A Challenge to the Graduates

Speech to the Graduating Class of 2008, Iloilo City National High School, Molo, Iloilo City

Good morning.

Lubos gid ang akon kalipay nga maimbitahan liwat diri sa Iloilo, tungod ang mga Lacson halin sa Molo. Una sa tanan, palakpakan natin ang aton mga ginhikanan nga yari dri subong. Without our parents, we will not be where we are now.

I salute all of you for your accomplishments and I congratulate everyone who has supported and made this moment possible for all of you. 

The world that you enter today is quite different from decades past.

You live in a time when knowledge is doubling every five years or so.

Back in my day, no one has heard of computers, laptops or even knows what a USB is. Everything was almost done by hand.

Indeed, today is a more stunning time and those with good education can take advantage of it. However, it is not without its attending challenges.

Back in the day, life was kinder and simple.

I am sure that the parents gathered in this room will agree that there was a time when success was earned on the back of hard work and perseverance.

There was none of this padrino business, none of this corruption.

And most especially, being poor was not a death sentence.

But those were kinder times.

Nowadays, poverty is so much an issue that as early as today, some of you are nervous about the future and whether you could find a stable job four years hence.

And that in itself is the greatest tragedy: to be limited in your opportunities in a time of plenty.

Admittedly, there are a thousand reasons for our widespread poverty. But all these reasons are manmade and deliberate.

Just as manmade and deliberate as the grand corruption that has gripped this country for the past seven years.

I am sorry that this speech is far from what a commencement speech should be.

But the past few weeks have convinced me that the youth are more than ready to take their place in nation building and have an active voice in how their future is being shaped.

In fact, it is a great joy and proud moment to see the youth surging in ranks during every rally protesting the ZTE deal and all the other excesses of this immoderate government.

Indeed, you are already realizing what others have taken more years to understand, that the greatest power is found when you take some time to serve.

If you look at our country’s troubles, if you examine the brazen acts of corruption that have been committed for the past seven years, you understand that the people creating these problems are those that believe their power, money and their position are more important than their obligations to this country and the Filipinos.

And as you leave the halls of this school, your challenge is whether to follow suit and consider a corrupt Philippines as business as usual. Consider the billions of pesos in debt as the price you pay for living and working in this country.

Or you could rise up and insist that we will be treated with integrity and dignity. After all, “We cannot live only for ourselves. A thousand fibers connect us with our fellow men; our actions run as causes, and they come back to us as effects.”

I think all of you should think about that as I wish you the most that this modern world brings.

I ask you to serve in some way as this school has served you, as your teachers have served you, as your parents have sacrificed for you.

Just as my generation had obligations and responsibilities to the next one, you have obligations and responsibilities not only to yourselves but to the people who sit on either side of you.

Let me close with a story.

Once there was a couple who had eight children. Like the parents gathered in this room, they had big dreams for their children. The father was a jeepney driver and the mother a dry goods vendor at a local market.

These were hardly the ideal jobs to feed, clothe and send their large brood to school but nevertheless, they persevered.

Because to them, education was their children’s only ticket out of poverty.

And so it goes, all finished their education and are now serving in different capacities in various industries.

But what is more incredible is how the parents achieved this no mean feat through honest, hard work and good ethics.

They never put one over others or exploited anyone for their private gain.

Ladies and gentlemen, I had been a police officer, I had been Chief of our national police, I have been elected as a Senator twice and although I am honored and proud to have been given these roles, what I am most proud of is being the fourth child in that story.

Thank you all for listening and good morning.