We Must Make A Stand
Misa para sa Katotohanan
Church of the Gesu, Ateneo de Manila University
September 13, 2005
Let me first of all thank Fr. Danny Huang, SJ, Fr. Ben Nebres, SJ and all their brother Jesuits as well as the Ateneo community for inviting us today in this Misa para sa Katotohanan.
The past week might be described as a period of heightened confusion. After the dismissal of the impeachment complaint against the President in Congress, concerned citizens seemed at a loss as to what to do next. Should they give up the ghost and go back to “business as usual”? Should they take to the streets? Contemplating either option left them feeling uneasy. Something remains clearly amiss in our society.
When I sat in the gallery during the Congressional privilege hour and when I joined the rally the following day, many were just as befuddled. Text and email messages came thick and fast. What is Cory’s agenda, they asked? Why is she allowing herself to be used by this or that political group? Why is she associating with those people—doesn’t she realize she’s sending the wrong signals?
To preclude any more confusion on the part of those who insist on deciphering what animates my actions, allow me today to send one signal, loud and clear.
I am PCCA, Private Citizen Cory Aquino, Filipino. I do not claim to represent anyone’s views other than my own. When I take to the streets to express my opinion, I do so with no vain expectations that others will follow my lead. I do not fancy myself as a 72-year-old Pied Piper who can summon the so-called “magic” of People Power. Whether in the company of ten or ten thousand, I will be there if I believe I should let my stand be heard. Those who march beside, behind or in front of me on the streets may hold views and convictions quite different from mine. I have no control over that. Such is the nature of democracy.
In the light of recent events, now is one good time to share some of my deepest and strongest convictions.
First, I believe in the truth.
We need to lift ourselves from the current state of confusion by seeking moral clarity, by re-affirming our fundamental values. Before we scrutinize personalities and agenda, let us look inward first. Before we try to discern whom to believe, let us be certain about what we believe. Before demanding anything of our leaders, let us first demand it of ourselves. Let us be true to ourselves and to everything that we profess to hold dear.
Unfortunately, we are living in a time of “relative” moral values. The line between good and evil—between black and white—has been blurred into varying shades of gray. Many of us tend to rationalize our moral choices. These days, it seems all right to settle for “the lesser evil”, to dismiss wrongdoing simply because everybody else is doing it, or to achieve ostensibly noble ends by whatever means. Is that the value system we want to live by? As a legacy to the next generation of Filipinos, strong core values take precedence over any short- or long-term promise of material prosperity—for any society built on weak moral foundations will not endure.
Second, I believe in democracy.
Twenty years ago, I found myself thrust into a role I did not seek. Against all odds, I consented to run for the presidency primarily because the political opposition at the time needed a candidate to unite around in order to end the Marcos dictatorship and restore our democracy. However, the elections were mired in lying, cheating, stealing, and killing. When the rubber stamp parliament proclaimed Ferdinand Marcos as the winner of the 1986 elections, around one million Filipinos joined me in a rally proclaiming the people’s victory and there I launched a non-violent protest movement.
Our campaign got support from the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines. In their post-election statement then, the bishops declared that “the polls were unparalleled in the fraudulence of their conduct.” With full courage they added:
“According to moral principles, a government that assumes or retains power through fraudulent means has no moral basis. For such an access to power is tantamount to a forcible seizure and cannot command the allegiance of the citizenry…If such a government does not of itself freely correct the evil it has inflicted on the people, then it is our serious moral obligation as a people to make them do so.”
After I assumed the presidency, one of my very first official acts was to free all political prisoners, including top officials of the Communist Party. This was an affirmation of my faith that our democracy can only flourish if Filipinos of every creed are given the space to enrich it.
This came at a steep price for my presidency. Rightist factions in my government perceived my pro-democracy moves as a weakness. Seeing me as being soft on the Left, they mounted a series of coup attempts that undid much of the socio-economic and political gains during the first three years of our reborn democracy. As a result, many of our democratic institutions lost their chance to mature.
We do need to strengthen our political institutions. But before we start tinkering around with our Constitution anew, let us first make sure that we have truly imbibed the spirit of democracy. For no matter how impressive our political structures may become, they will be of little value in the hands of despots and traditional politicians.
And if there is any single political institution that we need to free from blemish here and now, it is the electoral system. The sanctity of the ballot lies at the heart of democracy because it embodies the voice of the people and confers legitimacy upon those who would govern us. Once this sacred document is smeared or rendered inutile by whatever means, the whole democratic system crumbles.
This brings me to my third point. I believe that in any democracy a public office is a public trust, and none more so than the presidency.
Certain allegations have cast serious doubt on the electoral victory of the President in the recent elections. Unfortunately, the only legitimate avenue by which to evaluate that evidence and to vindicate the President—the impeachment process—was abruptly closed. This has severely impaired her credibility and has made it virtually impossible for her to unite and govern the country effectively.
Last July 8, I made a plea for the President to make the supreme sacrifice of resigning from office. I still hold that to be the least painful constitutional path out of our present political crisis. To be clear, I am not demanding her resignation nor prejudging her guilt. But I am firm in my belief that she owes her countrymen more than just a vague and legally calibrated apology for what she had termed a “lapse in judgment”.
My fellow Filipinos, democracy often demands that each of us make a stand, to take risks—just as I am doing now. I know that I am antagonizing some quarters who believe that I should just let things be. I know that my critics will revive familiar caricatures of me as a naïve housewife with no political savvy. I can live with all that. After all, enduring those brickbats is a small price to pay for what I believe in my heart to be a just and noble cause.
I am well aware of my shortcomings as a human being, which is why I always seek God’s intercession. And I enjoin all of you to join me in prayer, introspection and discernment. Not one of us has all the answers—we must always seek divine guidance to find the right path.
I shall go to visit and pray in as many of our churches and schools. For the right answer as to where duty lies from here on, is surely to be found wherever people are gathered in God’s name. For that was His promise.
In the same spirit, I also urge you to act with greater compassion toward the poor in these difficult times. While the political uncertainty persists, we all know that the most vulnerable sectors of our society will be the hardest hit by its economic consequences. This is why I am helping mobilize multi-sectoral support toward microfinance projects and other initiatives to empower the poor. These efforts on the part of thousands of selfless Filipinos, I believe, is the new dimension of People Power that we need to nurture. As we move along this track, I am confident that we will not only find a way to strengthen our democracy but hopefully discern the compassionate hand of God and rediscover the values that truly give meaning to our lives.
Allow me to end with this prayer,
Almighty God, have mercy on us and bless us with Your love and peace. Give us the intelligence, the fortitude, the patience and the strength to acquit ourselves well in this present trial of our democracy.
God bless all of us! Thank you and good evening.