The Personal Testimony of Bro Mon Puno, BCBP Sta Rosa, given during the Grand Breakfast, 31st NAC, Dumaguete, May 7, 2011
For many of us, life feels like a long journey in search of meaning and purpose. All through life, we experience so much joy and pain and we wonder why all of these have to happen. The reason is that our lives are miracles of creation. If you have any doubts about the reality of miracles, you only have to examine how God works in your life in order to become a true believer. In Jeremiah 1:2-5, God tells us: “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you. Before you were born, I dedicated you.” Everything that happens to us in our lives is part of God’s grand design for us.
In my childhood, miracles abounded. I am the fourth child in a large family of ten brothers and two sisters. We were packed 4 to a room, shared 1 bathroom, and were required to help out in household chores. My dad was in public service and, because of the low government pay, had to teach long hours in many law schools. It was only the proceeds from the sale of the law books he authored and his progressively higher GSIS loans that allowed us to make ends meet. My mom had to quit her job and dedicate herself to our upbringing, tightly budgeting household expenses, cooking our meals, and sewing many of our clothes herself. We were all able to graduate from prestigious schools and now look back in wonder at how all that was accomplished? It was truly a miracle worthy of Christ’s division of the loaves and fishes.
After my first year of college at the Ateneo, I felt the need for a change of environment and decided to transfer to the University of the Philippines. It was a break from 13 years of traditional Catholic education. In UP, all of my deeply-held religious beliefs were challenged in my History and Philosophy classes. How could I reconcile my Catholic faith with the historical abuses of the clergy, the inconsistencies in Church dogma, and the apparent disregard of the Church for the plight of the poor and the oppressed. I became a student activist and was elected as University Councilor in the UP Student Council during the year of the 1st Quarter Storm. Marches and demonstrations became more important than classes and we believed we could change the world.
In the end, the world changed us. I witnessed the shooting by a Math professor of a fellow student whom I had to bring to the UP Clinic dying from a bullet wound in the forehead. I saw a fellow marcher’s brains spill out into the street after a pillbox bomb was thrown at him from the roof of the FEATI University in Manila. I lost all my hopes for change and retired from campus politics to complete my AB Economics degree at the UP College of Manila. Not long after that, Martial Law was declared. Many of my contemporaries who remained politically active took to the hills and lost their lives. The Lord had other plans for me.
After graduation, I began my business and professional career as an Executive Assistant in a manufacturing conglomerate with interests in cement, aggregates, ready-mix concrete, real estate and trading. I became the owner’s protégé and was assigned to senior management positions in the group. I learned first-hand how business operates in the Philippines – the “wheeling and dealing” with the BIR, the Bureau of Customs, the Bureau of Immigration, and the Department of Labor. I learned how and why loans from government banks never get paid. I learned how sweetheart contracts get secured through personal connections, lavish adult entertainment, and illicit commissions.
I was taught that honesty was not just irrelevant, it was an obstacle to professional advancement and financial success. After four years, I quit in frustration. In Mathew 19:23, Jesus told His disciples: “Truly I say to you, it will be hard for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. Yes, believe me: it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for the one who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven.”
I tried to set-up my own businesses, but my first two attempts ended in dismal failures. After these business failures, I was deep in debt with nowhere to turn. I needed a miracle.
It was at this point in my life that that God took charge of my business and professional life. He led me to seek help from a former schoolmate who headed the Investments Department of the country’s largest insurance company. As it turned out, that insurance company was looking for someone with my type of business experience. It agreed to provide me a low-interest loan to settle my bank obligations and hired me to manage an export-marketing subsidiary it was organizing.
The work environment in the American-owned insurance company was in great contrast to the one that I had previously experienced. The insurance company valued its good reputation and did not tolerate illegal or dishonest acts. It showed me that businesses could be run honestly and professionally. After working for four years with the company, I left to embark on my third attempt to start my own business. I was forty years of age.
