25.9.10

Speech of President Aquino at Mount Saint Vincent College, New York City


SPEECH
of
His Excellency BENIGNO S. AQUINO III
President of the Philippines
Upon his acceptance of the the Elizabeth Seton Medal
[September 22, 2010, Mount Saint Vincent College, New York City]
“Enduring Faith and Continuing Solidarity”
A generation has passed since my mother accepted this award. At the time you conferred this award on her, it was still uncertain for many if my father’s death would be meaningful, or in vain.
Our country was still plunged in Orwellian darkness. It was still a place where the propagandists of the dictatorship thundered and shrilled that War is Peace, and that Freedom is Slavery.
They were wrong, of course, as the apologists of tyranny have always been wrong. What tyranny does is to try to postpone the inevitable, to terrorize and by so doing, to crush all hope of humanity recovering its lost liberties.
They thought they could crush my father’s spirit by throwing him in jail, hauling him before a kangaroo court, and finally, by brutally assassinating him. Instead, his death ransomed our democracy by freeing an entire people from paralyzing fear.
For her, it was so very meaningful that as an alumnus of this school, as the widow of Ninoy Aquino, and as a Filipina, her alma mater publicly stood by her and our country on that day in May, 1984. She accepted an award from you, not on her own behalf, or my father’s, but in the name of an entire people.
When she accepted this award, my mother said what sustained my father, and her, was courage founded on Faith.
She talked to you then, not about the courage that raises a fist in fury, but rather, the kind of blazing and serene hope that will not bow, that will not compromise, that cannot surrender.
In 1984, our people turned the tools of the dictatorship –its sham elections- against it, by actively competing in the national assembly elections of that year. By so doing, we began to restore democracy by the ways of democracy, as she so eloquently put it.
The world knows what happened in February, 1986, when the Filipino people peacefully toppled a dictatorship. In a Churchillian sense, the end of the dictatorship was only the beginning of my mother’s calvary for God and country.
My mother was called to serve her country by nurturing that newly restored democracy. No one was happier or more relieved to relinquish the responsibilities of office, when her term ended.
But there was no relinquishing her duty to country. Time and again, just as she faced down coup attempts during her presidency, she stood up and faced those who would turn back the clock and turn their backs on democracy.
As it was in 1984, so it became in the last years of my mother’s life: at times, a lonely, uphill struggle against great odds.
As it was during the period of dictatorship, so it became in my mother’s final years. Those who’d been friends turned their backs on her, those who’d braved the barricades now focused, instead, on preserving privilege, power, and wealth –assuming, as the dictator had done, that our people were too tired, too cynical, and too frightened, to care about not only self-government, but good government.
When my father was killed, it was said that bravery was simply standing in line to pay respects at his wake. When my mother passed away, what she herself called the defining characteristic of our people -“a faith that begets courage blazing with hope”- illuminated our country from end to end.
Those who had been dripping with contempt for the Filipino people were shocked to find the Filipino cared: about my mother, about her faith in our people, about her faith in God: the twin pillars that had sustained both she and her husband.
Now I, in turn, have been called to work with my people to ensure that democracy benefits all Filipinos, and not just a few.
The clamor for reform came from my people, and my being here to accept this award from you, is made possible by them. It is only proper that I accept this honor in their name.
In accepting this award, I am humbled by what this medal represents: your solidarity with my people. You stood with us in dark days. You stand with us now, in brighter days: the greatest period of optimism my people have seen, since the fall of Ferdinand Marcos.
My mother closed her speech of thanks in 1984, with a prayer. She prayed that the faith that sustained my father and her, would sustain our people until the day of their redemption.
I stand here as living testimony to People Power: the redemptive power of that prayer. It toppled the dictatorship, it frustrated those who would try to revive its ways, it sustained democracy and now, it serves as the bones and sinews of our great mandate for reform.
Filipinos saved themselves from slavery to a dictator; they saved themselves from returning to the status of slaves; and they are working mightily, today, to free themselves from slavery and from poverty.
A generation from now, perhaps another Filipino will stand here, and say to you: I am glad to say, that we remain not only free, but are now prosperous. We not only have the blessings of democracy, but are free of poverty. This is my prayer.
Thank you.


No comments: