Patas na Laban, Para sa Lahat: Towards a Society of Equal Opportunity

Speech at a symposium organized by the Political Science Society, Far Eastern University, FEU Auditorium, Manila

Let me begin with a true story.

Once upon a time there was a couple from Cavite who had eight children and making both ends meet was a constant struggle. The husband’s ancestors were of the landed gentry in Iloilo and how their side of the family got to Luzon is another long story altogether.

The father was a jeepney driver. And so the wife had to augment the family income by selling dried goods in their town’s public market. There were times when the couple had to forego their share of the day’s meals because the brood of eight always came first. 

They were an extremely religious couple who never forgot their Sunday obligation to the Lord. To their children they would always say, May awa ang Diyos, makakaraos din tayo, mga anak.

Naawa nga ang Diyos at di lang nakaraos kundi lumaki pa nang maayos.

All eight children have since become professionals, properly employed or self-employed, and have raised their own families under more blessed circumstances. The husband is now all of 94 years old and the wife died just last week at the age of 87.

I am the fourth child in the eight. And I thank my parents profusely not only for raising me and getting me through school but more so for the values they painstakingly taught me. Values that I still refuse to compromise, values that I have tired my level best to live by.

It is from then that I learned the dictum I will never forget. What is right must be kept right, what is wrong must be set right.

Now, let me relate those values with what has become of life in our beloved if benighted land. The days of my birth into this world were indeed better times. This I am very sure about. Even if you were poor in those days there was a public health care system that could be relied upon when you got sick. Public education in the primary and secondary levels was as good as any exclusive private school at that time. I should know. I was a product of that public school system and I am very proud of that.

Tahimik ang buhay noon. Mataas ang respeto sa mga pulis at sundalo. Tinitingala ang mga opisyal ng gobyerno mula sa alkalde hanggang sa pangulo. Noon may pag-asang umangat ang tulad naming anak mahirap. Kasi noon patas ang laban, mayaman o mahirap. Is that still possible these days? You only have to look around to find the answer.

First, the population has grown. There were 19 million Filipinos when I was born. We are now 90 million. And by 2015 perhaps even earlier, there will be 100 million Filipinos packed in land smaller than the state of California in the USA.

Second, we have not made proper use of our resources. We have abused practically every gift the Lord has provided. Our cities are a picture of urban squalor. Our countryside remains underdeveloped, unable to provide the population with enough food. As a result we export our men and women to work abroad to provide the money to import the goods we consume here.

And third, we have allowed our leaders to abuse us. We kept quiet through the years that they bought their elective positions and profited immensely from such. We have tolerated small corruption from clerks and lowly bureaucrats. We have watched our mayors and local officials enrich themselves from government infrastructure projects and even garbage contracts. Yet we keep electing them to office. And after them, their wives, their sons, their daughters.

We suffer bad roads because our congressmen get fat commissions of as much as 40 percent for their use of pork barrel. Presidential appointees make money in smuggling, in jueteng, in almost every imaginably illegal act. In short, we have long tolerated abuse and corruption.

Public office has long ceased to be public service.

Public office has become a business endeavor, an opportunity to misuse and abuse public funds for personal gain. Democracy is no longer a government of, by, and for the people. It has become of, by, and for thieves in government.

As a result, our public hospitals are undermanned, under-equipped and have no medicines for poor and needy patients. Their children are malnourished. They go to substandard schools where they are maleducated, packed like sardines in classrooms. Many stop schooling after primary grade to help the rest of the family earn subsistence incomes.

I went through public schools all my life, including the Philippine Military Academy. Except for college, my brothers and sisters went through the same public school system. Pero ngayon kaya pa ba ng isang pamilyang mahirap na may walong anak ang mapagtapos sila hanggang kolehiyo anumang pagsisikap at pagtitiis ang gawin ng kanilang mga magulang?

Noon, pataas ang laban. Parehas ang mga oportunidad. Ngayon kung ipinanganak kang mahirap, lalo kang maghihirap. Pambihirang swerte na lamang tulad halimbawa ng pagtama sa lotto ang siyang inaasahan. Hindi patas ang laban.

