Philippine Daily Inquirer, Feb. 23, 2006

Howard Dee, man for peace
By Ma. Ceres P. Doyo

"TODAY the flames of Edsa are flickering, peaceful reform is dying on the vine and our democracy is threatened again."

Thus spoke a humble and spiritual man of action whose quest for peace and progress for the poor has been unceasing.

Howard Q. Dee, peacemaker, social development worker, friend of the poor and indigenous communities, former ambassador to the Vatican, and businessman, was honored last Monday in simple rites as the sole recipient of the 2006 Aurora Aragon Quezon Peace Award.

Persons from both sides of the political, ideological and social divides came to fete this simple man whose name has become synonymous with peace and development especially in strife-torn and poverty-stricken communities in the country.

"My heart is filled with gratitude yet I feel no sense of triumph," Dee told the small crowd. "I feel no pride of achievement in the face of so much injustice and widespread poverty that condemns so many of our people to a life of subhuman existence."

But just as quickly, Dee lifted spirits by quoting a French philosopher: "The important thing is not to be a success. The important thing is to be in history, bearing witness. This is not the time to lose heart. Rather, it is in the darkness that our lamps should be lit and our hearts set ablaze."

Bearing witness has in fact been a way of life for the 75-year-old Dee, be it in the realm of his Christian faith or for his country, family and a myriad of concerns. He talks softly but walks briskly toward a goal, especially if it involves those who suffer in the margins of society. And just as zealously, he has worked hard to address, in ways he knows how, the roots and causes of poverty and "unpeace."

Dee was born in Tondo in 1930. He attended San Beda College and the University of the East where he finished management accounting. He later took graduate studies in economics and public finance. Dee is married to Betty Marie Dee with whom he has four children and a caboodle of grandchildren.

Drawing inspiration from the Italian saint Francis of Assisi who embraced poverty and simplicity, Dee founded the Assisi Development Foundation in 1975, as his way of responding to the crying need of many. Social development, he believes, is a channel through which the poor can be empowered and raised from penury.

Dee has been active in development groups, such as Tabang Mindanao, Pagtabangan Basulta (Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi) and the Philippine Business for Social Progress, as well as in church-related ones, like Bahay Maria and the Family Rosary Crusade. In 2004, he helped establish ASA Philippines, in partnership with the Benigno S. Aquino Foundation, to provide micro-finance services for the poor. He was the driving force behind last year's launching of the Hapag-asa Feeding Program of Pondo ng Pinoy in the archdiocese of Manila.

Dee even found time to be in government service. He served for 16 years under four presidents. He was ambassador to the Vatican and Malta from 1986 to 1990, then became lead convenor of the 1990 National Peace Commission. He was chair of the Panel for Peace talks between the government and the insurgent communists from 1993 to 1996. In 2002, he became Presidential Adviser on Indigenous Peoples' Affairs.

Dee also found time to write books-"God's Greatest Gift," "Mankind's Final Destiny," and "Living the Beatitudes with St. Joseph"-all about living the Christian faith.

Having been involved in projects in Muslim Mindanao, Dee has developed a deep understanding of the Muslim-Christian conflict and continues to work in bridging the divide.

At the awarding rites, individuals who knew Dee up-close gave their testimonials. Inquirer president Alexandra Prieto-Romualdez called Dee "a living saint ... a gifted person ... not afraid of problems ... not afraid to dream" and always seeking opportunities to do more. Undersecretary Rene V. Sarmiento of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) described him as "a man fully alive for peace and for God."

Commissioner Reuben Dasay A. Lingating of the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples-North and Western Mindanao lauded Dee, specially citing his efforts to seek freedom for members of indigenous groups who were in jail because of cultural misunderstanding and lack of representation in the mainstream judicial system.

Bishop Antonio Ledesma of Ipil called Dee "a man for Mindanao," while Archbishop Oscar Quevedo of Cotabato called him "an authentic peacemaker." Former Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Q. Deles, described Dee as "among the most transparent beings I have ever met."

Added Deles: "I guess it comes from the clarity of knowing where to stand in the many shades of gray between black and white. And we know it comes from living a truly spiritual life from day to day, where the light and wisdom of our Lord shines through." Dee, she said, is " a moral compass and often the lone voice in the wilderness that clears the noise within and paves the way to truth, reason and compassion."

After all the accolades, Dee could only say, "What can I say? I am ready to die." Turning serious, Dee paid tribute to his "four mentors:"

"Cardinal Jaime Sin in the joy of our faith; Fr. Francisco Araneta, S.J. in the cause of social justice and human development; Presidential Peace Adviser Haydee Yorac in the nobility of public service; and Justice Cecilia Muñoz-Palma in the ways of peace and nationhood." Dee called them "giants in our history."

Stressed Dee: "I have achieved nothing but by God's grace. Serving was a privilege, service is its own reward."

In this age of instant stars and dazzling upstarts, Dee quietly stands out as a man apart, a man for others, a flame braving the tempest.

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