, I wanted what many Filipino children all over the country wanted. I wanted to be blond, blue-eyed, and white.

triciaI thought -- if I just wished hard enough and was good enough, I'd wake up on Christmas morning with snow outside my window and freckles across my nose!

More than four centuries under western domination does that to you.

I have sixteen cousins. In a couple of years, there will just be five of us left in the Philippines, the rest will have gone abroad in search of “greener pastures.” It's not just an anomaly; it's a trend; the Filipino diaspora.

Today, about eight million Filipinos are scattered around the world.

There are those who disapprove of Filipinos who choose to leave. I used to. Maybe this is a natural reaction of someone who was left behind, smiling for family pictures that get emptier with each succeeding year. Desertion, I called it.

My country is a land that has perpetually fought for the freedom to be itself. Our heroes offered their lives in the struggle against the Spanish, the Japanese, the Americans. To pack up and deny that identity is tantamount to spitting on that sacrifice.

Or is it? I don't think so, not anymore.

True, there is no denying this phenomenon, aided by the fact that what was once the other side of the world is now a twelve-hour plane ride away. But this is a borderless world, where no individual can claim to be purely from where he is now.

My mother is of Chinese descent, my father is a quarter Spanish, and I call myself a pure Filipino -- a hybrid of sorts resulting from a combination of cultures.

Each square mile anywhere in the world is made up of people of different ethnicities, with national identities and individual personalities. Because of this, each square mile is already a microcosm of the world. In as much as this blessed spot that is England is the world, so is my neighborhood back home.

Seen this way, the Filipino Diaspora, or any sort of dispersal of populations, is not as ominous as so many claim. It must be understood.

I come from a Third World country, one that is still trying mightily to get back on its feet after many years of dictatorship. But we shall make it, given more time. Especially now, when we have thousands of eager young minds who graduate from college every year. They have skills. They need jobs. We cannot absorb them all.

A borderless world presents a bigger opportunity, yet one that is not so much abandonment but an extension of identity. Even as we take, we give back. We are the 40,000 skilled nurses who support the UK's National Health Service. We are the quarter-of-a-million seafarers manning most of the world's commercial ships.We are your software engineers in Ireland, your construction workers in the Middle East, your doctors and caregivers in North America, and, your musical artists in London's West End.

Nationalism isn't bound by time or place. People from other nations migrate to create new nations, yet still remain essentially who they are. British society is itself an example of a multi-cultural nation, a melting pot of races, religions, arts and cultures. We are, indeed, in a borderless world!

Leaving sometimes isn't a matter of choice. It's coming back that is. The Hobbits of the shire travelled all over Middle-Earth, but they chose to come home, richer in every sense of the word.

We call people like these balikbayans or the ‘returnees' -- those who followed their dream, yet choose to return and share their mature talents and good fortune.

In a few years, I may take advantage of whatever opportunities come my way. But I will come home. A borderless world doesn't preclude the idea of a home. I'm a Filipino, and I'll always be one. It isn't about just geography; it isn't about boundaries. It's about giving back to the country that shaped me.

And that's going to be more important to me than seeing snow outside my windows on a bright Christmas morning.

Mabuhay. And thank you.

* * *

(POSTSCRIPT comes out in the Philippine STAR every Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday. Its online edition is uploaded the night before at http://www.manilamail.com)

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