Speech at the Commencement Exercises of the Republic Colleges of Guinobatan

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

Whenever I speak before an audience like this, I could not help but think of the past generation before my 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 most of you and hopeful that after the ceremonial commencement exercises, we would start to pursue more challenges and chase our dreams that would lead us to better lives, not just for ourselves but for our families, our neighbors, our friends.

Sa aking pagbabalik-tanaw sa mga panahong iyon, aaminin ko na hindi ko napagtuunan ng lubos na pansin ang kapakanan ng ating bayan, lalo na ang susunod na salinlahi na dapat sana ay magmana ng isang kapuri-puri at maipagmamalaking bansa at lipunan.

I do not remember if I gave a serious thought about my country and the generation that would come after us, to whom we would 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 among 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. Of course, 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 rice fields 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, to our bodies of water, even to our air.

Three – During those times, generosity was not uncommon. 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 mga 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 tinutungtungan.

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 still 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-ari niyan 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 our young minds.

Today, we always keep close watch of 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 magsalu-salo ng hapunan sa hapag-kainan.

Isang sitsit lang ng 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?

I am compelled to admit as I do now, most of the decadence and degeneracy is a 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. As somebody once said: “forgiveness does not change the past, but it does enlarge the future.”

To our graduates, as you go forth and leave this institution, I wish to paraphrase the words of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, and I quote: “There is a great difference between gifts and choices. Education is a gift, kindness is a choice.”

Gifts are given and therefore, easy to achieve. Choices pertain to how you make use of your gifts.

We say that your education is a gift of skills, knowledge, and potentials willingly given to you by your parents and teachers. You have earned your gifts as you graduate from the Republic Colleges of Guinobatan.

Those among you who will look forward to scale greater heights in pursuing higher learning and the rest of you who have already been blessed with the gift of education, your choices abound.

That said, as graduating students, you are at the crossroads to make meaning of the paths you will trend. In this new chapter of your lives, you will come to realize that the virtues our forefathers instilled in us will be the foundation of your character.

Years from now, some of you may face great adversities; others will be clothed with authority and power. Either way, it will test your character.

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

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

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.

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 in giving and sharing.

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 forgiveness that I am begging you now.

As we bid you to go forth, I urge you to never forget that you, reared and kindled with idealism by this revered 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 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: “The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education.”

Congratulations to the Graduating Class of 2019. Mabuhay ang Republic Colleges of Guinobatan!