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    Defenders of Justice

    Office of the Vice President 24 June 2017 Message at the College of Law Commencement Rites of Lyceum of the Philippines University

    Atty. Roberto P. Laurel, University President; Mrs. Sarah Laurel-Lopez, Vice President for Finance; Dr. Conrado E. Iñigo, Vice President for Academic Affairs; Atty. Ma. Soledad D. Mawis, Dean of the College of Law; university officials, members of the faculty, graduates, parents, ladies and gentlemen: good afternoon.

    Thank you very much for inviting me to speak before you on this joyous occasion. We all know that law school is not for the weak of heart. It is for the tough and those who are unwilling to compromise their standards. It is for the brave and determined. And today, you have proven to your parents, teachers, classmates, and friends that great things can be accomplished with patience and dedication. So, congratulations, Class of 2017, for a job well done!

    Aside from celebrating, may I invite you to look back and be proud of these past few years. You have survived sleepless nights, stacks of cases to analyze, and endless provisions to memorize. Remember how you survived your first recitations, exams, and practice courts. All of these challenges have shaped and defined your character. All of these tests have made you discover that you are made of stern stuff.

    As you prepare for the huge, chaotic world out there, may I quote Dumbledore of the Harry Potter fame. “It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.” You will be armed with the knowledge of law that Lyceum has instilled in you and that is no small thing, but if you really think about it, it is your honesty, integrity, and compassion that will define you in the years to come. This time, the decisions to live those values are no longer on any of your professors or your parents; they are solely on you.

    My dear graduates, as you reach this important crossroad in your life, may you never lose sight of your purpose. The choices you will be making today will reflect the kind of future we will all have to face: you, your family, I, and even that little child down the road cleaning car windows along the busy streets of Metro Manila. What you do and what you become has a way of affecting more people than you realize. In a world marked by fear and aggression, your values will be your weapons against mediocrity, indifference, and injustice.

    The world now is vastly different from when you first entered Lyceum, and it continues to be in a state of flux. In the last four years, at least three world leaders have ended their terms. Those who are occupying their posts now are facing deepening challenges of global economic stagnation. This economic weakness is happening while the world’s super corporations are growing so fast, fueled by mind-boggling technology like drones that deliver not just packages of goods, but humans too. There is even talk of sending man to Mars, and yet hunger and abject poverty continue to plague so many families around the only world that we truly know. Such conundrums mark the world of today—the world that you are now entering.

    But we can cling to many good things. War and terrorism continue to endanger men, women, and children, and yet the human family continues to fight for love and unity in big and small actions. To my mind, every act of kindness and religious tolerance, every move to protect the poor and the disenfranchized, every sacrifice by our men in uniform—these are signs that mankind has no intention of giving up in the face of all these storms, literal or otherwise. So, as they say, kapit lang tayo. Our future continues to be bright—if all of us are committed to excellence and goodness.

    We will survive. In fact, we will not just survive. We will thrive.

    To a large extent, our ability to thrive will depend on how committed we are towards helping those who are less fortunate than us. Former President Ramon Magsaysay said that those who have less in life should have more in law. This is what all of us are called to do during these extraordinary times – to anchor our changing world in principles, moral integrity, and ethics so that we can serve our countrymen to the best of our abilities.

    In a few months, you will be taking the Bar exams. And before you know it, you will take your solemn oath as newly-minted lawyers. When that time comes, may you have the courage to ask yourself the most difficult questions: To whom are you offering your service and commitment? Do you have the courage to carve your own path and make a difference in this world? Or will you settle for less, compromise your principles and let others decide for you?

    These were the same questions I had to grapple with as a young graduate. I was a naïve probinsiyana when I entered UP. I was totally uninvolved in the world around me.

    Coming from a traditional Bicolano family, everything was set in stone for me, so to speak. I was going to take up Economics, and then proceed straight to law school afterwards. I was the eldest of three children so everyone expected me to follow my father’s footsteps and become a lawyer. But then, something unexpected happened.

    In my second year in college, my political awakening happened. A dictator was at the height of power, and only a few brave souls opposed him. One of those, Ninoy Aquino, was assassinated. Instead of instilling fear in our hearts, Ninoy’s death moved us into action. It inspired many of us to fight for justice and freedom. We realized that it was a time for the young and brave to step up. When we reached senior year, the peaceful revolution had made waves both here and abroad, inspiring other nations to follow suit.

