When people ask me, "How was it growing up in the Philippines?" I often find myself reflecting on two distinct periods in my life: my innocent childhood, where I blissfully disregarded the state of the country, and my university years, when I had an awakening. The catalyst for this transformation was the EDSA Revolution, an event that unfolded when I was a sophomore at the University of the Philippines-Diliman. "The impact of that experience has left an indelible mark on my consciousness, shaping the person I am today."
Don Dioko, a man of deep insights and experiences, similarly divides his life into three periods: the pre-conscious phase, a maturation process, and his transformative years at UP Diliman.
When I asked him how UP Diliman contributed to his awakening, he shared that the university exposed him to the broad spectrum of the country's social strata beyond textbooks and exams. Don met people from diverse backgrounds, opening his eyes to the realities of the Philippines without radicalizing his beliefs, even as he studied among the country's elite.
According to Don, UP Diliman's most significant legacy is not the knowledge or degrees it confers, but the awareness it instils. With its complex social strata and challenges, the Philippines became a canvas for Don's growing desire to help.
He also noted the abundance of brilliant and capable individuals he encountered, which humbled him and taught him the value of hard work. Don reminisced about his college days, walking the campus halls and witnessing protests led by people like him but with different perspectives. It was a time that deepened his appreciation for the breadth of diversity in his country. His journey into the tourism industry began during his double degree program at UP.
He fondly recalled a marketing course that sparked his interest in the creative, innovative, and analytical aspects of marketing. Inspired by this, he ventured into research, economic studies, and industry analysis, working for what he described as a "think tank." While visiting Macau, Don's life took an unexpected turn. He was introduced to a colleague who happened to be the dean of a university there. They offered him a master's program, and while he initially intended to return to the Philippines, Macau eventually became his home. His research and analytical skills were in high demand, particularly in a world eager to understand the rapidly changing dynamics of China and Southeast Asia.
Once a sleepy backwater, Macau has become the world's biggest gambling hub. Don was at the heart of this transformation, and it garnered international attention, even featuring on the pages of Time magazine. Don shared his philosophy that guided his unconventional choices: "Go "Against the grain, follow the unbeaten path." He embraced randomness and recklessness, following his heart rather than rigid plans. This approach led him to a fulfilling career in tourism, a field undergoing a significant renaissance in Macau. Don's TED talk touched on the challenges of tourism, emphasising the importance of preserving authenticity and community well-being.
Discussing the anti-tourism trend, Don emphasises the importance of maintaining authenticity in the industry. "We tend to lose authenticity, which means industries and professions work very well, but we tend to lose our way, we tend to exploit it," he asserts.
While tourism can empower disadvantaged communities, it also has the potential to lead to exploitation, especially in terms of labour and workforce. Don's view on the issue is rooted in his belief that tourism should be a force for good, and travellers should embrace the privilege of travelling as an opportunity to make positive contributions to the communities they visit. He reflected on the value of retaining his Philippine passport, not as a necessity, but as a symbol of honour for those who fought for the citizenship and nationality, he enjoys today.
Don's journey has led him to realise the significance of education and understanding the intricacies of the world. "We live in an era of disinformation," he notes. He acknowledges the importance of fact-checking and not taking facts for granted, especially in today's media landscape.
Despite the challenges the Philippines faces, Don envisions a brighter future. He wanted to give back to his homeland by promoting education and creating opportunities for underserved communities. Don concluded by urging the younger generation to forge their own paths, to think independently, and to be unafraid of going against the crowd. His journey from the Philippines to Macau is a testament to the transformative power of following one's heart and embracing the unknown, a journey that continues to inspire those he encounters along the way.