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“The Filipino is Worth Dying For” (What Ninoy really said)

Benigno S. Aquino, Jr. '50: Statesman. Hero. Upsilonian.

“The Filipino is worth dying for”

This simple yet powerful statement, attributed to Benigno “Ninoy” S. Aquino, Jr., is one of the most popular quotes in Philippine society. It is quoted by great statesmen in their speeches, it is reprinted on thousands of t-shirts – but in truth, Ninoy never said this, at least not verbatim.

The full text of this statement, which Ninoy delivered before the Asia Society on August 4, 1980 in New York City, goes deeper than the oft-quoted truncated version implies.

The following is the full statement:

“I have asked myself many times: Is the Filipino worth suffering, or even dying, for? Is he not a coward who would readily yield to any colonizer, be he foreign or homegrown? Is a Filipino more comfortable under an authoritarian leader because he does not want to be burdened with the freedom of choice? Is he unprepared, or worse, ill-suited for presidential or parliamentary democracy?

I have carefully weighed the virtues and the faults of the Filipino and I have come to the conclusion that he is worth dying for because he is the nation’s greatest untapped resource.”*

In its full form, Ninoy’s statement gains eloquence and a deeper meaning lacking from the six-word truncated version – it is no longer a mere one-liner espousing blind nationalism and sacrifice for heroism’s sake. In the full passage, Ninoy honestly considers the sobering doubts and limitations of the Filipino people, yet despite this his resolve wavers not; For Ninoy, despite all of the Filipino’s faults, the Filipino is worth dying for because he is the future of this nation.

As we again celebrate Ninoy’s legacy this August 2010, let us remember the wisdom of what he was really trying to say when he said “The Filipino is worth dying for.”

*Text of Ninoy’s August 4, 1980 speech sourced from the Asian Journal


A New Politics

As the 2010 election campaign period continues to drag on with all of the mudslinging, cheap gimmickry, and sometimes outright violence that comes with every Philippine election, I find myself thinking back to the presidential campaign of American president Barack Obama in 2008 and imagining how much good a campaign like his could do in the Philippines.

During the 2008 election campaign, I must admit that I was not an avid Obama fan. I thought that his lack of experience was a big issue, and his stances on certain issues were a bit too ambiguous for a serious presidential campaign. I supported him, but not wholeheartedly.

Today, I am in the process of reading The Audacity to Win, a fascinating read by David Plouffe (Obama’s campaign manager) which gives an inside look into the campaign from the exploratory committee days before the primaries all the way to Election Day on November 4, 2008. It is a must-read for the member of any political campaign across the world.

In Audacity, Plouffe shows how the Obama campaign grew from a small, idealistic group of supporters to a colossal campaign machine that never lost its authenticity and dedication to its original vision.

For me, how a politician and his team runs their campaign is a strong indicator of how they will serve in their official capacity if elected to office. Looking back on the Obama campaign after the fact, it is striking at how the Obama team was able to stay true to their dedication of putting people first before vested political interests. From the junior staff all the way up to Obama himself, the Obama campaign sincerely appreciated the efforts of their loyal volunteers and made sure they included them in the campaign as much as possible. This was not a ploy in order to keep volunteers content and working their hearts out for little or no compensation – it was a sincere strategy to make the volunteers truly included in the campaign, because they, and not the big donors or incumbent elected officials, were the true drivers of the campaign.

I can see that the Obama campaign was not necessarily groundbreaking in the ideas its proposed, but it was completely revolutionary in the way it ran itself. It put people first, the way that all campaigns, and all public servants, should.

On the night he was officially nominated the Democratic nominee for president, Obama stood before hundreds of thousands of people in packed Mile High Stadium in Denver, Colorado and said to the people:  “You have stood up, one by one, and said enough to the politics of the past. You understand that in this election, the greatest risk we can take is to try the same old politics with the same old players and expect a different result.”
Hopefully, some time very soon, us Filipinos will say no to the broken politics of the past and create a new kind of politics where people, not politicians, come first. Let us create a new politics where our neighbors speaking to us about the issues are more effective campaigners than celebrities giving endorsements on the television. Let us create a new politics where roaming cars blasting cheesy campaign jingles have no place. Let us create a new politics where the sweat and toil of unpaid campaign volunteers is worth more than the money of fake political kingmakers with vested interests.