    The years that followed left a great impact on me. The EDSA revolution taught me that excellence was not enough. That even the brightest and most brilliant leaders can be corrupted by fame and excessive power. Power is most powerful only when it is directed into service.

    After I graduated, my plans to enter law school were put on hold. I decided to go home to Naga and asked my father if I could spend a year working for the government. Luckily, he agreed. So, I immediately applied at the Bicol River Basin Development Program Office where I met the man who would eventually be my husband in less than a year.

    I was only 22 when I got married, and by the time I decided to finally pursue law – I already had my first child already. I was working as an Economics professor during the day, and attending law classes at night. I can still remember going home late at night – only to find the baby already sleeping. It was a tough balancing act – but I juggled my responsibilities as a mother, teacher, student, and wife of a politician. It took me a while to finish law, and by the time I did, I had two children already.

    After passing the Bar, I decided to take on a different path. I served as a PAO lawyer for some time, and eventually became a human rights lawyer after joining an NGO called SALIGAN. For more than a decade, I visited the farthest and most unheard of communities in our region. Sometimes, we would trek for hours to reach our destination. Under the blistering heat, we would meet farmers, fisherfolk, indigenous peoples, rural women and children. We would gather them and listen to their stories – personal accounts of how some of our laws have become instruments of abuse and injustice. We would train paralegals in the community and translate laws into the local dialect. There were also instances when we sought for remedies and went against big, powerful companies. Work in SALIGAN was difficult, but it was fulfilling. We would sleep in makeshift huts in the middle of rice paddies. Even when I was pregnant with my third child, Jillian, I would sleep on fishing boats because there was no other place to sleep – only to be woken up around 2 o’clock every morning by locals who needed the boats to go fishing.

    I know alternative lawyering is an unpopular choice, given the ease and comfort that big firms here in Metro Manila can offer. But seeing how the lives of people who were unheard of and forgotten changed, made every pain and sacrifice worth enduring. So, do not be afraid of choosing the road less traveled. You will never know what is in store for you unless you take that giant leap of faith. Case in point: Who knew that those years in SALIGAN would eventually inspire the kind of work we do now at the OVP?

    Ever since I began my term, about 11 months ago, my team and I would spend a few days every week visiting the smallest, poorest and most remote barangays in the country. These weekly trips have opened our eyes to some of the harshest realities taking place in many of our poor communities. They give us a glimpse of the amount of work that needs to be accomplished in the years to come. Most important of all, these visits taught us that leadership should and has always been a shared responsibility. That the struggles of our people are also our struggles. That their pain is also our pain. And that their joys and triumphs are our gains.

    This is the philosophy behind the Office of the Vice President’s Angat Buhay program. We believe that if we want to push for inclusivity, then we have to move as one united community.

    During the past eleven months, we have partnered with international organizations, NGOs, schools, universities, and the private sector to bring help to 127 of the farthest and poorest municipalities. We have built classrooms, inaugurated toy libraries, donated boats and farming equipment, and held feeding programs in many of these local government units. There is still so much to be done, but nothing is impossible if we work together with open hands and generous hearts.

    As you venture out into the real world, I hope that you will remain true to yourself. There will be times when your honor and credibility will be put to the test. You will meet people who will question your motives and beliefs, who will laugh at your dreams. Never choose the easy way out and run from your responsibilities. Keep your faith. Believe that one day, all the pain and sacrifice will be worth it.

    During these trying times, all of us are called to stand together as one nation.

    Amid the darkness brought about by war and conflict, may the flame of your idealism shine brighter than ever. And may the light you possess lead us to peace, justice, and genuine freedom.

    So, go forth, Class of 2017 and be true defenders of justice. Be the voice of the weak and the powerless. Tip the scales of justice in favor of the last, the least, and the lost.

    Conquer the world with your passion and conviction. Blaze new trails and make us all proud.

    Maraming salamat at congratulations muli sa inyong lahat! Mabuhay po kayo.

    Posted in Speeches on Jun 24, 2017