Political Will in Public Service: The Moral Equivalent of War

Speech during the City Youth Convention of Student Leaders, Holy Name University, Tagbilaran, Bohol

First I want to congratulate you for a very successful convention. I am told this is a pioneering work. And you did it. Ako ay taospusong nagpapasalamat sa inyong pag-aanyaya. Lalong lalo na kay Project Chairperson David Maulas, CSO President Eduardo Padua, at Adviser Joan Llanos.

There is nothing more inspiring than to speak before the future leaders of our country. Kaya ako po uli ay nagpapasalamat.

I graduated from the Philippine Military Academy in 1971, long before you were conceived. As a young cadet in the Philippine Military Academy, the first lesson I learned was this: Principle first before anything else. It is principle that can make you into a positive activist and a constructive militant. But before I proceed further, let me tell you how I got to study in the Academy in Baguio City. 

Fresh from high school, I thought I wanted to be a lawyer. I went to Manila to enroll in a pre-law school. I really wanted to be Atty Ping Lacson, and possibly, NBI Agent Lacson.

One day, a friend of mine asked me to accompany him. He was a positive thinker, a can-do human being. He wanted to be a General. On that day, he was taking the PMA entrance examination.

I accompanied him all right. In the process, I found myself taking the exams with him. Again, the rest is history. My friend failed and I passed.

I was saying that principle is what informs the character of anyone. The first principle I learned in the Academy is simple. It says: What is right must be kept right. What is wrong must be set right. Ang tama ipaglaban, ang mali labanan.

As a person, we need principles to govern our lives. If we are to excel as professionals, we need principles to rule our decisions. If we are to lead this nation, we need principles above everything else. Without principles, even the power entrusted to us will be lost, very much sooner than later.

To lead is to do what is right. Your positive activism must be built on that principle. Since we are a government of laws and not of men, it is the majesty of the law, and not the might of the powerful few, that must be kept right.

Might is seldom right. In short, those with might have no right to play gods.

In every civilized society, the pursuit of truth is what gives soul to human dignity. Hence, every democracy installs a criminal justice system to uphold the innocent and punish the guilty. No matter what weaknesses our criminal justice system suffers from, a kangaroo court remains the domain of the barbarians.

In many speeches and messages, I had developed the value of moral courage as the ideal product of education. Students can have all the skills and knowledge and still remain uneducated. Worse, the same skills and knowledge could be used solely for selfish ends and wholly pragmatic ambitions.

To transform students into adroit practitioners of success strategy does not make the world a better place to live in. What can transform it is a regime of moral courage.

Moral courage means that the student learns to think for himself and raise questions that matter and count. Without moral courage, there is no faith. Without moral courage, there is no self to assert. Without a self, everything is a collective kangaroo.

Kung walang moral courage, walang political will. Kung walang political will, walang mahusay na gobyerno.

Political will is always a function of leadership by example. He who doesn’t lead by example is not a leader. He is a user, and worse, an abuser. And he can never have political will. He is compromised at the outset.

Political will is when you refuse to follow what everybody else is doing that you believe is wrong. Why do you think I refuse to use my P200-million-a-year pork barrel fund allocation when every legislator is using it?

The second value is “know thyself.” This is not a platitude from ancient Greece. It is a modern-day necessity. We must not allow the crowd or the mob to drain our unique individuality. We are on our own. Our best friend is us.

The third value is reverence for life. There are more things to admire in men than to despise, according to Camus. We must criticize because we must. But the bottom line should always be to enjoy, and not destroy, what is possible and noble.

We have been tyrannized too long by a minority called bad government. It is time to examine ourselves again. It is time to purge this nation of bad governance.

What we have seen so far is the unmitigated empowerment of a minority. They call themselves public servants. They govern without the consent of the people. And they govern badly.

All of us here, without a doubt, would prefer to do good works rather than bad. This preferential ability on one hand according to some philosophers, is innate in man. Pragmatists, on the other hand, feel the need to develop it as early as possible. To both the idealist and the pragmatist goes the citizen’s prayer for more civic assets than less.

A sense of history is one such asset if we are to do good works. This can help everyone to avoid living only in the present. Without a sense of history, man lacks the standard of judgment which can protect him from excessively radical measures.

Toward the same end of perspective, one needs an inner life with a system of principles for his direction. This is very important. I am afraid it is very rare.

Some rules have to be permanent and we call them principles. Without principles, perks and privileges soon enough become the devil’s sanctuary.

Sometimes we are with the notion that we are at the center of the universe, the focus of the limelight. We need to be right without need to become useless. And we should always be useful every time we are right.

Our first preference then – perhaps our first loyalty – should be to our principles and to all the people to whom we are responsible. Without this preferential loyalty we all become useless.

Worse we become helpless hostages to our own delusion of grandeur and glory. First we worship the cheering crowd. Then as we see ourselves reflected in their eyes we come to believe ourselves the proper object of their worship. This happened to Nero while watching Rome burn to dust.

And finally we must be willing to risk our rank in order to save our honor. We would rather be undaunted by the chances of rejection or defeat.

We peddle the truth and we can never lose. And the best way to strengthen our stomach for truth is to repeat often the dose.

I think I have said enough. I hope you move on to pursue your dreams. In due time, you will make this nation a better place for everyone.