Doctorate Degree and Speech at the Commencement Exercises of the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila

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At the 51st Commencement Exercises of the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila, Sen. Lacson was conferred the degree of Doctor of Laws, Honoris Causa. He was cited for, among others, his crusade against corruption and the pork barrel system, and for exposing anomalous transactions. Sen. Lacson earned his Master’s degree in Government Management at the PLM (1995-1996). Following is the text of his speech at the event:

The Chairman of the Board of Regents, Dr. Benjamin Espiritu; University President Dr. Ma. Leonora ‘Lenny’ de Jesus; PLM Alumni Association Inc. Regent Wilma Galvante; my dear friend Sec. Benny Laguesma; Sen. Tessie Oreta; the other Officials and College Deans; parents; my dear graduates; ladies and gentlemen, good afternoon.

I wish to thank you for conferring on me the degree of Doctor of Laws, Honoris Causa this afternoon. This award is a reminder for me to remain committed to the University’s principles and time-honored tradition of excellence in public service.

If there is arrogance in asking for forgiveness, it is the arrogance of courage to admit one’s mistake.

I could not help but think of the past generation before our time. This was five, maybe six decades ago when I was sitting as you are now with our proud parents behind us in the bleachers. We were as anxious as all of you and hopeful that after the ceremonial commencement exercises, we will start to lead and live a life of success with all its glory, for ourselves, and be able to share it with our parents and siblings, relatives, our friends and neighbors. Most of us then were thinking of a successful career, of having a family of our own and living a more comfortable life than what we used to have.

I do not remember if I gave a serious thought about my country and the generation that would come after us, to whom we will bequeath and leave behind a place in this world that they rightly deserve.

In hindsight, I would like to think that that was a serious mistake. For that and more, I feel sorry that my generation has not only not done enough for you. We have in fact failed you.

Let me enumerate and tell you why.

One – the generation before us made this country a model of development, second only to Japan in the East Asian economies. That was in the 1960s. South Korea was a land of peasants and Singapore was not even a fifth-class state, with many of their undernourished children lining up for milk before going to class, while our beloved Philippines was one of Asia’s industrial powerhouses. Now, look at our economy and where we are in terms of development. South Korea has Samsung, LG Electronics, Hyundai Motors, Kia, POSCO Steel and many more. Singapore is Singapore. The Philippines has practically none.

Two – Gone are the days when we could swim in the rivers and lakes and enjoy the bluish seawater fronting the beaches all over the country because they were clean and cool. On our way to and from the rivers to swim and picnic, we would catch freshwater fish like dalag and hito in the ricefields because they were abundant. The air that we breathed was fresh and almost pure and clean, even in the main thoroughfares of the metropolis.

Now look at what we did to the environment – to our forests, our bodies of water, even to our air.

Three – During those times, generosity was not uncommon and we enjoyed peace and security.

Libre kaming namumulot ng mga nahuhulog na ‘hinog sa puno’ na prutas katulad ng mangga, bayabas, caimito, at siniguelas dahil wala namang bakod ang karamihan na bahay at bakuran, at payag naman ang mga may-ari ng mga puno at halaman, huwag lamang daw namin pipitasin ang mga bungang kahoy kahit abot kamay lamang mula sa lupang aming tinutuntungan.

Nowadays, we do not feel that kind of security anymore. When we build our houses, we make sure our fences are high, our doors are double-locked, especially at night. We do not welcome strangers and instinctively regard them as threats to life and property.

Four – Honesty then was almost a way of life.

Hindi ko makakalimutan ang isang pangyayari minsan nang aking nakatatandang kapatid ay tuwang tuwa na binalita sa aming ina na siya raw ay nakapulot ng pera habang naglalakad pauwi galing sa kanyang paaralan. Our mother’s admonition has stuck and remains in my mind up to this time. With a firm voice, she said, ‘Anak, siguradong balisang balisa ang may-ari ng perang yan. Bukas na bukas din, pagpasok mo sa iskwela, hanapin mong pilit ang may-aring yan at isauli mo sa kanya.’ Our dear mother passed away 10 years ago. What I miss most are her virtues that she has so persistently inculcated in us.

Today we always keep close watch over our belongings, always mindful and worried we will lose them to thieves and muggers.

Five – That generation had the proverbial discipline of the Spartans.

Pagsapit ng Orasyon eksaktong alas-6 ng hapon, hindi maaaring nasa labas pa ng mga tahanan ang mga anak na nasa poder pa ng kanilang mga magulang. Magkakapit-kamay, sabay-sabay na nagdarasal at pagkatapos ay magsalo-salo ng hapunan sa hapag-kainan.

Isang sitsit lang ng mga magulang at nagkukumahog na kaming lumalapit. No questions asked, not even making faces was allowed.

Now, respect for the elders, even for our own parents at times, has become a rarity.

Where have all those good times gone?

Make no mistake. Most of the decadence and degeneracy is the fault of our time, mostly due to my generation’s neglect and indiscretions. Sadly and regrettably, we have very little time left in us to undo and rectify our omissions.

In all, humility and compunction, the generation that I represent seeks forgiveness from your generation.

To our dear graduates, as you set forth in this new chapter in your lives, you will come to realize that the virtues our forefathers instilled in us will be the foundation of your character. Maybe some of you will face adversity; others may be clothed with authority and immense power. Either way, it would test your character.

In the same manner, the wisdom and faculties inculcated in you by our beloved PLM will embolden you to endure the test of time, not only of your intellectual acuity, but more importantly, of your moral strength.

The theme of this year’s commencement exercises is quite appropriate – “Karunungan, Kadakilaan: Patungo sa Kaunlaran ng Bayan” – a call to action for graduates to pursue excellence, integrity, and public service.

I dare say that today marks the first day of the rest of your lives.

Hence, as you step outside this hall, let me suggest a simple principle to go by, and I quote: “You make a living by what you get, but you make a life by what you give.”

Simply put, these words of Sir Winston Churchill tell us that life is more than just working for a living; in truth, you will find the meaning and purpose of your existence when you lead a life of giving and service to others. When you embark on a life of giving, bear in mind that there is a whole generation of Filipinos that will rely heavily on what kind of life and character of a nation that you will hand over to them. When that time comes, I hope you will not be asking for the same forgivenes I am begging you now.

Today is a significant milestone that marks your entry into adulthood, and with it, the responsibilities to change the course of our nation’s history for the better.

You may begin by denying undeserving candidates in the coming May 13 elections an opportunity to lead our towns, cities, provinces, even those wanting to occupy the seats in both houses of Congress to further moral decay. Ridding our country of corrupt leaders is basically the obligation and ultimately the responsibility of those who elect them into office.

You may want to begin by being agents of change in your own little way. It begins with your deep sense of responsibility to the generation that will come after you, and not commit our mistakes that put our country where it is not supposed to be. Ours is a generation that failed. For the sake of those who will follow yours, please don’t fail them.

As we bid you to go forth, I urge you to never forget that you were once Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila scholars, reared and kindled with idealism by this institution, and made accountable to serve the interest of our countrymen.

Finally, as you pursue wisdom and integrity for the good of the nation, I wish to leave you with the wise words of one philanthropist, W. Clement Stone, and I quote: “Have the courage to say no. Have the courage to face the truth. Do the right thing because it is right. These are the magic keys to live your life with integrity.”

Congratulations to the Graduating Class of 2019. Mabuhay ang Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila!