Truth and Courage

Speech at the Commencement Exercises of the Lyceum of the Philippines University, Philippine International Convention Center, Pasay City

Four decades ago in 1964 I enrolled and studied in the Lyceum of the Philippines. That’s how we called the university at the time. Straight from high school I wanted to become a lawyer so I could apply as an NBI agent because law enforcement has always been my passion.

In 1967 when I was in my third year, a high school friend who was studying then in Mapua Institute of Technology, requested me to accompany him to take the entrance examination in the Philippine Military Academy. He failed and I passed. The rest, as they say, is history.

Were I to present myself, it would be as a country bumpkin born and raised in a little known town in Cavite. 

In my work as a representative of the people, I have gone around the countryside many times and talked to a great number of people of different social, political and economic backgrounds – none of the blessings that I and my seven siblings are enjoying now are possible if not for a dream.

Minsan, nangarap ang dalawang magulang na mapag-aral ang kanilang mga anak.

Dahil sa isang munting pangarap, at sa tulong ng pagsisikap at pagdarasal ng aming mga magulang ay nakapag-aral kaming walong magkakapatid. Ang bukang bibig ng aking mga magulang ay ito – “May awa ang Diyos mga anak, makaraos din tayo.” Sukdulang hindi kami kumain ng tatlong beses sa isang araw, makatapos lang kayong lahat sa inyong pag-aaral. Hindi lamang kami nakaraos, nguni’t lumaki pa nang maayos.

But such were the good old days of my youth when the government served as the great social equalizer.

Maayos ang mga paaralan, malusog na mga mamamayan – these were the realities during those good, old days.

It was a reality for millions of people like me who grew up in the shadows of World War II.

Noong araw, walang Internet, walang cell phone.

Pero kahit simple ang buhay, ang pamahalaan ay nakaagapay sa mga mamamayan, lalo na sa mga mahihirap. Wala kaming pangamba sa aming kaligtasan kahit disoras ng gabi. Nag-iisa lang ang pulis sa aming barangay pero siya ay tinitingala at iginagalang at higit sa lahat pinagkakatiwalaan ng mga mamamayan.

When public officials govern above self-interest, basic services like health, education, peace and order can be taken for granted even by the lowest in society, the poor are assured of the basic tools needed to improve their own lives, not by dole-outs, but by equal opportunity to all. Sa madaling sabi, noong araw, patas ang laban ng mga mahihirap sa mga mamamayan, ng mga maliliit sa mga makapangyarihan. Kaya ang isang tulad kong anak-mahirap, nagkaroon ng pagkakataong umasenso at umangat, kahit sino, basta’t may angking talino at marunong magsikap upang umunlad.

This is what I want to illustrate as social justice. The same social justice that our democratic institution is founded on and what we elect our officials for.

Over time, this dedication to public service has all but disappeared in government.

Unlike during those times, what we now see is a government that is not transparent, that is insensitive to the needs of the people, a government that does not deliver the necessary social services to our people, and worse, a government that steals and a government that abuses.

Almost every month, we have grown used to the reported instances of corruption, both large and small scale.

Kagaya ng fertilizer scam na isa lamang sa maraming anomalyang inimbestigahan namin sa Senado kamakailan lamang.

Out of the total project cost of P728 million in government funds, less than a hundred million went to the true beneficiaries, our farmers, while at least P645 million went to the greedy pockets of a few.

Tuwing ako ay tinatanong kung ano ang pinakamalaking problema ng ating Inang Bayan, ang aking tuwirang sagot ay maikli at simple lang: korapsyon sa gobyerno, korapsyon ng mga namumuno ang siyang kumikitil sa ating mga mamamayan.

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

Bakit nga ba sa ibang bansa, kapag may nagkasakit sa kanilang pamilya, gobyerno na ang sumasagot sa lahat ng gastusin sa pagpapagamot sa mga ospital?

