By Leony R. Garcia
WHO would ever think that a slum dweller, a penniless student who migrated to the city to pursue the elusive dream of education, would one day become a city builder?
This is the story of Arnel Paciano Casanova, currently the president and CEO of the Bases Conversion and Development Authority (BCDA), a government development corporation mandated to transform former military lands into alternative productive civilian enclaves.
Casanova grew up in a poor family in Padre Garcia, Batangas province. His father, a farmer, and her mother, a seamstress, had a hard time raising him and his seven siblings. Thus, at a young age, there was this thirst for learning as a way out of hardship for the family and a way to be successful in life someday.
Thirst for learning
“In my town, a college degree was literally an impossible dream. Yet, my thirst for learning was insatiable. Armed with P100 in my pocket, I went to Manila and took the University of the Philippines [UP] College Admission Test, and passed,” Casanova reminisced.
So while studying in UP, the young Casanova lived with relatives, who were slum dwellers in Fort Bonifacio. He then became one of those unknown city migrants who had to scrounge for food, shelter and education while sleeping on the floor, enduring leaking roofs and flooded road. “Yet, I found grace in humanity in the slums. Neighbors know each other. I never ran out of people to play street basketball with at any given time of the day or night. We shared food, no matter how meager it could be. I found my true friends in the midst of squalor,” he continued.
Peace negotiator at 25
Fast forward. Casanova was 25, just a year out of the UP Law School. He was a young lawyer working as part of the government peace panel.
“Fortunately, we were able to successfully negotiate peace with former military rebels. For this, I was awarded the prestigious Philippine Legion of Honor Medal , one of the youngest recipients of such award under the presidency of President Fidel Ramos,” he said.
According to Casanova, other accomplishments of the peace panel then included the recovery of weapons, firearms, explosives and ammunitions of the army rebels—Reform the Armed Forces Movement, Soldiers of the Filipino People, Young Officers Union (RAM-SFP-YOU).
As a lawyer, he also helped draft the General Peace Agreement between the Philippine government and the RAM-SFP-YOU and the Marcos loyalist forces and the Amnesty Proclamation. And in 2003, he testified on military corruption before the Feliciano Commission, a body created to investigate the Oakwood Mutiny. This resulted in the recovery of government property, valued at approximately $200 million, which was misappropriated by a group of retired and active generals of the military.
And now, 20 years after, Casanova finds himself approaching his fifth year as BCDA president and CEO.
And his latest accomplishments: “Through sound partnerships forged with the private sector, prudent asset management and revenue collection, we were able to contribute over P27 billion for the account of the modernization of the Armed Forces. Among our projects which greatly benefited the nation are the Bonifacio Global City, the Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway and soon, the country’s first, smart, disaster-resilient metropolis, the Clark Green City.”
Currently, he is a faculty member of the Ateneo School of Government and UP College of Law teaching social entrepreneurship and law, while mentoring other social enterprises involved in health care, poverty alleviation, environment, housing and others.
He is also into microfinancing and is part of CARD Inc., the biggest microfinance institution in the Philippines. He has founded AvantChange, a social enterprise organized in Cambridge that aims to promote social entrepreneurship in Asia. Further, he supports the Tsinelas Leadership of the late Secretary Jesse Robredo, and is among the pioneers of Kaya Natin! (We Can!), a social movement for good governance and ethical leadership.
A staunch supporter of the youth, Casanova believes in the promise and the vast possibilities that they can do. “For me they are equally good and hardworking. My story is not unique, and we have many youths who have moved mountains through hard work and selflessness. The only difference with today’s youth is the lack of reverence for the heroes of our country. Because we can learn a lot from our history, value those who passed before us,” he admonished.
He also advised today’s Millennials to love the country and study hard, to value the opportunity to participate in good governance, and not holding back in dreaming and working hard to achieve those dreams.
“From a slum dweller, I am now a city builder. And my education in UP and in Harvard has given me a different perspective—a perspective that has empowered me to pay it forward. In building Clark Green City, my colleagues in the BCDA are being able to offer Filipinos an opportunity to live a better quality of life—a life they deserve,” he said.
“Clark Green City is a project for the benefit of the new generation. And we in the BCDA are committed to realize this for our country. We hope our countrymen will support this project, as it will behold proper urban planning that will yield growth that is inclusive—affordable quality of life that is world-class and responsive,” Casanova concluded.
Source : http://www.businessmirror.com.ph/arnel-paciano-casanova-from-a-slum-dweller-to-a-city-builder/