Otherwise, the politics of the past used until today will simply produce the same poor results from yesteryear.

All the President’s Men

Rarely a day passes that a big article about the “presidentiables” of one party or another dominates the front section of the Philippine newspapers. Due to the moving-up of the candidacy filing deadline to November, the political parties are scrambling to find their squeaky-clean, telegenic, “Time for Change” standard-bearer. After all, in the Philippines, the Presidency is the key to true power.

However, if they hope to create real change, the reform parties should try their best to contest the congressional elections. One important step towards a healthier Republic is a lower house that is more independent of the executive branch. Currently, the House is populated mostly by Administration allies and members of virtual Noble Houses from the provinces that do little to improve the Republic.

Any effort to change the composition of the lower house may seem futile, considering the vast amount of resources and coercive power the incumbents and their allies hold. However, defeating entrenched political dynasties has been proven possible – see Gov. Ed Panlilio’s victory in Pampanga as proof. In reality, any change in the lower house this time around will be incremental at best. Still, it is important to take the first step towards creating a more responsive, responsible lower house.


On paper, the Filipino is free. He has a Constitution promulgated by “the sovereign Filipino people.” He has a democratic form of government. He has freedom of speech, of religion, of industry, of property – on paper, every right necessary to foster a just, strong society.

Yet, everywhere, the Filipino is in chains. He is chained to a system of government that makes only the appearance to be democratic, a system ruled not by the will of the people and the logic of great statesmen but by whims of a select few in the shadowy background. He is chained to an economy that produces substantial wealth that is never shared with the starving masses in the slums and on the streets. He is chained to a culture of institutional corruption that saps the idealistic virtue and spirited hope from the young and the wizened alike.

There have been instances in Philippine history where the chains seemed poised to break. The best example is the EDSA Revolution of 1986. In a great show of courage and determination, the Philippine people worked as one to topple the man that seemed to be holding the ends of the chains. For a fleeting while, the idealism and hope that had been missing for so long from our country had returned. The focus of the entire world turned to our usually overlooked archipelago as they applauded our great deed of courage. “For a few extraordinary moments, the people of the Philippines proved their bravery to the world, and to themselves,” proclaimed TIME Magazine in its article in honor of its 1986 Person of the Year, newly instated President Corazon Aquino.

This feeling of hope was short-lived. Over the years, as the excitement of EDSA I faded into history, the status quo was re-established. New public officials, as inefficient and unresponsive as the old ones, took office. The masses were still poor and repressed. Corruption returned as the order of the day. The chains had become brittle, but they did not break.

The great tragedy about EDSA I was that it was seen as an end, not as a means. Democracy is worthless if it is not nurtured and cared for by the people. As a form of government, hapless democracy is more dangerous to liberty than the most brutal despot. Truthfully, we did not fulfill our duties as citizens in a fledgling democracy. Thus, the current state of things.

Where have the Filipinos of courage gone? EDSA I was only 23 years ago, a mere generation or two removed from the current. Can it be that these men and women of noble disposition have all perished from this Earth? It cannot be so.

So where, then, are the Filipinos of courage? It seems the vast majority of them are hiding, allowing their virtue and idealism to sleep. Perhaps they have reason to. After all, it is an immense endeavor to stand against the tide of seeming inevitably. In its long history, the Philippines has known nothing but repression, whether it be by foreign colonial powers or by our own citizenry. There are few stories of Philippine antiquity for us to look to for inspiration. All in all, it seems as if it is a futile struggle.

If these are the reasons why the Filipinos of courage have gone into hibernation, then they have forgotten themselves and the definition of courage. Courage makes no concessions to ardor, hardship, futility, and all the like. The courageous stand strong, armed with virtuous conscience and unwavering resilience.

