Richard J. Gordon: A True Volunteer
The Philippine Red Cross (PRC) Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Richard J. Gordon, concurrently a member of the Philippine Senate, is well-known all throughout his public service record for being an action man and for beating great odds in a disaster-prone country.
In the 1980's as Mayor, he transformed Olongapo's "Sin City" image into a model city by engaging an active citizenry in solving crime, ensuring police accountability, improving garbage collection, health and sanitation and orderly public transport and traffic in a community that hosted the largest American military facility outside the continental United States. In the 1990's he led the transformation of Subic Naval Base after the departure of the American Navy, inspiring 8,000 volunteers who preserved the US$8-billion facility and making it the Philippines' premier free port and special economic zone. From 2001 to 2004 as Philippine Tourism Secretary, he turned around a moribund industry shaken by threats of terrorism after 9-11 and the fear of SARS disease. In doing so gained the respect of his peers internationally, who elected him World Tourism Organization Commissioner for East Asia and the Pacific in 2002 and Chair of the Pacific Asia Travel Association in 2003, becoming the chief advocate of Third World countries affected by unfair travel advisories by Western governments.
Consistently guiding him for more than 40 years of public service are the principles of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement imbibed early on when he became a volunteer after his mother, recipient of the highest PRC award, the Gold Humanitarian Cross and Pearl S. Buck award, founded the Red Cross chapter in Olongapo City. Today, she remains Chairperson of the said chapter. Gordon's daughter, Marnie, is a "galloner" RH-negative Type O blood donor. His son, Brian, an Olongapo city councilor, sits on the Board of the chapter. His spouse, Kate, was honorary chapter chairperson during her three terms as mayor. Belonging to a Red Cross family is more than semantics for Richard Gordon.
On many occasions, Gordon led rescue, relief and rehabilitation operations around the Philippines, such as the 1987 sinking of the M/V Asuncion off Palawan island after colliding with another sea vessel where he adopted one of the survivors orphaned by the tragedy taking her under his care and sending her to school. Lilibeth Acar is now a practicing Physical Therapist.
The 1990 killer earthquake that hit Luzon where he lead a joint Philippine and American civilian and military rescue effort in the collapsed Central College of the Philippines in Cabanatuan City as well as the rescue of thousands of college students stranded in the mountain city of Baguio to be reunited with their parents. Among the victims turned hero at Cabanatuan was Rodrigo Robiso whom he employed at City Hall and is now happily raising his own family in Olongapo.
Gordon's preparation and readiness also saw him sending trained and equipped volunteers to disasters and accidents such as engineers and electricians to Negros Island in the Visayas that was rendered without electric power for weeks by super-typhoon Didang in 1989. By providing body bags for sanitation and quick identification, he brought dignity to the thousands who died and closure and comfort to their families during the killer floods in Ormoc City in 1991. He sent fully equipped professional divers to recover drowned religious devotes from the fluvial parade sinking of vessels in Bulacan in 1993.
The many eruptions of the very active Mt. Mayon saw Gordon's foresight at rescue, relief as well as rehabilitation of the thousands of families in towns of the Bicol region when he brought water tankers to the area such that local government leaders thereat requested that the volunteer operators and water tankers remain to sustain service of potable drinking water to the various refugee camps until they completely recovered from the eruption.
In 1991, disaster struck closer to home with the eruption of the century of long dormant Mt. Pinatubo. Gordon's leadership helped save thousands of lives by evacuating city residents and 9,000 indigenous tribe people from the flanks of the volcano just days before the big blast. His quick action of assigning patient tags saved the lives of the latter refugees by filling the communication gap with volunteer doctors at refugee centers. His efforts revived the city, driven by volunteerism and self-help.
Gordon is always quick to help. In the middle of a presentation before prospective investors at Subic Freeport, after learning from an aide of a call for help over the radio, he immediately led a team with a fully equipped crash rescue truck that he recently purchased for the Freeport to dig out survivors and bodies from the rubble of the collapsed Guzman Tech Building in Manila in 1994.
Gordon is an accomplished fund-raiser for the Red Cross
In 2000, he initiated the PRC Millennium Fund, to which corporate donors pledge contributions of a million pesos to the Red Cross for five years to sustain training of volunteers and upgrade of rescue and relief equipment for the years to come. It is through the Millennium Fund that PRC acquired a rescue truck equipped with air bags that can lift tons of rubble and pneumatic pliers to pry open crumpled structures and free up trapped victims. The equipment strengthens the capability of the PRC to find and rescue people trapped under debris or collapsed buildings or pinned down in accidents.
In March that same year, right after inaugurating the newly formed local Red Cross chapter of Basilan Island in Mindanao, he worked for the release without ransom of 18 school children and teachers held hostage by the bandit Abu Sayyaf Group in the southern part of the Philippines. One of the rescued kids, Dana Mijal, who celebrated her birthday in captivity, is now a nursing student as a scholar at the Ateneo de Zamboanga.
In 2004, the international regard for Gordon's leadership track record was such that, when he appealed for help on behalf of 50,000 families affected by a series of four typhoons in November-December, the member societies of IFRC from all over the world responded with more than $3 million in donations -- a record in Philippine humanitarian circles.
