Serving Others by Creating Equal Opportunity

Speech before the Rotary Club of Manila, Manila Polo Club, Makati City

After I accepted your invitation as your guest speaker today courtesy of Mr. Mon Pedrosa, a hearing on the WB mess was subsequently scheduled on this same day. So I requested Rotarian Mon if I could arrive just a little late, 1 p.m., 1:30 p.m., so I would be able to participate and spend more time asking questions in the WB hearing.

What I got from Mon was a big flat ‘No,’ with the threat that if I arrived late, he would be very embarrassed and be left with no option but to resign from the Rotary. I love Rotary, being a Rotarian myself, and I cannot allow Mon, a good Rotarian, to resign from the Rotary. In fact, I am a proud Rotarian. I used to be a very proud Rotarian until Jocjoc Bolante barged into the scene.

When it came time to choosing a service organization, I quickly identified with the Rotary because of its motto: Service above self. 

Service above self means that those in a position of power, or wealth, or influence, are responsible for creating opportunities for others.

Service above self means helping create a society of equal opportunity. In our native language, it is PATAS NA LABAN, PARA SA LAHAT. Fair play for everyone.

Those of us here gathered inside this exclusive Manila Polo Club, can be considered more blessed and more fortunate than many in the real world outside.

Let me cite a fact of present-day life:

On February 14, 2006, Raymond Manalo and his brother Reynaldo were abducted by members of the Citizens Armed Forces Geographical Unit (CAFGU). They were beaten, blindfolded, forcibly taken from their farm in Bulacan.

Months after their abduction, the brothers were presented to their parents as a means of intimidating them to drop the case they filed against the authorities who kept and tortured their children.

Their living nightmare as victims of involuntary disappearance ended when they successfully escaped to Manila in August of last year. By then, they had endured 18 months of physical suffering, mental anguish, and emotional stress while in detention.

Fortunately, they were granted relief through the landmark writ of amparo. Raymond, during his long detention, witnessed the plight of other victims of involuntary disappearance, including long-lost Sherlyn Cadapan and Karen Empeño, whose fate to this day, living or lifeless, remains shrouded in mystery. Others like them have disappeared and will continue to disappear, abused by a system presided over by people who have distorted the ideal of service above self, and distorted it to mean service for oneself, at the expense of the many who are poor and powerless.

Contrast the plight of the Manalo brothers to that of the Alabang boys, whose arrest and subsequent legal wrangling has exposed the underbelly of corruption and bribery that has destroyed our once noble justice system.

Ours is supposed to be a democratic system where protection is promised to all citizens, where justice is for all. But where is democracy where justice is denied to many, while twisted for some?

Hindi patas ang laban. Ang hustisya ay namimili ng aapihin at kakatigan.

Where justice is up for sale, when fiscals are fixed by conniving lawyers in service of the rich, or where judges look the other way when the accused is powerful, democracy becomes a sham.

Recently, I have defined my advocacy on fighting corruption to reveal its applicability in our daily lives – fighting corruption is about restoring fair play for all. For it is corruption, more than anything else, that distorts the systems enshrined in a democratic order. If those of us who have a stake in the system want it to prevail against alien ideologies, we must make certain that it affords equal opportunity and fair play.

Patas na laban, para sa lahat.

I was born of humble origins. My parents never finished school. Hence their obsession to see all eight of their children finish school. They would often forego their share of the day’s meal in pursuit of that dream.

But despite our poverty, my parents kept faith with government and, most of all, they believed in the goodness of God. To us, they would often say: “May awa ang Diyos, makakaraos din tayo, mga anak.”

I learned from my parents that poverty is a mere accident of birth and success is dependent on your will and abilities.

But my youth in Cavite went through better times.

Government provided basic social services, accessible to all, rich or poor.

Medical care through the public health system, where hospitals had medicines and doctors attended to all.

From primary to tertiary, I was educated in public schools where we had enough books, enough classrooms, and our teachers were as good as those in the best private schools.
We could compete. We had equal opportunity, thanks to government.

From school or from work, one could walk to the comforts of home safe and sound. Rare were cases of rape, or killings, or robberies in band. The policeman was a person of real authority, respected by all, and feared by transgressors.

Modesty aside, when I was Chief of the PNP, I sought to return that respect and that fear of the law, and in a short fourteen months, we in the institution achieved that.

When basic services like health, education, peace and order can be taken for granted, for certain, by even the lowest in society, then the governors serve above self. And that is what we ought to recapture.

Government has to weigh in, so that the poor are assured of the basic tools needed to improve their own lives, not by dole-outs, but by equal opportunity.

That is what social justice means. And social justice is what the institutions of democracy are all about, and what democratic leaders are elected for, in pursuit of their sworn ideals of service above self.

Whatever happened to the ideals of social justice, promised to our people as far back as the days of President Manuel Quezon? Whatever happened to the Magsaysay dictum that those who have less in life must have more in law?

Presidents have come and gone. Elections have only succeeded in creating great expectations, dashed by greater disappointments. Disillusionment with the system has set in, dangerously — into a sense of hopelessness.

Service above self on the part of those who were elected to serve has become a sick joke for those at the receiving end of service most selfish and governance most bad.

In its stead, we have corruption most gross – worse with each passing leadership. For public servants, elected or appointed, it has become a way of life, but for an exceptional few. The higher the position, the bigger the cost of corruption, while those in lower positions justify their own take because their superiors have become immoderately greedy.

From kotong paid by lowly workers to policemen and traffic aides, to outright bribes given to generals and prosecutors, judges and justices to perpetuate impunity, to commissions and kickbacks given to legislators for their pork barrel, all the way to the top, for huge contracts and monopoly privileges – corruption sucks the lifeblood of our economy, and distorts the principle of equal opportunity.

Little wonder that our infrastructure is substandard, because the tong-pats corrupt the quality of materials and design. Worse, ghost projects and ghost deliveries have spooked almost every agency of this government, or fake fertilizers with thousand percent commissions, courtesy of Jocjoc and his bosses. Sad to note that jocjoc is a Rotarian, and his boss, Jess Santos – boss – as well.

Transparency International ranks our country among the most corrupt. Not only is that a crying shame; it makes us a pariah in the international community. Investors are wary; capital becomes even more scarce. And the recent World Bank report blacklisting contractors due to collusion among themselves and with the powerful, is likely the last nail on the coffin of our moribund economy.

We keep asking ourselves – what must be done?

We keep thinking of new laws and new rules, new systems even, in our desire to fight corruption.

We keep thinking of new ways to entice investments, to make our economy produce more, and create more jobs for an ever-increasing population.

We keep calling for moral revolution, exhorting all in a crusade for change, forgetting that change must begin with the leaders, that good example is the most powerful agent of change.

For in reality, the answer lies in what Rotary exhorts us all to do – service above self. Service that tells us that we who lead – in government, in business, in society, have an obligation to our fellowmen, to provide them with the opportunities to prosper within a democratic polity, and their children to hope for a better future.

And the first step also means choosing among us those who can lead by the power of good and selfless example, with unwavering determination to reform government, discard the politics of compromise and unseemly transaction, and instead enshrine service above self as the cornerstone of democratic governance.

Nothing less will suffice.

As I was about to finish writing this speech, I came across a beautiful passage on my desk calendar, which I thought I should share with you. It is about change. It goes: ‘People can’t live with change if there’s not a changeless core inside them. The key to the ability to change is a changeless sense of who you are, what you are about and what you value.’

Thank you and good day to everyone.