In support of equal opportunities for all

Speech during the Midyear Session of the Philippine Dental Association, Baguio City

It has been a privilege to be working with you for the passage of the Philippine Dental Act. Not only have our interactions been most pleasant; it is always nice to see so many smiling faces with pearly white teeth.

In the same breath, let me add the observation that proper dental care has become a luxury for most Filipinos, particularly the poor. But what of course is even more pathetic is that proper health care has become a luxury as well, inaccessible and unaffordable to most.

Our interaction for the passage of the Philippine Dental Act showed how cooperation between lawmakers and civil society can result in responsible legislation that benefits all. 

I hope you never get tired of partnering with my office in professionalizing the industry and bringing positive change to our country.

Yet we cannot close our eyes to the reality that in these benighted parts, time has stood still for more than half of our population. While there have been extraordinary medical advancements with better techniques and better equipment, most of these advancements never reach millions of Filipinos.

Affordable health services have become a life-and-death concern in this country whose citizens now belong to the world’s poorest. And this is where social responsibility should become part of our mission and our advocacy.

As you know, I am a vocal supporter of reforms in our governance.

There is an obvious moral bankruptcy in our leaders and policy makers that must be addressed.

We have leaders of our anti-corruption agencies like the Ombudsman who would rather wash their hands off the World Bank mess than use the powers of their office to ensure that graft is eliminated and restore investor confidence in our country.

Also, we are once again faced with loads of information that somehow highly placed individuals are involved in scandals like the P728-million fertilizer scam and the ZTE deal.

These are notwithstanding the ongoing corruption being perpetrated by many local and national leaders.

I have to tell you that the road towards sound leadership will be bumpy and protracted at best but it will not be impossible.

Let me share with you my personal experience.

When I became Chief of the PNP, I inherited an organized system where it was practically every man for his corrupt self.

From superiors down to their subordinates, almost everyone in the organization was either perceived or actually tainted with the stench of corruption.

So I cleaned up shop, so to speak, in the only manner I know how – by leading by example. Leading by example needs a lot of personal sacrifice and resoluteness. It is second to none. Nothing can substitute for it if a leader wants to succeed.

My men could not cheat on their funds because they knew I was not cheating on them. Their funds were appropriately downloaded and I was properly monitoring their fund management. Even the notorious kotong cops stopped accepting or demanding bribes in the streets and highways because they knew I was not accepting bribe money from jueteng and other illegal activities. They knew I was not accepting commissions from contractors and suppliers doing business with the PNP.

Recovered carnapped motor vehicles otherwise misappropriated for the personal use of some policemen were immediately returned to their rightful owners.

My policemen’s waistlines stopped bulging at 34 inches.

Police generals and colonels stopped playing golf during office hours.

What the newspapers eventually reported was how corruption was at its lowest and discipline was at its highest during my term as Director General of the country’s police force.

These are success stores, but stories like these do not happen overnight.

They need principles, discipline and leadership to make them happen.

When I became senator eight years ago, the need to uphold principles, discipline and leadership was equally clear in my mind.

There was the pork barrel fund, just another fancy name for corruption that once again favored the few, and victimized millions of Filipinos who have to suffer with half-baked, even ghost projects.

Since 2002, I have consistently refused my pork barrel allocation and have been actively campaigning against its misuse, even encouraging my fellow legislators to do the same.

Up till now, I am trying to lead by example, by demonstrating that public service is an immutable value that cannot be bought and sold like a common commodity.

And this is because I still remember the lessons from my childhood.

I once came from a family of humble means and I have experienced what it means to be poor. Yet I do not recall that said poverty stood in the way of getting an education from competent public school teachers or effective services from competent health professionals. I am the product of the public school system, from grade school and high school in Imus, Cavite, to a public institution called the Philippine Military Academy, all the way to a masteral degree in government management from the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila, again another public school.

Noong araw, during my young formative years, patas ang laban ng mahihirap sa mayayaman sa larangan ng edukasyon at kalusugan. Kahit mahirap ka, kapag may angking talino, may kasipagan, tiyak na may magandang kinabukasan na maaring asahan.

May mga duktor at dentista ang gobyerno na nagbibigay ng libreng serbisyo sa mga bayan-bayan at mga baryo.

Bihirang marinig ang milyong pisong nakawan at katiwalian. Limang libong pisong kama na binili para higaan ng pangulo, katakut-takot na iskandalo na ang sinapit ni Pangulong Elpidio Quirino.

Noong araw, sa panahon ng aking kabataan, patas ang laban para sa lahat.

What went wrong? Bakit ngayon, napakahirap na para sa mahihirap ang mabigyan ng mga basic services ng pamahalaan?

In many speeches and messages, I have singled out government corruption as the main obstacle in restoring fair play to all.

For it is corruption, more than anything else, that distorts the idea of equal opportunity and fair play.

Dahil sa kurakot, nawalan na ng saysay ang Patas na Laban, Para sa Lahat na dapat ay karapatan lalo na ng kapus-palad.

Sa panahong ito, kapag ipinanganak kang mahirap, halos pangarap na lamang ang pag-angat sa antas ng pamumuhay.

Through the years we have seen how the awesome powers of the Philippine presidency have been abused for personal interests, be it for power or influence.

And because bad government is the root of our problems, then the solution must be found in good government.

And good government means focusing on the right priorities.

Para maging patas ang laban ng mahihirap nararapat lamang gamitin ang kapangyarihan ng pangulo sa pagpapagalaw ng pondo ng bayan para sa wastong mga pangangailangan.

And while there are certain goals that may take time in realizing, given our scarcity of resources, there are two basic services that cannot be neglected, ever or at all. Good health and good education. For all, and not for a few.

It would be criminal for a government that spends P1.415 trillion a year not to be able to provide these to every single child or person.

Maibalik man lang sana sa ating mga mamamayan ang pagkakataong ibinigay sa aming walong magkakapatid na bagama’t anak mahirap ay naiangat sa pamamagitan ng wastong kalusugan at pag-aaral na galing mismo sa pamahalaan, at nang sa gayon maging patas ang laban para sa lahat.

I may or may not become the leader of this country. But if destiny gives me another opportunity to lead in yet another capacity, I swear to stand behind what my parents taught me: What is right must be kept right, what is wrong must be set right.

For now, I am making this simple call to all of you. Magsama-sama na tayo sa pangangalanga ng karapatan ng ating mga mamamayan laban sa ganid ng illan sa pamahalaan.

Let us be leaders by example. And let us choose leaders who have shown the right example, and will therefore lead by the power of good example.

It is the only way we can build a better future for our poor and for ourselves.

Again, thank you for listening and good afternoon.

I would like to end this keynote speech with an invitation to watch an audio-visual presentation that portrays the essence of Patas na Laban Para sa Lahat.