In August of the same year, when Culibangbang Dike collapsed which caused tragic flashflood in Tarlac, Pangasinan, Bulacan, Nueva Ecija and Pampanga, Gordon has taken the lead when he immediately instructed PRC teams to give medical and relief assistance to the victims. Truly, he is always there to help anytime, anywhere.
Gordon acts with immediacy. This was proven when he sent relief aid and personally assisted the victims of the flare up of fighting outside Sulu in Mindanao that displaced hundreds of families from their villages. During the controversial Valentine's Day bombings that killed 11 people and wounded 130 others in the cities of Makati, Davao and General Santos on February 2005, Gordon was one of the first to respond. He also rendered assistance when food poisoning broke out in the province of Bohol on March 10, 2005 where a total of 27 lives of school children were lost and caused 105 others to be hospitalized. He likewise deployed five disaster response teams during the 6-hour Camp Bagong Diwa Jailbreak and stand-off in Bicutan, which ended in a bloody firefight.During his 3rd and 4th year of service as chairman of PRC, Gordon faced more challenging and life-threatening rescue operations. Sometimes even in dangerous circumstances, he carried on without fear and hesitation only to save a life or help the needy.
On February 2006 Gordon was the first on the ground to instill order in the chaotic rescue effort and recovery of bodies at the ULTRA Stampede of the Wowowee anniversary show where 78 individuals were reported dead and around 400 were injured.
Gordon's helping hand is for all
Even to Filipinos outside the country, he gave assistance by all means he could offer them. In 2006, Gordon intervened in behalf of the Filipino government to secure the safe passage of Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) who were on their way to Southern Lebanon during the Hezbollah-Israeli conflict and arranged their evacuation by land, air and sea. Likewise, in November on that same year, upon receiving a text message from OFWs in Kazhakstan who were caught in the middle of a conflict between Kazhaks and immigrant workers, he was first to sound the alarm and call the attention of Department of Labor and Employment and the Philippines Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) to evacuate almost 500 workers traumatized from that battle-torn country.
It is also in year 2006 when Gordon launched Red Cross 143 (I Love You Red Cross). The Red Cross 143 program aims to have 43 volunteers per village with one team leader who will be trained in emergency and disaster response, health and welfare, voluntary blood donation and advocacy. The program has been conceptualized by Gordon to teach people to look after and care for their respective communities. To this date, hundreds of thousands of Red Cross 143 volunteers participate in humanitarian service to their communities.
In countless typhoon and landslides, he braved the weather and waded through the mud to show that he will not permit anything to stand in the way of giving relief, rescuing, and rehabilitating the victims. Three typhoons, in a span of two weeks, flooded Southern Tagalog and Bicol, destroying lives and properties in year 2006 - Typhoons Milenyo, Reming and Senyang. 62,000 families were badly affected. As a sincere gesture, Gordon appealed to the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to give relief and financial support for Red Cross' retrieval and rescue operations. Same actions were taken during typhoons Lando and Minda in year 2007.
It was also in the year 2007 when Gordon was among the first to respond and conduct search, rescue and retrieval of missing victims Maureen de Leon and Ranier Tan whose bodies were recovered from the debris in the Glorietta blast. Through the initiative of Gordon, Red Cross volunteers worked non-stop, not only in searching for victims but also in setting up welfare desks at the mall and in the hospitals where the relatives of missing persons went to inquire or seek updates about their lost loved ones.
Gordon gives hope
He pursued multi-pronged and multi-faceted initiatives to bring development to Sulu, Basilan, and other parts of Mindanao that have been labeled as war zones through the Fruits of Hope Project which started in 2007. The Fruits of Hope project is just an example of how real compassion can help transform lives of people in an underdeveloped province. For Gordon, there is a greater degree of respect, understanding, and compassion at work in Sulu when its farmers and fishermen are given help in finding better prices for their produce instead of being given two plastic bags of canned goods and rice. He aims to bring development, not as a reward, but as a vital pre-requisite to achieving peace in this province.
Likewise, in 2008, Gordon initiated the "Build Homes, Build Hope" project that aims to rebuild houses destroyed at the height of clashes between the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the rebels in the area. This project brought hope to the 24 families of Kolambugan and Kauswagan in Lanao Del Norte by providing them decent homes and giving them the opportunity to live peacefully again. Moreover, this brought unity to Muslims and Christians in Mindanao as they have worked together for the construction of these homes. The rehabilitation effort began when Gordon found a donor of a land to be used for the relocation of these families to build their own houses after local officials agreed to support the construction project.
Gordon is determined and indefatigable in leading the PRC staff and volunteers to help the most vulnerable.
The onslaught of typhoon Frank (Fengshen) which hit the Philippines on June 18, 2008, followed by floods and landslides, have left in its wake urgent needs among poverty-stricken communities. Approximately four million people have been affected through out the country by typhoon Frank. More than 81,000 houses were totally destroyed and 326,321 seriously damaged. Due to typhoon Frank's devastation, Gordon has raised an appeal to the International Federation of the Red Cross (IFRC) for humanitarian aid for the victims of the said typhoon.
