The Change You Want to See

Speech before the Laguna State Polytechnic University, Siniloan, Laguna

Parents, distinguished guests, the honorees, members of Class of 2008: before anything else, my warmest congratulations.

Pero bago ang lahat palakpakan muna natin ang ating mga magulang. Kung hindi sa kanila hindi mauuuso ang graduation. Palakpakan din natin ang ating mga guro, kung wala sila wala tayong lahat dito ngayon.

You finally made it but before you can continue on your way, you must face one final hurdle – my commencement address. 

We live in a very exciting time, in the midst of an explosion of knowledge.

Twenty-five years ago, no one would have predicted how the internet would revolutionize the way we communicate with each other. Sino ang mag-aakala mga 25 taon nang nakalilipas na maari nating kunin ang lahat na information at kaalaman na kailangan natin sa isang kwadradong bagay na ang tawag natin ay computer? Cell phones have become a ubiquitous accessory. Sa Manila nga, kahit mga pulubi habang magmamalimos busy na busy sa kate-text. New medicines have been discovered to make people live longer and healthier. Nabanggit ko ang cell phone naalala ko ang isang maikling salaysay. Pakinggan ninyo ito. Ang buhay ng tao ay may pitong yugto. Seven stages in the lives of men. Ang bawa’t yugto ay hitik na hitik sa pakikipagtunggali sa competition. Ang unang yugto from 3 to 8 years old, padamihan ng laruan ng mga bata. Pagdating ng 9 hanggang 18, pataasan ng grade sa iskwella. 19 hanggang 25 padamihan ng syota. 26 hanggang 35 pagandahan ng asawa. 36 hanggang 45 padamihan ng cell phone. Ito na ang malungkot, 46 hanggang 55, padamihan ng kabit. At ito pa ang mas malungkot, 56 and over, padamihan ng sakit.

We also live in a frustrating time, because in spite of all these opportunities, this is also a time of great inequality. Not only here in the Philippines but in so many parts of the world as well.

Despite this being a packed gymnasium, we must remember the millions out there who are shunned from this graduation and others like them because they had to drop out of school due to lack of money.

These are the very same people, who at a very young age, will have to join their parents in backbreaking labor just to earn enough for a rice-and-noodles meal. The very same people reduced to queuing up for rice rations.

I apologize if the tenor of this afternoon has changed from enthusiastic to somber; I have broken a tradition as a result.

I especially apologize to the parents who are here today. This is your shining moment, I could only think of a handful that could compare to this. You deserve the applause and the recognition for bringing up these children and educating them against all odds.

I am a parent too and thus concerned that if we continue to ignore reality then we cannot promise our children the future that they deserve, a future that we want them to experience.

As a senator, I have traveled all over the country and have seen how things are at the barangay level. I could no longer count the number of individuals who are forced to live with the indecency of no access to basic education and health services.

It is certainly not a question of lack of funds, the fertilizer scam, the ZTE deal and the latest Quedancor scam and all the other scams that preceded it suggest that there is certainly plenty to go around.

Seven years of active stealing from the good taxpayers of this country and this government shows no sign of stopping.

And it is no longer an isolated issue when you see on the news how even the middle class are forced to queue for inexpensive rice.

This is our reality, it is happening right before our very eyes whether we deny it exists or not.

A great temptation is when we believe that some people deserve their good fate and some are just unlucky. This is the trap into which we shouldn’t fall, because poverty should not be a death sentence.

I hope we would not be sidetracked by the rice crisis and calls for reconciliation and forget who put us in this mess in the first place.

I implore you, my dear graduates, you whose future is at stake, to fight and uphold the right for equal opportunities.

Reject the now-conventional wisdom that success is only for the well-connected or those who are willing to play dirty.

Don’t believe it.

Believe instead that if you worked hard and played fair, things would be different.

It is once said that our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate; our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.

People should not be afraid of government. Instead, it is government should be afraid of its people. This is the real essence of governance.

Each of us, rich or poor, especially the poor, is a reminder that fairness and justice are more than just concepts. They are inalienable rights.

Let me close my address with a story.

There was once a jeepney driver. His wife was a dry goods vendor. They brought up eight children together, they fed, clothed them, sent them to school and they never complained. All eight finished college.

The parents never graduated from high school but they taught their children more by their example, by their hard work and by their decency and honesty – the true lessons in life.

Ladies and gentlemen, members of the graduating class of 2008, I am the fourth child of that man and woman in the story and it is honest and decent parents like mine who believed in this country and gave my generation the opportunity to live the life we want to live.

Will your generation do as much for yours and the next?

Class of 2008, I challenge you to embody the change you want to see in this world by helping others experience meaningful opportunities.

It does not matter whether you do so in the capacity of a private citizen or a public official.

Because when you come together with your time, passion and compassion, it is only then that you can truly change this country.

Thank you very much and good luck to everyone!