30 April 2017
Commencement Speech at the 56th Commencement Exercises of the University of the East Ramon Magsaysay Memorial Medical Center, Inc. (UERMMMC), Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City, 30 April 2017
Vice Chairman Wilson Young and the other members of the Board; Dr. Romeo Divinagracia, UERMMMC President; Dr. Gemiliano Aligui, VP for Academic Affairs; Dr. Benida Fontanilla, Dean of the College of Allied Health Profession; Dr. Raquel Cabazor, Dean of the College of Rehabilitation Sciences; Prof. Belinda Capistrano, Dean of the College of Nursing; members of the faculty and the non-teaching staff of UERMMMC; graduates, parents, relatives and friends, honored guests, ladies and gentlemen: Magandang umaga po sa inyong lahat.
I was a bit troubled when I arrived, because I never want to be late. I was told that the ceremonies will start at 8:30. I arrived at 8:20 and the processional was already done. But Dr. Divinagracia was assuring me that I was not late. You were just early. Pero pasensya na din po ulit.
It is a great honor to speak to you today, on an occasion that you will remember many, many years from now, as the time when you emerge into the real world, from the institution that has molded your minds for many years.
Congratulations to the school for your 92.86% passing rate for first-takers for the Physical Therapy Licensure Examination last February and your 38 new licensed physical therapists. You are truly living up to your reputation as a world-renowned institution for the medical, nursing, and physical therapy professions. Allow me to commend you also for being the only school in the country that provides courses for those who want to design and fabricate orthopedic braces and artificial limbs. So, to the school, to all the graduates, your parents and your teachers: Congratulations!
Everything will seem like a blur today. I imagine that in the past month, you were finishing requirements so that you can come up on stage today, trying to say goodbye to friends and teachers, accepting well-wishes from relatives and friends, and planning your celebration. But for a brief moment, I have the honor of impressing upon all of you the importance of your schooling, and what lies ahead. So thank you very much for this opportunity.
Nurses, physical therapists, and orthotists and prosthetists – matagal ko itong pinaractice sa bahay pero nabubulol pa rin ako – play a very important, sometimes under-appreciated role, in our society today. Medical doctors are more visible and they often get the praise for someone’s recovery from illness. But you who support and assist them during medical treatment and recovery or rehabilitation, who often work longer hours and sometimes in not very good conditions, are equally important and instrumental in bringing health care and also disability care to our people. Such display of dedication make those in your professions modern day heroes, who answer the call of duty beyond what is expected.
You will be joining the workforce at a time of fast-paced global changes. They say the world is now a lot smaller—and it is. People jump on the plane and after less than a day, they are somewhere on the other side of the globe. As an unintended result, viruses and diseases cross borders easily too.
Information, money, and influence travel much faster—at the click of the button, in fact. This brings either prosperity or financial crisis to the shores of any nation.
Fortunately, nations interact more with each other today than at any other point in the history of the world, to solve the threats from a more globalized world. In this context, the issue of public health is central to the survival of our species. And all of you will be right at the center of such developments.
As you begin your new life, I would like to remind you of the UERMMMC’s values of integrity, commitment, social responsibility, and compassion. Especially the last two.
You see, despite all the efforts to improve public health, equal access to quality health care and medical services is still a dream for our country. This is most evident in far-flung barangays and remote barrios where many of our less fortunate brothers and sisters are vulnerable to sickness, debilitating diseases, accidents and calamities.
Lacking in basic medical equipment, training programs, and adequate health facilities and infrastructures, these communities have been relegated to the fringes of society – mostly forgotten by their local governments.
Many of what they lack are very basic needs. How much more the need for orthotics and prosthetics, physical therapists, and other health care professionals? When you are born rich, having a disability is an emotional and physical problem. And yet when you are born poor, they are a matter of life and death.
I am inspired by UERMMMC’s focus on social responsibility and compassion. In your alma mater song, you are enjoined to, and let me paraphrase: “Keep in your hearts the needy millions, in rugged mountains and in vast plains, because the call for you remains, to bear the strains of learning, with full-hearted effort, and work not for selfish gains.”
Those beautiful words remind me of my work before I entered politics. I was a lawyer for the poor for many, many years, and unlike the traditional lawyers who wait in their airconditioned offices for their clients, charging them by the hour, our kind of lawyers went to the towns and villages where people could not afford the services of one.
There I saw the deplorable conditions that a lot of our people suffer on a daily basis. One of that is lack of health services. The poor, the marginalized, and the persons with disabilities, can work sun-up until sun-down to better their lives, but very few of them succeed.
As you leave this place this place this morning, I hope you will be inspired to consider turning your gaze on our people who suffer because of poverty. I heard that one of your initial batch of graduates from the College of Allied Rehabilitation Sciences is serving the provinces, instead of accepting a plum position abroad or even here in Metro Manila. To me, it is also very impressive that the school itself has become a reference hospital, so that the poor who need orthopedic braces and artificial limbs can receive them with the help of Philhealth. With the ability now to supply these devices locally, costs can go down and these devices can be accessed more quickly.
These are the kinds of innovations and practices that we hope will continue and get better as the years go by. You graduates are very blessed to have a school that is already focused on the last, the least, and the lost. If we turn to one another and generate more ideas to influence the next set of leaders and game-changers of this nation, we will see more of our poor included in the benefits that we will get from our growing nation.
That is good for our country as a whole, but also for our individual fulfillment. Besides, who knows, that child you help could be the nurse or physical therapist or technician that saves another person’s life one day. That mother that you serve could be the parent who raises the next generation and the next great Filipino hero. Lives must not be snuffed out before they even begin. Society must give each life a chance to shine its light on this world we live in, whether they are rich or they are poor, Greatness begins with life, and the greatness of a nation begins in the collective greatness of each Filipino life.
Let us heed the call to reach out to those who are at the fringes of society. Let us engage with them – not forgetting that we have the power to change the lives of those who are on the ground.
Are we ready to do what needs to be done, even if it veers away from established practice? Even if it takes us away from our comfort zones? Even if it means that we must go out of our airconditioned clinics, roll up our sleeves and traverse the unfamiliar paths that these people go through everyday? Perhaps, you can take time to serve those from the bottom rungs of our society from time to time.
This is a beautiful day to begin. With your new status as graduates of professions that are very much in demand here and around the world, the world truly is your oyster. You can choose to take it, or give to it. I promise you the latter brings more joy and fulfillment.
Maraming salamat po. Congratulations again, Batch 2017!