Poverty has worsened. Hunger stalks the land. So much so that the latest World Bank report says we are among the hungriest nations on earth. Our so-called democratic institutions have little credibility because of years of little efficiency, little effectiveness, and much too much corruption. You are afraid to report crimes to the police. You are afraid the prosecutor might demand money when you file a complaint, and when you face a corrupt judge who will dispense favors to the rich and the powerful but woe unto you if you are poor and powerless.

Is there democracy where there is no justice? Is there freedom where the scales of justice tilt against the downtrodden? Patas ba ang laban ng mga maliliit kung mismong ang pamahalaan ay kakampi ng malaki at makapangyarihan? Patas ba ang laban kung katarungan ay ipinagkakait sa mga kapos palad? Hindi. Hindi patas ang laban.

Our legislators keep quiet despite a long trail of abuses by the executive because they are paid with pork barrel and additional perks. Our local government leaders with exception of very few are helpless when resources that are theirs by law are withheld by the Budget Department. Those who are sworn to uphold the rule of law and protect the people are led by generals who have had to compromise noble values learned in the Academy to get stars on their shoulders. Values such as loyalty, integrity and courage are surrendered when they compromise righteousness to politics.

The cadavers of our democratic institutions are plain for all to see. We have to give life back to them but we cannot do that when the most single powerful institution, the presidency no less, is itself damaged, its corrosive effects having contaminated all in our system.

So where do we go from here?

Through the years we have seen how the awesome powers of the Philippine presidency have been abused for personal interest, be it a concentration of political power, be it self-enrichment. Usually both.

Politics as the revered Sen. Jose W. Diokno once said is nothing more nor less than concentrated politics. The right use of political tools to effect good governance is intended to produce what is optimum in macroeconomics, which is the provision by government of the means for everyone, the poor most of all, the opportunity to lift themselves into sufficiency and a brighter future. That is concentrated economics.

Sa madaling salita, ang pamahalaan ay nariiyan upang gamitin ang kapangyarihang ipinagkaloob ng mamamayan para gawing patas ang laban. Pantay ang oportunidad, para sa lahat.

Nguni’t ano ang ating nakikita? Imbes na protektahan ang mahihitrap pinapaboran ang malaking oligarkiya at monopolya. Government regulation has become a tool for market manipulation instead of consumer protection. Taxation is supposed to be the great equalizer. Instead we legislate loopholes for the rich to evade paying the right taxes and bribing the taxman, they are able to evade paying once more.

The awesome powers of the presidency must therefore be used to ensure that just and proper taxes are collected, with every centavo going to the treasury. Walang kotong, walang lagay, walang palakasan, walang ayusan. Ang lahat ay dapat magbayad nang wasto, mayaman o mahirap, parehas dapat sa harap ng batas.

Patas ang laban para sa lahat. Ito ang susi sa mabuting pamamahala.

Public purpose is defined by the national budget. That budget is crafted by the executive and presented to Congress, to us, for approval or amendment. Under our system of government it is still the presidency that matters most in the definition of public purpose, as well as in its implementation.

To provide equal opportunities so the poor can advance we have to focus on the right priorities. Para maging patas ang laban ng mahihirap kailangang gamitin ang pondo ng bayan para sa wastong mga pangangailangan. And what are these?

Health. Kallusugan para sa lahat. In the countryside people die without having seen a doctor. Infants die because of improper primary care and poor nutrition. In the urban capitals the health situation is worsened by congestion in the slums and inadequate hospital facilities. Getting sick for many is like a slow death sentence, not because illness is terminal but because medication is unaffordable.

The Philippine public health system is in the ICU and requires an emergency solution. And to paraphrase our bishops not too long ago, they said, not later but now.

The national government must launch an affirmative action intervention for the public health system. For five straight years every peso of the internal revenue allotment that goes to public health must be matched by another extra peso from the national government to ensure acceptable health standards within that timeline.

After that, the local government units must learn the proper prioritization of their internal revenue allotment and assume full responsibility for the health needs of their constituents. Sa kalusugan ng bawa’t mamamayan dapat parehas. Dapat patas ang laban.

Of equal importance is education. Wastong edukasyon para sa lahat ng kabataan. The poor have little chance in constant struggle that is life for as long as they are poorly educated and their children are maleducated. Hindi kailanman magiging patas ang laban kapag hindi nakapagaral nang maayos.

