Nation Building Through Quality Basic Education

Commencement Exercise, Quezon National High School

First of all, please allow me to thank you all for inviting me to the 93rd Commencement Exercises of the Quezon National High School. 

Certainly, graduation is one victory that we all must achieve in life to realize our dreams. For the ordinary Filipino, graduation is often a hard-earned victory over illiteracy in the midst of poverty. It is often viewed as a victory in spite of the countless frustrations and challenges not to mention obstacles that both parents and children have to face and endure.

Sa mga magtatapos sa taong ito, maituturing ninyong mas mapapalad kayo kaysa karamihan ng pangkaraniwang kabataan.

Dahil na rin sa malawakang kahirapan, mas maraming pamilya ang hindi makayanang magpa-aral ng kanilang mga anak.

Considering the present conditions in our country, only about 65% of high school age youth manage to enroll. And only some 66% of those who manage to enroll eventually complete the secondary course. Those who manage to enroll in college and eventually graduate are far, far less in number.

To all of you, consider yourselves the luckier ones. Hence, my congratulations.

I was once a graduating student like each and every one of you. Almost four decades have passed since I finished high school in my own hometown in Imus, Cavite. Like you, my classmates and I were full of hope while feeling sad that we would be separated by graduation. High school days provide the fondest of memories. It is in high school where we meet our first “crush”. It is in high school where we learn to mature and dream of what the future can bring to our young life.

I had always dreamed of becoming a law enforcer when I was a young boy. I wanted to become a lawyer to qualify as an NBI agent. So, I enrolled in a pre-law school after high school.

But it was not meant to be. A high school friend asked me to accompany him to take the entrance examination for admission to the Philippine Military Academy. I ended up taking the entrance exams with him. I passed. He failed.

I did not become an NBI agent, but I became the top law enforcer of the land after I was appointed as Chief of the Philippine National Police.

To the parents of the graduates go my congratulations. Hindi nasayang ang pagod at hirap ninyo. Magtatapos ang inyong mga anak. Ipagpatuloy pa ninyo ang paggabay at pagpapaaral sa kanila at makikita rin ninyo ang bunga ng pawis ninyo pagdating ng araw.

Ang pangalawa kong babatiin ay ang ating mga guro sa Quezon National High School.

Dahil sa inyo, nakatapos ngayon ang mga bata sa mataas na paaralan. Dahil sa inyo, nagkaroon sila ng sapat na paghahanda para sa kolehiyo upang magkaroon ng mas magandang kinabukasan.

To all the teachers goes my perpetual admiration. Without teachers, there will be no graduates. Without teachers, there can never be leaders. For what we learn in school, is what the people will see in us in the professions, in business, in religion and in government.

My dear teachers – hold on to the fort. Keep the flame of faith, alive, afresh and afire.

My dear graduates, this is the time to show your gratitude – all of it – to your beloved parents and teachers. Palakpakan nating lahat ang inyong mga magulang at guro.

At ngayon, ang aking mensahe sa mga magtatapos.

This should be the beginning of a journey. Take the higher road without fear, with all faith.

Kasama ang inyong mga magulang, huwag kayong titigil sa pagsisikap na makatapos ng pag-aaral. Di lamang ito para sa inyo, kundi para sa ating Inang Bayan na rin.

Let me leave you a few points to govern your life.

One, learn to live a life of principles. Principle must never be made second to privilege.

Two, let me suggest to you a very simple principle to go by: What is right must be kept right. What is wrong must be set right.

Kapag sinunod natin ang prinsipyong ito, mapagtutulungan nating mapahusay ang paghahanda ninyo at ang mga susunod pa sa inyo para sa kinabukasan. Alam ba ninyo kung bakit?

Bilyong-bilyong piso taon-taon ang napupunta lamang sa mga bulsa ng mga tiwaling opisyales at kawani ng gobyerno.

Ito ang pangunahing dahilan kaya 1,600 barangay sa buong bansa ang walang paaralang elementary na maaaring mapuntahan ng ating mga kabataan. Hanggang ngayon, anim na mag-aaral sa elementarya ang nagsasalu-salo sa iisang aklat. At sa high school naman, walong mag-aaral ang naghihiraman sa isang aklat. Marami naman ang nakasalampak lamang sa sahig o damuhan kapag nag-aaral dahil mahigit na 3 milyong upuan at mesa pa ang kakulangan ng ating mga paaralan.

At ang higit na masama, kulang tayo ng 200,000 guro sa elementarya at high school!

Ano ang ating magagawa? Dapat ay sama-sama nating labanan ang katiwalian sa pamahalaan at sa lipunan. Ito ang sanhi ng mabagal na pagsulong ng uri ng edukasyon dito sa ating bansa.

Three, keep on going. Don’t get discouraged. God has always a better plan for the believers.

When the time comes for you to quit, don’t. Look back at the sacrifices of your parents and be emboldened. Remember the words of your teachers and be enlightened.

