Speech of President Benigno S. Aquino III at the commencement exercises of the Philippine Military Academy Sinag-lahi Class of 2015, Fort del Pilar, Baguio City, on March 15, 2015:
Good afternoon to all of you.
In front of us is your new sports center. Perhaps the Sinaglahi Class is saying: “We saw it being constructed, and yet others will reap the benefits.” Beside it is a fire truck. Perhaps our Honorable Secretary of National Defense will tell the following classes who will be able to use the sports center: “Back in my day, even our water came from a fire truck.” Yesterday night, he was telling me that there was a shortage of water in the PMA back then, such that they were given five counts to collect water from a fire truck with their helmets, and that would be their ration for the day. That water would end up being very valuable since you had to use it for brushing your teeth, taking a bath, doing your laundry, and watering your plants; and the next ration would not come until the following day. Perhaps this is how destiny is: As our country develops, the sacrifices required of its citizens should lessen.
After four and a half years, we can say that we have truly achieved so much on the straight and righteous path. We have overcome many challenges for the benefit of Filipinos in the country and overseas. There was the tension between North and South Korea in 2010, where 50,000 of our countrymen could have been caught in the conflict. Apart from this, there is also the need to move our countrymen in the Middle East away from areas of danger and unrest. We likewise continue our efforts to stop the spread of diseases such as Ebola and MERS-CoV. Back in 2013, our country faced trial after trial: an earthquake in Bohol, turmoil in Zamboanga, and the destruction of Typhoon Yolanda. Right now, we are focused on seven of our countrymen who were abducted by an armed group in Libya, as well as the nearly 4,000 Filipinos caught in conflict there. We also have around 900 countrymen who must be evacuated from Yemen. It is a country that has reached alert level 4, which means that their situation is very dangerous. This is why we are employing mandatory repatriation to guarantee the safety of our countrymen.
Despite these, we remain level-headed and rational in our decision-making. We will not stray from our vow to promote the common interest, especially of those most in need.
Not to be self-indulgent, but at this stage, we can truly say that our country’s situation is much better than we found it. We cleaned up the bureaucracy, pursued the corrupt, revitalized the economy, and opened new doors of opportunity for our countrymen.
The country once referred to as the Sick Man of Asia is now investment grade for the first time in its history. Just the other day, we received news that, in the past year, 1.04 million more Filipinos have found jobs. This is equivalent to our unemployment rate dropping to 6.6 percent in January of this year, compared to 7.5 percent during the same period last in 2014. On top of this, we continue to undertake programs that deliver immediate benefits to a great number of Filipino families.
Now that the mandate you bestowed on me in 2010 is nearing its end, more and more people have been asking with greater frequency: Who will continue the excellent progress we have begun when I step down from office? There are even some who have suggested to me: Why don’t you do it again? My response: First of all, I did not do all of this alone. All decent Filipinos worked to make this change possible. Second: While we do see the benefits of my continuing to lead, it carries with it inherent dangers. Because there may come a time, after I step down from office, when the person who replaces me may think that he can remain in power for the rest of his life. We do not want a repeat of what happened in our history where one person led our country from 1965 until he was ousted in 1986.
On this day, 172 members of the SINAGLAHI Class of 2015 will go from being cadets to being officials of our Armed Forces. Each class of the PMA selects a name that embodies their goals as they serve our people. You have chosen a good one: “Soldiers with Innate Skill and Strength, Ready to Fight for the Country.” As you step outside this academy, you begin new chapters of your lives as soldiers. I am counting on you to remain true to how you have introduced yourselves.
I hope that you can match, if not exceed, what we have seen from your upperclassman, 2nd Lieutenant Jerson Sanchez. He was a member of the SIKLAB DIWA class of 2014. We do not expect newcomers to become experts immediately, which is why Lt. Sanchez is impressive. Not even a year after graduating, he has truly shown great inherent strength and skill in fulfilling his duties. Last February 16th, after days of careful monitoring and strategic movement, his platoon was attacked by more or less 30 members of the NPA in Barangay Datal Anggas, Alabel, Sarangani Province. Most impressive here is that, at the beginning, they were outnumbered by the enemy. But due to the superior strategy and firearms—and the more effective usage of these—by Lt. Sanchez’s platoon, the rebels retreated and scattered. Our forces pursued them for eight hours. After the battle, seven rebels were downed, and the enemies left behind nine high-powered firearms, five improvised explosive devices, and other equipment. Clearly, the enemies were at a great disadvantage: We all know that, as much as possible, they do not leave behind the corpses of their cohorts or valuable supplies. Apart from this, there were reports that other enemies were wounded, while eleven of them surrendered a few days after the operation.