Public education in the 50s and the 60s gave us a fighting chance. Public education in the first decade of the 21st century has deteriorated to the point where even security guards and janitors need a few years in college miseducation just to be employed.

The whole world is passing us by. Time was when our public school system was a model for all of Southeast Asia. Now even the poorest in Africa look to other models elsewhere.

Maibalik man lang sana sa ating mga kabataan ang pagkakataong binigay sa akin at aking mga kapatid na bagama’t anak mahirap ay naiangat sa pamamagitan ng pag-aaral sa pampublikong paaralan at nang sa gayon maging patas ang laban para sa lahat.

And then there is internal peace, order in a society where a culture of impunity has taken root because there is an appalling lack of political will to uphold the law and ensure compliance with the law. Ngayon lang natin naranasan kakaibang karahasan kung saan maging ang buong daigdig ay kinukundena ang extra-judicial killings ng mga aktibista at mamamahayag. Walang napaparusahan at walang nahuhuli.

We must ensure that no individual is above the law. No one must get away with any kind of crime. Every act of impunity diminishes law and order. Every exception to the rule is an injustice to society itself.

We have the requisite political will to deal forcefully with crime and punish all criminals no matter what, no matter who. And any officer of the law must serve the ends of justice, without fear, without favor, or be themselves prosecuted without hesitation. Patas ang laban para sa lahat.

Hindi yung pamamalakad ng mayayaman at maimpluwensya ay pinakakawalan sa kulungan, gaano man karumal-dumal ang krimen. Only when peace and order can be taken for granted will investments into the economy flourish. Kahit negosyo, local man o dayuhan humahanap din ng patas na laban.

Maging sa pamamalakad ng pambansang ekonomiya dapat maging patas ang pananaw ng pamahalaan sa lahat. Hindi yung pinapaboran ang malalaki at bahala na sa kanilang buhay ang mga maliliit. The regulatory powers of government must focus on those areas. There are three: Consumer protection, environmental protection, and the payment of just and fair taxes. These regulatory powers must not be used to promote, entrench or protect monopolies and cartels that inflict damage upon consumers. Level the playing field. Maging sa kalakalan.

And then there is the matter of food sufficiency. For too long we have been importing food, be it rice, vegetables, meat and even fish. Pinalilibutan tayo ng karagatan. Mayaman ang ating lupain. Subali’t lahat na yaman at uring pagkain ay inaangkat natin mula sa ibang bansa. Food production must therefore be accorded highest priority both to give our marginal farmers better incomes and protect our consumers from the specter of food shortages.

We help our farmers and fishermen not with overpriced and worse fake fertilizers. Not with overpriced irrigation systems and overpriced yet substandard farm-to-market roads, but with real farm inputs and real post-harvest facilities to allow them to be more productive. Nguni’t lahat ng ito ay hindi magagawa kung hindi natin lalabanan ang katiwalian at pangungurakot sa ating bayan.

Habang ang pondo ng gobyerno ay pinagsasamantalahan at habang ang buwis ay patuloy na dinaraya hindi magiging patas ang laban para sa lahat ng mamamayan, magsasaka man o mamimili, taga-nayon man o taga-lungsod.

Stop corruption and we can provide support to our farmers and fishermen too. Stop corruption and we can ensure better peace and order. Stop corruption and business will flourish. The market will be competitive and fair and prices will stabilize. Put an end to corruption not later but now.

I keep saying that in our country, government is the problem. More appropriately, bad government is the problem. And the solution is good government, through a leadership that will put country above self, always and ever.

Kung pamahalaan, masamang pamamahala ang problema, mabuting pamahalaan ang siyang solusyon. And this can only happen if we have the right men and women in public leadership, men and women who possess the political will to do what is right and fight what is wrong. That is the solution.

I wish to thank the faculty and students of Far Eastern University for giving me this opportunity to be able to share my simple vision for the nation. Let us from hereon resolve that we will fight to keep every Filipino, rich or poor, young or old, Ilocanos, Visayans, Tagalog, Bikolanos, Christian, Mindanaoan, Muslim or katutubo, the equal opportunity to make democracy truly meaningful in our lives.

Patas ang laban para sa lahat, yan ang kailangan. Ito ang dapat nating ipaglaban. Magsama-sama tayo sa adhikaing ito, not later but now. Maraming, maraming salamat po.