(Speech delivered by Sen. Panfilo M. Lacson March 31, 2009, at the Commencement Exercises of the University of Manila)
Let me begin with a true story.
Once upon a time there was a poor couple who had eight children and making both ends meet was a constant struggle.
The father was a jeepney driver. And so the wife had to augment the family income by selling dried goods in their town’s public market. There were many times when the couple had to forego their share of the day’s meals because the brood of eight always came first. Even their schooling came ahead of the couple’s basic needs.
Tanging pagpapawis at pagbabanat ng buto at higit sa lahat, taimtim na panalangin sa Diyos ang naging patnubay ng mag-asawang dukha. Mabuti na lamang at sa mga panahon na iyon, ang pamahalaan ay nakaagapay sa mga mamamayan - mayaman o mahirap.
The children have since become professionals, gainfully employed or self-employed, and have raised their own families under better circumstances.
The fourth child soon became a soldier, a policeman, even served as the country’s top cop, and eventually became a Senator. He is speaking before you today.
Dahil sa munting pangarap ng aming mga dakilang magulang, nakapag-aral kaming walong magkakapatid at di lang nakaraos ngunit lumaki pa ng maayos.
But such were the good old days of my youth where the government served as the great social equalizer.
Maayos na mga paaralan, malusog na mamamayan – these were not just campaign slogans during the days of my youth.
It was a reality for millions of people in my generation.
Noong araw ng aking kabataan, patas ang laban para sa lahat!
Over time, the dedication to public service has all but disappeared in government.
Words like accountability, transparency and good leadership are just catchphrases rehashed every election but clearly forgotten once these officials are elected to their positions.
Fifty years later, we see a government that is not transparent, a government that does not deliver the necessary social services to our people, a government that steals, a government that abuses.
Ngayon, hindi na patas ang laban. Kapag ikaw ay mahirap, walang maaasahang tulong sa pamahalaan upang magbigay ng mga payak na serbisyong sosyal tulad ng pang-edukasyon at pang-kalusugan man lang.
Bakit ba sa ibang bansa, tulad ng Autralia, Canada, Singapore, Hong Kong at marami pang iba, kapag nagkakasakit ang kanilang mamamayan, wala silang inaalalang gastos, bagkus gobyerno nila ang nangangalaga? Bakit sa ibang mga bansa, libre ang pampublikong aral at iba pang gastusin ng kanilang mag-aaral?
The answer to that is corruption in our government. Instead of providing for our citizens the basic social services that they rightfully deserve, government through its officials, from the highest to the lowest steal and steal more and more the resources that otherwise can be shared with the poor and the downtrodden.
We hear and see instances of corruption, both large and small scale, but nothing happens after they are initially investigated, if at all.
Take for example the fertilizer scam that was the subject of a Senate investigation.
Out of the total project cost of P728 million in government funds, P645 million went to the greedy pockets of a few while only less than a hundred million actually went to benefit our farmers. As a son of a jeepney driver, you can understand both my frustration and anger towards these corrupt officials.
Whenever I am asked about the country’s top problem, I always single out corruption.
It is corruption that is killing our country, it is corruption that will continue to kill us unless you and I, graduates of the University of Manila, concerned citizens of this country, join hands and be united in fighting against corruption.
The school is the perfect training ground for the real world.
Within these walls, 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 halal na opisyal ng pamahalaan, dapat kang ipatalsik o di kaya’y huwag ng iboto sa susunod na halalan.
Pero hanggang patuloy na nakapikit ang mga mata ng nakakarami at patuloy tayong nagiging bingi sa nangyayaring katiwalian sa ating bansa at patuloy nating iboboto ang mga tiwali sa pamahalaan, wala akong nakikitang pag-unlad para sa ating lahat.
Through hardships and under constant threat of political ostracism, I expose the scams and abuses perpetrated by our so-called leaders, but I am only one voice.
If you can join me in exposing corruption, it will go a long way in cleaning up our bureaucracy.
This is the time to show our 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.
This is the time, not later, not tomorrow, but now.
I do not wish to detract from the importance of this moment.
From this day onward, you are part of this university’s illustrious history. You are what the three de los Santos siblings and their friends envisioned with the motto Patria Scientia et Virtus - indeed, you deserve the accolades of your peers, teachers and guests that are gathered here today.
Nguni’t sa kabila ng lahat ng ito ay huwag nating kalimutan na bigyang papuri ang ating mga magulang naririto man sa ating piling o wala, dahil kung hindi sa kanila, hindi kayo magtatapos sa araw na ito. Palakpakan po natin sila bilang mga nilalang na minsa’y nangarap at nagsilbing gabay sa ating pag-aaral. Kung tutuusin hindi biro ang magpaaral, then and most especially now, and we salute them.
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 sa 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.
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.
I assure you that it is a struggle to become the person that you want to be.
It’s harder than you want, it’s longer than you want and it will take more out of you than you expect that it should.
But it will be worth it – to be able to stand proud knowing you are in service of country and virtue.
I would like to close this speech not by offering any advice but a plea – help.
Help fight against corruption.
Help build this country.
But most especially, help by electing better leaders.
Thank you very much and Godspeed!