23 May 2017
Speech at the Commencement Exercises of University of the East Ramon Magsaysay Medical Center, 23 May 2017
Dr. Lucio Tan, Chairman; Dr. Romeo Divinagracia, President; Dr. Gemiliano Aligui, Vice President for Academic Affairs; Dr. Jennifer Nailes, Vice President for Research; Dr. Milagros Rabe, Dean of the Graduate School; Dr. Norbert Lingling Uy, Dean of the College of Medicine; UERMMMCI Board of Trustees; administrative, academic and hospital officials; faculty, staff, graduates and their families; honored guests, ladies and gentlemen: Magandang umaga po sa inyong lahat.
Now that you have arrived at this moment, I can only imagine how you must feel: relieved to have made it, grateful for the achievement, and excited to begin your careers as medical professionals. But nothing will rival the pride that your families and teachers take in your success. They who have seen you work so hard. They who have supported you all these years. So to you, my dear graduates, to your parents, and to the faculty and staff of UERMMMCI: my warmest congratulations!
Year after year, the University produces some of our country’s best medical professionals. We all know why: the academic and practical training you receive here is one of the most competitive in the country—which explains why your exams were so hard, why your requirements were so rigorous. Your intelligence and talent allowed you to hurdle all these challenges, and now, your education will help you realize your potential outside the classroom.
It is that potential that I would like you to imagine with greater depth. What kind of a doctor do you hope to become? What kind of a health practitioner do you want to be? Beyond your planned specialization, how do you think your character will develop as health care professionals?
Many health practitioners achieve wealth and status—that is okay—while serving our people. But there are instances when they have to let go of one to have the other. What, then? Will you care for your patients, rich or poor, because it is the right thing to do, because you have learned how to be compassionate, because you understand the value of human life?
These questions on character are growing in importance, because of the times we live in. Technological breakthroughs have shrunk our vast Earth to the size of a smartphone. Now, more than ever, the rest of the globe is within reach at any time of the day. Right here in our country, the rich can drive cars made from Europe, dine on caviar from shores far away, and wear bespoke suits made by designers whose names are difficult to pronounce. With the rise of globalization comes the risk of looking ever outwards and of getting swallowed by the conspicuous trappings of wealth and power. Consequently, we face the risk of spending less time reflecting on the things that truly matter.
This was something that I realized when I was your age: that if we want to make a difference, if we want to truly serve, we cannot do so without self-reflection. We cannot make an impact on our communities, our country, or even the world, without understanding the kind of people we want to be.
It was self-reflection that led me to public service. When I went to college, I thought I had my life all planned out. I was going to be a lawyer. I was the eldest in the family, and my father was a judge in our hometown in Naga. I was supposed to follow in his footsteps; that was my promise to him. But life as a student changed me. I was a sophomore Economics major in UP when the assassination of Ninoy Aquino happened. It was an eye opener on the excesses of a dictatorial regime.
Before I went to UP, I thought I was just an insignificant voice. I thought there was no way I could make an impact on the world around me. I was a shy, clueless probinsyana. I did not think that my opinion counted, or that my actions could help make a difference. But the People Power Revolution proved otherwise. It did not matter where you came from, or whether you were rich or poor. What mattered was that you were willing to fight for what was right.
Discovering all these made me find my true calling: real and meaningful service to the country. Suddenly, going straight to law school was out of the question. I wanted to work in the public sector after graduating, even if I risked my father’s disapproval. I risked going into a career with rewards that were unsure. But I had already made up my mind: the fight for what is right would always be worth it.
So perhaps today is a good day to ask ourselves: what do YOU think is worth risking, so that good prevails? What difficult choices do you need to make, and what will guide you towards those decisions?
It is true that when you take a risk in your career with a desire for the greater good, you cannot eliminate the possibility of failure. But you also open the floodgates for the greatest blessings. When I deferred my law studies, not only did I find my true calling in public service. I met the man who would later be my husband and the father of my children. I found the man who would show me what it takes to be a great leader, what it takes to truly serve the people, what it takes to dream big and to make those dreams possible.
So, dream audaciously and dream for the good. Make time for self-reflection, because the world is too busy and too noisy. Speak out, because your voice always matters. Look at failures and risks as necessary steps for growth, because if you’re too scared of them, you will never achieve anything. And watch out for the vulnerable, because in reality, very few will. Embrace service, even if it is uncomfortable or inconvenient, because doing so will help you find true meaning and fulfillment.
Globalization has not only shrunk the world; it has made it a more competitive place, where innovation and creativity are prized, and where the mediocre fall behind. You have at your disposal every means to become the best medical professionals, not only here in the Philippines, but also around the world. Make the most of that potential.
At the same time, your ambitions for excellence must always be guided by integrity and empathy, by compassion and hope. The medical profession is, at its very core, a calling. Your careers will take you to the most visible places of suffering: to the pain experienced by your patients, to the possibility of death. The health sciences demand not just an appreciation of scientific truths. They demand that you recognize the humanity of your patients, that you honor the sanctity of every life, and that you do everything to protect and preserve its dignity and respect its humanity.
My team and I are not doctors, but that is what we hope to do as well: to honor the humanity of every Filipino, especially the poorest. You see, poverty remains the biggest problem in our country. Millions of our fellow Filipinos continue to be impoverished, and the neglect they suffer spans generations.
Come to think of it, good governance is similar to good doctors. Good doctors heal illnesses; a government that is honest and full of empathy heals poverty.
That is why we put together an antipoverty program called Angat Buhay. Angat Buhay is the risk we are willing to take for every poor Filipino. Angat Buhay is our big dream for the country. Through Angat Buhay, we hope to address poverty where it begins: poor maternal and infant health care, lack of food security and nutrition for our children, insufficient skills-building among our youth, rural underdevelopment, and violence and abuse against our women.
Angat Buhay may not be high-publicity, but it is high-impact. That is because in each of our programs and sites, we aim to empower everyone in the creation of their own future. Isn’t it true that even the best medicine and most expensive treatments cannot help anyone who is not determined to help himself? The same is true in governance. When our people own the programs and strategies to make the country healthy, they are more participative and hopeful—two things that are greatly needed for healing.
We are doing these because we do not just want a better Philippines. We want a better world where we take care of each other. We want a Philippines that can be a better neighbor to its surrounding states, because we are healthy, productive, and able to help others.
I have always dreamed of a doctor for every Filipino family, whether in remote places or in busy cities. I have always hoped for health care that does not descriminate between the rich and the poor. Access to health care is the right of every Filipino.
This is an audacious dream, but our people deserve nothing less. And as future medical professionals, you are critical in making these dreams happen.
So as you march to the stage and complete your graduation rites, I wish you all success and the fruition of your audacious dreams.
Once again, congratulations Batch 2017!