To date, approximately 15,000 houses were repaired and built from 2004-2008 in Southern Leyte, Albay, Camarines Sur, Catanduanes, Laguna, Marinduque, Mindoro Oriental, Quezon, Aurora, Isabela, Nueva Ecija, Quirino, Sorsogon and Lanao del Norte, Iloilo and Aklan devastated by Guinsaugon landslide, typhoons Reming, Milenyo, Yoyong,Unding, Violeta, Frank and armed conflict in Mindanao. Gordon buckled down to work and immediately sent goods and services and mobilized its staff and volunteers particularly 143 volunteers to conduct emergency assessment in the affected areas. Transitional shelters were given to families affected by the massive devastation left by Typhoon Frank. The project was composed of construction of shelters and latrines, health promotion and disaster training.
During a typhoid outbreak in Calamba, Laguna on March 2008, Gordon led Red Cross' quick health response to help the victims. The PRC, through his leadership, has helped saved lives and minimized the effects of the typhoid outbreak. The prompt and exemplary response of the PRC to the epidemic is a testament not only to the PRC's commitment to its mission but also to organizational and operational systems set in place under Gordon's leadership.
Gordon is an effective leader
Gordon has been regarded as one of the most admired chairpersons of the PRC when he strengthened and modernized the rescue capability of the organization through the acquisition of 62 emergency response vehicles including ambulances, fire trucks and first aid motorcycles which were distributed to the PRC chapters and branches during the PRC 62nd Anniversary last April 15, 2009. Gordon also initiated putting up additional 27 blood service facilities, making all 96 local Red Cross chapters capable of blood banking services. New equipment for the PRC round-the-clock Operation Center were also acquired to ensure efficiency of disaster monitoring. With these new support services, Red Cross will be more equipped and ready for rescue and retrieval operations during disasters.
It was also in year 2009 when Gordon assisted in cases involving OFWs: victims of illegal recruitment in Thailand; Filipinos who were caught in Gaza Strip crossfire; Filipinos who were victims of human trafficking in Ivory Coast, and an imprisoned Filipino in Doha, Qatar who was accused of abandoning his work or escaping from his employer. Through the assistance of the PRC Social Services, Gordon successfully repatriated these OFWs and reunited them with their families and relatives in the Philippines.
One of the greatest challenges that Gordon faced in the year 2009 was when three International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) workers, Eugenio Vagni, Mary Jean Lacaba and Andreas Notter, were abducted in Sulu on January 15. The PRC has been constantly monitoring the situation from Day One and Gordon painstakingly handled this crisis along with PRC's partners until all the Red Cross workers were released. Through out this crisis, Gordon repeatedly appealed for the safe, immediate and unconditional release of the three ICRC workers. Interfaith rallies and vigils were also organized by Muslims, Christians and other faiths. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), in its letter dated July 13, 2009 said "Your genuine interest and care for our three kidnapped colleagues and their relatives is another living proof of your deep humanitarian motivation and exemplary commitment to alleviate human suffering. There is no doubt that you are forever in Mary Jean's, Eugenio's and Andreas's hearts".
Also under his leadership, the PRC reciprocated assistance from other national societies by becoming itself a donor society when the PRC contributed fund to help the victims of the Asian Tsunami and the recent victims of hurricane Katrina in the United States.
As early as 1997, he sounded the call for an Asian Regional Disaster Training and Logistics Center to help plan, prepare for and mitigate calamities and disasters in the region. Through his prodding, the first ASEAN Disaster Management Workshop Seminar was held in Manila in 1999. After the recent Asian Tsunami, efforts are now underway for the establishment of such a regional center in Subic Freeport.
Gordon has shared his views on public service at the Georgetown University Leadership Seminars (1986); Stanford University Asia-Pacific Roundtable Conferences (1994 and 1997); Asia Society Conferences (1993 and 1997); 6th Asia-Pacific Regional Conferences of the International Association of Volunteer Effort (IAVE) in Seoul, South Korea (1996); Pacific Rim Forum in Hong Kong and the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, (1996), among others. His motto for change and progress: A change not of men, but in men.
Gordon has received the PRC Gold Humanitarian Award for outstanding volunteer efforts in alleviating human suffering, as well as the PRC Silver Humanitarian and Doña Aurora Aragon Awards. The University of the Philippines named him as 1984 Outstanding Alumnus in Public Administration and in 1997 gave him its highest recognition as Most Distinguished Alumnus. He won the 1982 Philippine Jaycees 10 Outstanding Young Men Award for Public Administration and its 1996 The Outstanding Filipino Award. Asahi Shimbun honored him as one of the 1994 50 Young Leaders of Asia. Asiaweek included him in its Great Asians for the Future. NHK TV listed him in its 1995 "Asia's Who's Who". Hong Kong Standard called him "Flash Gordon of the Philippines".
Richard Gordon graduated from University of the Philippines with a Bachelor of Laws in 1975 and an A.B. in History and Government from Ateneo de Manila University in 1966.