I pray that all of you will enter and finish college – in spite of the economic hardship that produces more dropouts than graduates. If you manage to enroll in college, consider yourself very lucky. Only 14 out of 100 who enroll in elementary manage to graduate in college. Study hard enough and make sure you will be one of the fourteen. Better still, help improve that number.

Four, keep yourself away from drugs. Think of your future. Think of your life.

Kung anay ang sumisira sa bahay, droga ang sumisira sa buhay.

I would like to end my speech by sharing with you – first, a letter and a second, a story.

Both occurred when you were not yet born. Both involved parents and children. One is despairing, the other, inspiring. The letter reveals a shattered dream, the story depicts a dream fulfilled.

The letter was written in 1977 by a drug addict to his parents and to all parents who cared to listen. In fact, it was published by the lat columnist, Jess Bigornia in his newspaper column. Let me read it to you by way of showing you how illegal drugs can destroy a young life. It is also my way of telling you how blessed you and your parents are.

Dear Mr. Bigornia,

By the time this letter reaches you, my physical body may have either been buried six feet below or laying in state in a funeral parlor or church receiving empty and hollow words of a necrological service.

But my death will not be in vain if you just print this letter as it is in your column.

I was the teenage son of a ranking government official and, like most children of high government officials and business executives, I was left alone to manage my young life.

My Dad was an honest, dedicated and able public servant. There was no question about his integrity. Everyone knows about that. To show his loyalty to public service, he worked from 6AM to 11PM everyday of the week from Monday to Saturday. He was indeed, a model.

My mom, on the other hand, may have been bored of not seeing my father except during the curfew hours. Or, maybe, she was out to prove something. So she joined a women’s group and engaged in civic activities, public service, all sorts of ceremonies and social functions.

And nobody was left at home. Except us, their children, the maids and the dogs.

As a young boy, I almost had everything in life one would have dreamed and cherished. Except for that one thing that I needed most: parental love, care and concern.

Nothing in this world can replace a parent’s love and I was absolutely and completely denied of that. My father never found time to take me out for vacation where we could freely talk with each other. I needed him very much but he was too bus indoctrinating his subordinates and proving to his kind what a fine example of public servant he was.

Without that kind of love, what is there to live for?

So, I joined a group of young boys and girls similarly situated like myself. Yes, there were tens of thousands like us.

Our parents never forgot a single speaking engagement, birthday party, official or social ceremony, courtesy call and many others. They had secretaries and reminders. Yes, they remembered everything and every occasion. Except their own children and family.

Slowly but surely, I turned myself to drugs to forget how unlucky I was. I committed petty crimes to sustain my addiction. I engaged in sex orgies with similar and opposite sexes. I did almost everything unconventional only to attract the attention of my parents.

But all these efforts were in vain.

My father bailed me out when I went to jail. He fixed all the criminal cases in which I was involved. And he gave me money, car and a bodyguard.

He ask me several times what was wrong with me. But he never realized that it was his affection that I needed most and not the earthly things like power and money.

Hopeless as I was, I decided to wake him up from his endless dream of loyalty and dedication to the government service. But it must be in the manner of the young but lost generation: death by means of drugs.

I still have a living sister, though. And I dedicate my death to her. May she be given the happiness that I utterly missed from my parents.

Mr. Bigornia, please print this letter for the sake of my sister and the rest of my kind.



And now, please listen to this short story.

Once upon a time, there was a husband and a wife who never stopped dreaming for their children. In spite of their poverty – or perhaps, because of it – they were obsessed with seeing their children go to school and finish their education.

They had eight children. Masipag ang mag-asawa.

They were very honest human beings. Hindi sila nag-isip kumita ng pera sa masamang paraan para mapakain at mapag-aral ang walong anak. Maagang gumising. Paggising, nagdadasal. At buong araw, puro trabaho.

They worked as if everything depended on their hands. They prayed as if everything depended on God.

Because both husband and wife were too busy working and too busy praying in between work, they had no time to quarrel.

With the help of God, or as they used to say, “May awa ang Diyos, makakaraos din tayo, mga anak”, the children finished their schooling. And became professionals.

The fourth child has become a public servant.

He promised never to allow his own children to suffer the same poverty that he saw in their midst many, many years ago, but he vowed never to lose sight of the honesty and the other simple virtues that he saw in his parents as he grew up in his hometown.

He grieves when he sees his aging parents cry and agonize when they see him pay the price for his avowed commitment to pursue his dream for his country and people. He grimaces in pain when his enemies and detractors trample upon his honor and reputation, but each time, he stands up to pursue that dream.

My dear graduates, my friends, the “BOY” who wrote the letter was the son of a former BIR Commissioner whom I had admired in his time for his honesty and competence.

The poor husband and wife in my short story are my parents. And, I am the fourth child who is now a public servant.

Thank you all very much and congratulations.