Bakit sa ibang bansa, ang kanilang mga mamamayan ay pinag-aaral ng libre ng kanilang gobyerno, hindi kailangang matigil sa pag-aaral dahil sa hindi makayanang gastos sa pangmatrikula at libro?

Dito sa atin, kapag nagkasakit ka at ikaw ay mahirap, malamang mamamatay kang hindi man lamang makakita ng duktor o makatikim ng gamot. At kung ikaw naman ay may kaunting naipon, siguradong ubos ang naipon mo at malamang mababaon ka pa sa utang.

Dito sa atin, kahit nakasaad sa ating Konstitusyon na libre ang pampublikong edukasyon, ito ay hindi nadarama ng mga mahihirap kaya maraming lumalaking mangmang dahil hindi mairaos ang pag-aaral.

In school, we are taught about truth and consequences.

We know that if we don’t study, tiyak bagsak tayo sa mga pagsusulit. Inversely, if we perform well, we are justly rewarded.

Yan sana ang dapat mangyari sa totoong buhay – kung hindi mo kayang gampanan ang iyong tungkulin bilang isang elective o appointive official, dapat ka lamang paalisin o di kaya’y huwag nang iboto sa susunod na halalan.

Pero hanggang patuloy na nakapikit ang mga mata ng nakararami sa nangyayaring katiwalian sa ating bansa at patuloy nating iboboto ang mga tiwali sa pamahalaan, wala akong nakikitang pag-asa sa ating bayan at patuloy pa tayong maghihirap.

Through hardships and under constant threat of political ostracism and black propaganda, I expose the excesses and abuses of our leaders, no matter how high and mighty they are.

Throughout all of these, I stand proud and I won’t be threatened or intimidated.

Dahil kahit anong hirap ng aking mga magulang para itaguyod ang pag-aaral naming walong magkakapatid, ni minsan hindi sila nanlamang o nagnakaw sa kapwa.

There are a few things that money can’t buy – integrity and a clear conscience.

And I will continue to honor my parents’ sacrifices by living with their example. I will always adhere to the principle that they taught us to live by – “What is right must be kept right; what is wrong must be set right.” Ang tama ay ipaglaban, ang mali ay labanan.

As concerned citizens of this country, bilang mamamayang may malasakit sa ating bansa, lalong lalo na sa mga mahihirap, there are three things we simply cannot do: be victims, abusers or bystanders.

This is the time that we show people in the government that it is us who put them in office and we could easily take their power away once they stop representing the will of the people.

You know, I do not wish to detract from the importance of this moment.

As graduates, you deserve the accolades of your fellow classmates, teachers and guests that are gathered here today.

Palakpakan po rin natin ang mga magulang na minsan nangarap at nagsilbing gabay sa ating pag-aaral. Kung tutuusin hindi biro ang magpaaral, then and most especially now, and we must salute our parents.

But let us not forget those who cannot be here with us today.

Iyong karamihan sa ating mga kabataang napilitang huminto sa pag-aaral dahil salat sa yaman at ngayo’y nagiging biktima ng ganid ng iilan sa ating pamahalaan. These people will never experience what all of you are experiencing right now, a fair play at life’s opportunities.

A diploma is more than just a passport to success; rather, it is an instrument that we can use to do good; to build a better world not only for ourselves but for those less privileged.

I believe there is only one accident in this world, and that is the accident of being born rich or poor.

Everything else in life is a conscious choice.

Naniniwala ako sa angking kagalingan ng mga taong nasa pagtitipon natin ngayon. Nguni’t nawawalang saysay ang kagalingang ito kung hindi naibabahagi upang magbigay saysay sa buhay ng ibang tao.

Today marks your entry into adulthood and with that the responsibility to make choices that will have a profound effect on others.

I would like to break tradition and close this speech not by offering any advice but a plea – help.

Help fight against corruption.

Help build this country.

But most especially, choose to help by electing better leaders.

Thank you very much and Godspeed!

*****

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