Patas na Laban, Para sa Lahat

Speech during the Convocation in Silliman University, Dumaguete City, Negros Oriental

I wish to thank President Ben Malayang and the rest of the officials of the school administration for making me a part of today’s convocation here in Silliman University.

While advancements have been made in our country’s educational system in the field of modern information technology, with better techniques and better equipment, we cannot close our eyes to the reality that in these benighted parts, time has stood still for more than half of our population. Sadly, even the basic components of public education never reach millions of Filipinos.

Free public education as enshrined in our Constitution and the basic components of its support mechanisms have become a grave 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 probably 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 in and out of government are involved in scandals like the P728M fertilizer scam, the US$329M botched ZTE deal and many other similar anomalies involving the taxpayers’ hard-earned money.

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.

For me, 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 the PNP funds. Logistics, both financial and material, were appropriately downloaded and I was properly monitoring my field commanders’ logistical management. Even the notorious “kotong” cops stopped accepting and demanding bribes from motorists on the streets and highways because they knew their Chief 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 that were 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 stories, 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 is the yearly P200M pork barrel fund, which to me is just another fancy name for corruption that once again, favors the few and victimizes millions of Filipinos who have to suffer with half-baked, even ghost projects.

Since 2002, I have consistently declined to avail of my pork barrel allocation by simply deducting P200M from the national budget. Somehow, it helps, albeit in a very insignificant way, to alleviate the huge budget deficit that has become a permanent concern in our country’s fiscal management.

Since 2002, I have also 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 a proud 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 masters degree in government management from the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila, again, another public school.

During those days, throughout my young, formative years, patas na laban ng mahihirap sa mayayaman sa larangan ng edukasyon at kalusugan at iba pang serbisyong publiko na ipinagkakaloob ng pamahalaan sa mga mamamayang Pilipino. Kahit mahirap ka, kapag may angking talino, kakayahan at may kasipagan, tiyak na may magandang kinabukasan na maaring asahan at tuluyang marating.

May mga doktor at dentista ang gobyerno na nagbibigay ng libreng serbisyo sa mga malalayong lugar sa kanayunan.

Wala kang madidinig na milyong pisong nakawan at katiwalian. Limang-libong pisong halaga ng kama na binili para higaan ng pangulo sa Malakanyang, katakut-takot na iskandalo na ang sinapit ni Pangulong Elpidio Quirino.

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

What went wrong? Bakit ngayon, sadyang napakahirap para sa mahihirap ang mabigyan ng mga payak at simpleng serbisyo ng pamahalaan?

For it is corruption, more than anything else, that distorts the idea of equal opportunity and fair play. Instead of the government’s so-called public servants providing services to the people they swear to serve each time they get elected or appointed to public office, they act and behave like masters who abuse the citizens who put them there in the first place.

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

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

Sa panahong ito, kapag naratay ka sa banig ng karamdaman, madali kang mamamatay kapag ikaw ay mahirap. At kapag ikaw ay may kaunting naitabing yaman, mabilis itong mauubos, at malamang ikaw ay mabaon pa sa utang.

Sa ibang bansa, ang lahat ng pangangailangan para sa kalusugan at edukasyon ng lahat ng kanilang mamamayan ay gobyerno ang nangangasiwa para tustusan.

Why is it so unfair to Filipinos like you and me?

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, or wealth.

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

A leader who cannot correct government has no business leading this country.

A leader who cannot correct himself has no business being called a leader.

And good government means focusing on the right priorities.

Para maging patas ang laban ng mahihirap sa mga mayayaman at makapangyarihan sa lipunan, kailangang 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 just for the few.

It would be criminal for a government that spends 1.415 trillion pesos 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 next 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, school officials, teachers, student leaders even ordinary students participating in this convocation – Magsama-sama po tayo sa pangangalaga ng karapatan ng ating mga mamamayan laban sa ganid at mga buwayang tila walang kabusugan na naghahari sa ating pamahalaan.

As simple and ordinary citizens of this country, you may not be our masters, but definitely, we are your servants. Please bear that in mind.

In whatever capacity, let us all be leaders by example and, at the same time, let us choose leaders who will show 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 the poor and for ourselves.

Let me end my speech with an invitation to watch a short audio-visual presentation, an MTV, if you will, that depicts the essence of Patas na Laban, Para sa Lahat.

Again, thank you for listening and good morning.