Philippine men and woman of courage, show yourselves! Do not merely fiddle as the Republic burns slowly around you. You are the last, best hope of our people, and as such must take upon the responsibility of breaking the chains that have held us in bondage for so long.

As a people, we stand at a precipice. One false step and we, and the Republic along with us, will descend into the familiar abyss of tyranny and chaos. This, however, is not the other option. Far off in the distance, just within eye’s reach, stands another cliff wall. If we take the one arduous, all-compassing gap, we can grasp the cliff wall and propel the Republic to a transcendent height.

Filipinos of courage, I challenge you to take that leap. For if you leap, your countrymen will discover within themselves the inherent courage that has been repressed for so long. They will leap with you. At few times in our history have the Philippine people had such an opportunity to build something more. It is not that we have much to lose if we refuse to act – if we act, we have so much to gain.

Again, Filipinos of courage, I implore you – reveal yourselves! Whether you are an established public figure, a simple everyman, or an idealistic youth, it does not matter – discover your courage once more. The fate of the Republic lies in your noble hands.

He has put to hazard his ease, his security, his interest, his power, even his … popularity …. He is traduced and abused…. He may live long, he may do much. But here is the summit. He never can exceed what he does this day.

– Edmund Burke in his eulogy for Charles J. Fox, House of Commons 1783. (The inspirational quote at the start of Profiles in Courage by John F. Kennedy)

23 Years After EDSA: A Reflection

We were exiles in our land — we, Filipinos, who are at home only in freedom — when Marcos destroyed the Republic fourteen years ago. Through courage and unity, through the power of the people, we are home again.

Twenty-three years ago tomorrow, President Corazon Aquino delivered these words of great hope and passion upon assuming the Philippines presidency in the wake of the 1986 People Power Revolution. The peaceful overthrow of the great tyrant, Ferdinand E. Marcos, sparked international curiosity and admiration. Oppressed peoples all over the world felt some of that same hope coursing through Filipino veins. When Aquino addressed a joint session of the United States Congress, the lawmakers, many clad in Aquino’s signature yellow, gave her a raucous ovation. TIME Magazine even named her 1986’s Person of the Year, writing that:

Whatever else happens in her rule, Aquino has already given her country a bright, and inviolate, memory. More important, she has also resuscitated its sense of identity and pride…. in February [1986], for a few extraordinary moments, the people of the Philippines proved their bravery to the world, and to themselves.

Twenty-three years later, EDSA One seems to be a distant memory. The great hope felt during that time is woefully absent from our hearts. The only stories found in international publications concerning the Philippines are about corruption, poverty, or Manny Pacquiao. The Philippines has once again been relegated to one of the “dustier corridors” of human consciousness.

Part of the blame lies with us. It seems that, caught up in the commotion of liberty and justice, we began to see freedom as an end rather than a means. After fifteen years of despotic rule, we were so enamored with our newfound freedom that we did not mind the responsibilities that freedom entails. Thus, the Philippines finds itself in an awkward adolescent phase, struggling to realize the potential instilled in itself by its rebirth twenty-three years ago. Once, a Filipino of great promise delivered this bold proclamation upon assuming a position of great power:

This nation can be great again. This I have said over and over…. This is your dream and mine. By your choice you have committed yourselves to it.

This proclamation came from none other than Marcos during his First Inaugural Address in 1965. Perhaps the biggest regret about Marcos should not be the wrongs he committed, but rather the good he could have done but did not. Before his Kurtzian transformation, Marcos seemed to possess the vision and sense of action that could have made the Philippines a premier Asian nation. That Marcos was consumed fully and totally by the heart of darkness is a sayang that stands alone in modern Philippine history.

In that same speech, Marcos claimed that the Filipino “had lost his soul.” This seems to be a thought shared by many – even Jose Rizal once said the Filipinos were “a people without a soul.” Yet truly, the Filipino does have a soul. It is a soul carved not from divine grace, but from oppression, disappointment, and injustice; it is a hearty soul, built to withstand the misfortunes so often thrown at it. It is a soul that makes the Filipino cynical by nature, but unquestionably durable; it is a soul that possesses infinite promise. With a tool as powerful as the Filipino soul at our disposal, we must take it upon ourselves to fulfill the greatness inherent in our nation and its people.

