[English translation of Presidente Benigno Aquino III’s Independence Day speech delivered in Sta. Barbara, Iloilo, on June 12, 2015]
IN OUR history, Independence Day has often been celebrated in Manila. This is because many of the events that led to our attainment of freedom happened in Manila and in places within its proximity. As President, I have chosen to go around the country because I am fully aware that the freedom we now enjoy was won by the actions of our countrymen from all over the Philippines. In 2011, I went to Kawit, Cavite; in 2012, I was in the Barasoain Church in Malolos, Bulacan; in 2013, we celebrated it in Liwasang Bonifacio in Manila; and last year, we went to Naga, Camarines Sur. Today, we are gathered here in Sta. Barbara, Iloilo, to recognize the contributions of our countrymen in the Visayas to the fight for our freedom. Next year, we plan on heading to a province in Mindanao to gaze upon our flag there and remember the heroism of our ancestors.
Let us remember: We are an archipelago, and our many islands are divided. In fact, in the past, transportation here was limited, which meant that it was difficult to visit even neighboring towns; there was likewise no technology to accelerate communication. This is one of the reasons cited by some as to why our movements were not synchronized during the first stage of our revolution. Nevertheless, in 1898, despite these limitations, the Filipino people stood in solidarity and, together, declared independence as one Philippine nation. This serves as proof that, even back then, Filipinos could clearly tell right from wrong, and that their response to such a situation is to choose the side of right.
During the more than 300 years we were under Spanish rule, there arose a system that caused great suffering among our countrymen. For instance, there was forced labor, or what they called polo y servicio; there was the prohibition of Philippine priests to head their own parishes; there were the abuses of the Spanish civil guards, and the blatant arrests they made; there was mistreatment of prisoners, as well as widespread discrimination against Filipinos.
Our heroes in the Propaganda movement, namely Jose Rizal, Marcelo H. Del Pilar, and your fellow Ilonggo Graciano Lopez Jaena sought to resolve this issue through reform. However, the government chose not to listen to them. Perhaps the question that our ancestors wished to ask was this: Is it too much to hope and ask for justice and a dignified life? If they had not fought, then how many generations would have been marked by suffering? Who else can the Filipino rely on but his fellow Filipino?
Their actions became a launching point for the last stage of our revolution. In 1896, Andres Bonifacio was the leader in Manila, and Emilio Aguinaldo was the leader in Cavite. In the Visayas, it was Generals Francisco del Castillo of Aklan, Esteban Contreras of Capiz, Leon Kilat of Cebu, and Martin Delgado and Teresa Magbanua of Iloilo, who led the fighting back in 1897 and 1898. It was here in Sta. Barbara where the Philippine flag was first raised outside of Luzon, back in November 17, 1898. Stitched in that flag were three stars: symbols of Luzon, Mindanao, and your island of Panay as representative of the entire Visayas region.
When the First Republic was established, the representatives from Visayas expressed their solidarity. Perhaps this was done in recognition of Apolinario Mabini’s principles, which would guide him towards supporting the establishment of our republic: “We must deal with foreigners as one unified nation, because this is the greatest shield against the abuse of power.”
One hundred and seventeen years have passed since we declared independence. We have truly freed ourselves from the bonds of colonizers. On the other hand, we now face a new challenge: combating corruption and poverty in our country. It is clear: it is through unity that our heroes won our freedom, and it is also through unity that we will likewise overcome the challenges of today.
We began to tread the straight and righteous path to reestablish a government that truly works for its people, and that truly represents their concerns. Our promise: Our growth will leave no one behind, whether in Luzon, Visayas, or in Mindanao. Each Filipino will benefit from our development. We cannot have a situation where only those at the top can improve their lots in life, while other are left to fend for themselves.
How are we accomplishing this meaningful objective? In a very simple, clear way: We have expanded the horizon of opportunities for our countrymen, while enabling more and more of them to have the wherewithal to maximize the benefits of good governance. An example of this is what we are doing through the Conditional Cash Transfer Program. Cash grants are provided to our countrymen from the margins of society, based on conditions that will ensure hardships will not be passed on to the next generation. Part of such conditions is making sure children go to school. Throughout the country, over 4.4 million households benefit from this program—904,725 of which are in Visayas, and 94,190 of which are here in Iloilo.
Another example: We all know the benefit of a working irrigation system for our farmers. Here in Iloilo, we are constructing the Jalaur River Multi-purpose Project. This is a major undertaking, and it was conceptualized in the year that I was born. For the longest time, this beneficial project was nothing but an unfulfilled promise; under our administration, we have worked to make this project a reality. For this reason, we could not help but think: If this project was completed long before we came into office, how many thousands of farmers could have benefitted and could have had better lives because of working irrigation?
You have most likely heard of the initiative we advanced for our countrymen in the nearby provinces of Negros Oriental and Negros Occidental: Recently, I signed an Executive Order creating the Negros Island Region, which brings the two provinces under one regional grouping. Consider this: those two provinces, which belong to the same island, were in the past part of two different regions. This meant that while they were in one island, and shared the same set of concerns, they had to share resources with provinces from other regions to address those problems. With the One Island Region, the allocation of funds by government for this single region becomes more focused. Thus, our countrymen there benefit faster and more directly from the projects implemented within the region: Those from Negros need not cross the sea to receive services meant for them. Another good thing about this is that the regions that used to share resources with the Negros provinces will be able to maximize the benefits of government in a faster manner, precisely because the services are more focused towards their constituencies.
All the stakeholders have agreed that this initiative will redound to the benefit of the majority. We listened to the voices of our countrymen in these provinces; theirs was a position expressed by their leaders—from the captains of local communities, to their governors and representatives—and even by local chambers of commerce. This is why, when Secretary Mar Roxas put forward this suggestion, and after all the necessary consultations were undertaken, we took action by signing the Executive Order. You know, Mar Roxas, a true son of Panay, advanced this initiative. Like in the past, we know that whenever we task Mar Roxas to lead a project or program, you can expect that initiative will succeed.
Indeed, I am confident that so long as we continue to tread the straight and righteous path, we will be able to continue the positive changes we experience at present. In this period of evolving technology and social media, we have the greater wherewithal, and the deeper responsibility to contribute in finding solutions to our shared problems. It is my hope that, instead of being a burden to our fellowman, we would do our utmost, contribute what we could to the best of our abilities, so that we may collectively uplift our whole nation.
On my recent visit to Japan this June, many expressed praise for the reforms implemented under our watch, all within five years. However, theirs was a recurring question: How will we ensure that the reforms we set in place will be continued? My response to them: It is up to the Filipino people; they will continue the change, which they themselves started. They know what is right, from what is wrong. I am optimistic that they will choose the right leader, especially because they have seen what our agenda of good governance brings.
Our nation has demonstrated this truth in EDSA in 1986, and we demonstrated this once more in 2010 when the Filipino people came together to put an end to the crooked ways of the past. Now that we are nearing the end of our term, I remember what those who stood up against Martial Law would ask to those who hesitated to stand up against the dictatorship: “If not now, when? If not you, who?”
I am certain: Our Bosses will continue what we started. We know full well that, if you give them the right opportunities, the Filipino people will demonstrate excellence in every endeavor. The call to us today: Let us remain steadfast and unified in advancing the welfare of our fellowmen, especially those most in need. May we be guided by the past, and may we live out the lessons we have learned today, so that we may reach the destination that we have long desired as one people.
Thank you, and good day.