Let me emphasize: 2nd Lt. Sanchez is a new soldier, not even a member yet of an elite unit. Yet, in his short time in service, he has already shown extraordinary courage and effective leadership. It is clear to him: while he perseveres in pursuing the enemy, all the more will they hesitate to undertake their operations, because they know the high caliber of our soldiers who stand guard against them. The safety of our Bosses is ensured, while their confidence in our Armed Forces grows greater. Most important of all, through your work, we are able to move closer to our aspirations of lasting peace. 2nd Lieutenant Jerson Sanchez, you truly deserve your Distinguished Conduct Star.
I admit: I had asked for him to be promoted as well, but I was told that, according to current regulations, his promotion is deemed “temporary.” I asked, “What do you mean by temporary?” It means that, after one year, he goes back to being a 2nd Lieutenant. I said, “Wait, that’s not very clear to me.” This should be a meritocracy. If someone performs well, his promotion should be permanent. So, for now we will have to settle for this award of Distinguished Conduct of Service.
The story of Lt. Sanchez is only part of the greater narrative of widespread change in our society. During Martial Law, the Armed Forces served only the dictator, instead of serving the Filipino people. Now, the numbers of those like Lt. Sanchez are growing, they for whom the phrase “The Filipino is worth dying for,” is not merely lip service, but a principle that is embodied in action. Our people are seeing the excellent performance of the AFP, from your work in guarding our territory, to working towards peace, and even to responding in times of calamities. This is why they have lent their complete support to the modernization program we are implementing, which will only enhance our soldiers’ capacities to serve our Bosses. We do not want our soldiers to face a mission impossible each time they undertake an operation.
Apart from this, we are also taking care of their welfare, as well as that of their loved ones. Among our efforts in this area are the housing units that have been allotted and turned over to our uniformed forces, the correction of their pension system, and the enhancement of the benefits they receive. All these, we have been able to implement, and we continue to implement without increasing taxes, with the exception of the Sin Tax.
Indeed: The succeeding generations of our soldiers can reach even greater heights, because we now have a stronger and more successful Armed Forces, one that receives and repays the care of the state. The challenge facing you graduates: Continue the excellent work of those who have gone before you, so that their sacrifices and concern for the nation will not go to waste. Through your contributions, as well as that of the other brave members of our uniformed forces, our message to those who oppose our agenda of reform is clear: If you are ready to engage in sincere discussions, the state is open to a reasonable and honest dialogue. But if you continue to put the people in danger, we will not hesitate to run you over.
To the SINAGLAHI Class of 2015: You did not choose to undergo all the difficulties and sacrifices in the PMA, only for all your efforts to be disregarded and wasted. The example of Lt. Sanchez and his fellow soldiers has shown us the fruits of the skilful and honest fulfillment of our responsibilities. If each and every one of you in SINAGLAHI will take a stand, and use your inherent talents and strength to match, or even surpass, the achievements of those who came before you, then we will be able to leave to the next generations of Filipinos a country that is, without doubt, in a better state than the one in which we found it,
This is why, to all those who continue to ask who will continue the good work we have started, I respond: None other than a united Filipino people, all of whom show each other care and compassion. It is clear to all of us: only those playing deaf and blind are those who have not felt the massive transformation our country is experiencing. This transformation came from our people who gave me a chance to render true service; and it is our people who will continue this transformation. Through the support of our people for all those who truly care for them, and through their choice of leaders who embody their goals, I am confident that the success we achieved together is only the beginning, that we are on our way to witnessing the sustained improvement of our society.
Earlier, the Superintendent said, “You chose the road less traveled.” Back in 2010, I sometimes thought to myself: is the task ahead of us a “mission impossible”? Has the path ahead of us truly gone untraveled for long? With your help, we will make the straight and righteous path very well traveled.
Good day. Thank you all.