Speech at the Kabagis Congress
This is the first time that I will be speaking in front of this audience and I thank former councilor and your Secretary-General Abet Quilala for the opportunity.
Kabagis has always been synonymous with service.
In a way, I feel a shared kinship with all of you, especially with your vision of man as an agent of change.
To me, this represents service beyond oneself; not the public service that politicians have often used and abused to get themselves elected.
True service means that those in a position of power or wealth or influence are responsible for creating opportunities for others.
Service means helping create a society of equal opportunity.
Sa madaling salita, PATAS NA LABAN, PARA SA LAHAT.
I may have been known as a crusader against all forms of corruption but recently, I have defined this lonely crusade as an advocacy to reflect 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.
I came from very humble origins. My parents never finished school. Hence, their obsession to see all of their eight children through college. They would often forego their share of the day’s meal in pursuit of their dream to make all their children finish school.
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 was indicative of better times.
While my poor parents provided for us through backbreaking jobs and unselfish sacrifices, government provided basic social services that were accessible to all, rich and poor.
Medical care was available through the public health system, where hospitals had medicines and doctors attended to indigents.
I was educated in public schools but during these times we had enough books, enough classrooms and our teachers were as good as those in the private schools.
The poor could compete with the rich.
We had equal opportunity, thanks to the government.
From school or from work, one could walk to the comforts of home safe and sound. The policeman was a person of real authority, respected by all, more importantly, trusted by the people.
I grew up with an image of that policeman in my sleepy hometown in Imus, Cavite.
It was that image that inspired me to really work hard to bring back the old glory of the police then.
When people in government know how to selflessly serve well, basic services like health, education, peace and order can be taken for granted by even those who have less in life.
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?
It cannot be denied that corruption has sucked the lifeblood of our economy and distorts the principle of equal opportunity.
We know it, everyone is aware of it, even if most refuse to talk about it.
We keep asking ourselves – what must be done?
The solution does not lie in new laws or new rules or a new government system.
The answer lies in what the Kabagis exhorts us all to do – to view man as an agent of change thereby encouraging him to serve not one’s self interest but those of others who have less in life and not even known to him.
When we expect ourselves to have a moral responsibility towards our fellowmen, then that is the same standard to which we must hold our duly elected officials accountable for.
And that is the first step in a long list of change for this country – we must first choose among us those who can lead by the power of selfless example and bring back service above self as the cornerstone of democratic governance.
Nang sa ganun, muling maging patas ang laban para sa lahat; mayaman man o mahirap.
Tulad noong araw ng ating murang kabataan, na kung saan ang pamahalaan ay kaagapay ng mamamayan sa kanyang pag-unlad at kung saan, patas ang laban para sa lahat.
Let me end this speech with a bookmarked message from my desk calendar.
“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 for listening.