At the end of that First Inaugural Address, Marcos tasked the nation with this:

We must renew the vision of greatness for our country…. This is a vision that all of you share for our country’s future. It is a vision, which can, and should, engage the energies of the nation…. We must harness the wills and the hearts of all our people. We must find the secret chords, which turn ordinary men into heroes, mediocre fighters into champions…. Not one hero alone do I ask from you – but many; nay all, I ask all of you to be heroes of our nation…. Come then, let us march together towards the dream of greatness.

Thus is the challenge. Let us revive and fulfill this vision that Marcos identified, then subsequently destroyed. Only then will the legacy of the People Power Revolution be solidified– for then, the Filipino will truly be worthy of his freedom and his soul.

Mob Rule in the Philippines

Since President Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law in 1972, the Philippines has been ruled by an unelected leader for 23 of the past 36 years – Marcos (1972-1986), Corazon Aquino (1986-1992), and Gloria Macapagal Arroyo (2001-2004). The past 36 years of Philippine “democracy” have been rife with controversy, scandal, and chaos. Stable democracy in the Philippines has largely been a myth.

In the Philippines, mob rule is the name of the game.

The EDSA Revolutions of 1986 and 2001 are two of the most important events in Philippine history. Both, particularly EDSA I in 1986, are hailed as glorious triumphs of democracy. In fact, neither were truly democratic.

EDSA I can be excused despite being non-democratic. There was no democratic process through which the people could choose their leaders. There was no alternative to revolution. The fact that the transition of power was largely bloodless and relatively peaceful is a large credit to the Filipinos of that time.

The problem with EDSA I is that it set a dangerous precedent for destabilization and instability in the Philippine political system. Despite its correctness at the time, EDSA I was still undeniably an exercise of mob mentality – the whims of the three million Filipinos standing along Epifanio de los Santos Avenue decided the course of a country populated by over 80 million, meaning that less than 5% of Filipinos decided to overthrow Marcos.

EDSA II has little in common with EDSA I other than the street on which the “revolution” was centered. EDSA II was the realization of all the dangers set in place by EDSA I, a complete breakdown of the due process of law and Democracy. In hindsight, EDSA II was a hasty exercise of mob rule. The overthrow of President Joseph Estrada – a properly-elected president – without even the completion of the Senate impeachment trial was questionable, despite the allegations of corruption.

The most damaging legacy of Marcos may be the severe disruption he did to the democratic process of the Philippines. The tumultuous thing we have here masquerading as “democracy” can hardly be called that. Without reliable elections and more political stability, the Philippines can never be a truly democratic country.

The rising uproar over the attempts of Administration-allied Congressmen to make a “Charter Change” (Cha-Cha), which may potentially extend their terms and that of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo beyond the 2010 term cap, calls forth all these memories of political instability in the Philippines. If Cha-Cha somehow is passed into law, public outrage coupled with the intense unpopularity of President Arroyo could very well result in yet another EDSA Revolution.

If this is the case, the road to mature democracy in the Philippines will only grow much longer.

Radar Blip: Fast Food Delivery

The Philippines is a very service-oriented place. I knew this before I arrived, but I never realized just how far that would go. Nothing is do it yourself here. Maids and drivers are common. Each brand of boxer shorts at a department store has its own sales representative. Gas is full service. But perhaps the coolest thing is that fast food places deliver. I’m not talking just Pizza Hut (which ironically is a mid-level bistro eatery here), but McDonalds (which only delivers in the Manhattan portion of NYC in the US), as well as Filipino favorites like Goldilocks, Jollibee, Chow King, etc. So if you ever get a craving for fast food, no need to leave your front door. Just call the McDo across the street and they’ll get you your Big Mac in about half an hour!