Pinoy teenager whose inspiring speech wowed U.N. in 1954 dazzles anew on social media

Johnny Antillon: "With such a world of such challenge and scope, our lives may never be complacent, but they shall certainly be worth living."
PHOTO/S: Screen Grab from YouTube/ ArchiveMC

When Johnny Antillon spoke about keeping the faith before the United Nations in 1954, he came from a very personal place—he lost his father in World War II.

Half a century later, his uplifting message is revived by the generation of his grandchildren that is looking for hope to get through the pandemic.

Antillon is long dead like Raul Contreras, that other Filipino teen in a separate black-and-white video from the 1950s that have circulated on YouTube and Facebook, stirring awe and nationalist pride.

Their message still resonates in an entirely new world order from the time they took the world stage, said Johnny's grandson, Daniel Buenaventura.

Buenaventura told reportr, "I feel that a lot of our countrymen are losing hope. And then suddenly, they see a video like this, someone who was young, educated, raising our flag in front of other people just through speaking alone."

Buenaventura came forward to dispel rumors about his "Popo" (red-tagged by some).

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He said he was proud of his late grandfather, "Who wouldn't be? Seeing someone who raised them, someone who nurtured them become a new symbol of hope for their countrymen, I was ecstatic."

Courtesy of Daniel Buenaventura

Describing his grandfather, who died in 2010 at 74, Buenaventura said he was sensitive to the struggles of others.

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Buenaventura continued, "Ever since I was born, he was already there taking care of me and my sister. My parents at the time weren't really ready to give us a future, that's why he stepped up."

Sharing one memory from age 10, he recalled Antillon taking in one homeless boy he met on the street. He gave him a job as one of their household helps.

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Remembering Johnny

Courtesy of Daniel Buenaventura
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Juan "Johnny" Blanco Antillon was an orphan to a Cuban father who died during World War II. To finance his studies, he sold fish door-to-door, travelling on foot back and forth between Cavite and Manila.

He graduated from the University of the Philippines Diliman and went on to pursue law but didn't finish.

However, according to Buenaventura, his grandfather "did have a good career in business," including a share in the now-defunct Harrison Plaza

Buenaventura said his lolo made sure all the needs of his family were met, but "what's really important is he was able to buy us books."

He recalled, "And I mean, plenty of books. If we wanted a book, no questions asked he would buy it for us. That's how much he prioritized education and knowledge."

Although he did not finish college, Buenaventura said his upbringing equipped him with enough skills to find work as a call center agent and now as an online English teacher.

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He said Antillon was "like an open book" who would generously share his knowledge so that a simple sago-o-gulaman question would elicit a "very long" response from him.

About Antillon's speech before the United Nations, Buenaventura said, "Some people ask me na 'I'm sure you were amazed by his speech, his eloquence, his verbiage, kung ano yung mga ginagamit niyang words.'

"I say, 'No, this is so normal to me. It was very normal, very him.'"

The 40-year-old Buenaventura recalled one "very big" fight he had with his lolo, who reprimanded him, "You made a lot of bad decisions in your life but one thing I like about you is you have a good heart."

The incident has stuck with Buenaventura throughout his life, especially when he became a father.

He said, "I always tell my son, 'Have a good heart. Be a good person'. I think that's the most important thing someone can be. The way I'm raising him is basically how my grandfather raised me."

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Viewing the video of his grandfather many times, Buenaventura said he would just look at his face, "especially his mannerisms, because it really feels like he was just talking right in front of me. That's what really touched me in the video, how there's something I can always look back to remember him."

He added, "He had a good life. He was happy."

Courtesy of Daniel Buenaventura
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Why Johnny's words transcend generations

One of the four children of war who stood before the United Nations, Antillon, representing the Philippines, spoke of the struggles of the third-world countries after the war as he denounced his "uselessness" through it all.

In another video, he condemned the U.S. foreign policy: "We live from day-to-day in a state of jitters not knowing today you are friends with us and tomorrow, you sell us down the river," he said, addressing American delegates. He also denounced the Western colonizers for exploiting their poor "little brown brothers".

Despite his brashness, Antillon was hopeful: "Usually when I discuss with people the kind of world we want, they astonish me by describing a Utopia without care. They tell me of a world where a man can lounge around with a pipe in one hand and a book in the other. As for me, I like this world. I like living the strivings and the plans of this particular century for it makes me feel like being a part of a wonderful and exciting experiment."

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Antillon wrapped up his speech at the UN on a hopeful note that earned him the loudest cheers at the U.N.

He intoned, "With such a world of such challenge and scope, our lives may never be complacent, but they shall certainly be worth living."

Commenting on his grandather's speech, Buenaventura said, "For someone like him who has endured so much in his life, coming from poor country that was battered and destroyed by a world war, seeing how grand everything was in New York, how people were able to live normal lives—it really did signify hope for him."

With his Popo's lessons in his mind, Buenaventura is also trying to help in his own way by offering free English lessons on his YouTube channel.

He said, "I know how a lot of Filipinos are pretty hard up with the pandemic, and a lot of them are seeking other opportunities... Hopefully, they learn something from me and it can give them a better opportunity for a job."

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Johnny Antillon: "With such a world of such challenge and scope, our lives may never be complacent, but they shall certainly be worth living."
PHOTO/S: Screen Grab from YouTube/ ArchiveMC
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