That business still thrives today – the development and operation of suburban shopping malls and commercial centers. I have since ventured into other businesses, including investment packaging and, more recently, the telecom industry. I now know that all the good and bad work experiences I went through were part of God’s plan and were necessary phases in my professional life. Jeremiah 29:11 says: ”For I know what my plans for you are, plan to save you and not to harm you, plans to give you a future and to give you hope.”
In my present businesses, I can reject the dishonest and unethical practices I was introduced to early in my professional life. I am particularly thankful that, as an entrepreneur, I can generate employment and business opportunities for those who need it. We have all been given a mandate by God. Proverbs 3:27 says: “Never walk away from someone who deserves help, your hand is God’s hand for that person.”
In my personal life, miracles have also abounded. When I was 26, I had relationship with a girl that was both reckless and irresponsible. She became pregnant and we compounded the problem by rushing into marriage two months later. We had four children and the children became the center of a bitter custody battle. The church and civil annulments took 4 difficult years of contentious legal battles. During that period, the children were shuttling between both parents, their weekends with their mother and their weekdays with me. My four children eventually migrated to Canada. I finally reconnected with them several years ago and we have been restoring our relationships with one another. I thank God for this miracle in progress. Romans 8:28 says: “We know that in everything God works for the good of those who love Him, whom He has called according to His plan”.
When my church annulment neared its conclusion, the nun assigned to my case encouraged me to go out dating again. I was introduced to a law student preparing for the bar exams. She became my good friend and she reached out from her private and quiet world to bring meaning back to mine. She felt like an answered prayer, lifting me from the depths of my despair. She accepted me for all the “damaged-goods” that I was and she became the love of my life.
Early on, we had agreed that, if we kept God at the center of our lives, everything would turn out alright. And, you know, it has! My wife, Dulee, and I were married on the birthday of our Blessed Virgin – the day my new life began. We have two daughters, Rebecca and Richela, and they are everything I can possibly hope for – loving and obedient children, diligent in their studies, and deeply-rooted in their Christian faith. I have been given a second chance to be a good parent, and I thank the Lord for this opportunity He has given me. Psalm 71:5 says: “For you are my hope, O Lord; my trust; O God. from my youth, on you I depend from birth. From my mother’s womb, you are my strength.”
My introduction to the BCBP came by way of a text message from an old classmate and friend, Bobby Lavina. He invited me to a BCBP Breakfast in Santa Rosa, Laguna. At the breakfast, Bobby shared his own personal experiences in trying to be ethical and moral in the marketplace. I was undergoing a similar personal crisis during that time. It is in instances like this that I truly marvel at God’s workings in my life – my exact concern at that particular time was being addressed then and there in a most direct and personal way. What a miracle! In Ecclesiastes 3:1, it says: “There is an appointed time for everything.”
Be honest, even if others are not, even if others will not, even if others cannot. This was the same slogan that greeted me as a first-timer in the breakfast. Strangely, however, I didn’t get the feeling that honesty was still such a lonely advocacy, sitting there at my first BCBP Breakfast. I felt I could actually re-phase the slogan to –“Be Honest, because others are!”.
The BCBP has helped me rediscover my spiritual roots through scripture, prayer, and community life. I had drifted away from the Lord after my student days at UP. I know that the BCBP is bringing new miracles in my life. This is part of God’s plan for me and for you. God’s guiding hand is shaping all of our lives. Brothers and Sisters, do you accept and believe God works miracles in your life?
When we end this journey of life, we will realize that the Lord took the journey together with us. He nurtures us, He guides us, and He carries us each step of the way.
Psalm 91 tell us: “You who dwell in the shelter of the Lord, who abide in the shadow for life, say to the Lord- “My refuge, my rock in whom I trust! – and He will raise you up on eagle’s wings, bear you on the breath of dawn, make you shine like the sun, and hold you in the palm of His hand.”
Thank you Brothers and Sisters and may your miracles continue to abound!