In 1995, I was the Chief Legal Counsel of President Fidel Ramos. At the same time, I was also a Member of the UP Board of Regents. I was thus privileged to be present during the birth of UP Mindanao in 1995, and to have helped the Davaoenos I credit most for the birth of UP Mindanao – the late Congressman Elias Lopez and the UP Alumni of Davao City.
Allow me then to thank you – the Centennial Class of 2008 – for inviting me here to your graduation. I am truly happy and honored to address you this morning.
I wish to congratulate you – the graduates, with special mention to the honor graduates – for this defining moment in your life. Your long and arduous journey – burning the midnight oil amidst all kinds of personal and financial problems – has finally brought you to this triumph, your graduation ceremony in this 100th year of the University of the Philippines. This day will remain etched in your memory for the rest of your life.
This is your special day – so celebrate this great achievement you have earned through toil, tears and sweat. Savor this rite of passage, which is one of the great milestones in your life. Will all the graduates please give themselves a big round of applause?
If you look back in your life, you can trace your successful journey to this place because of the people sitting behind you – your parents and elders. They sacrificed so much – they scrimped, saved, and even borrowed money – to see you receive your diploma today. You may call yourselves mga iskolar ng bayan, but you are first and foremost scholars of your parents and elders. So may I ask the Class of 2008 to give their parents and elders a warm round of applause?
You also owe a debt of gratitude to your professors whose labor of love gave you the best education you can have. They taught you to think critically. They challenged you to do your best. I always remain thankful to my professors. You too will forever remain indebted to your professors. Let us give your professors a warm round of applause.
I used to teach at the UP College of Law not so long ago. I remember the story about how long one hour can be. A student wrote on his exam notebook, “My dear professor: If I have only one hour to live, I will spend it in your class listening to your lecture.” Of course, the professor was tickled pink, until he read the next page where the student explained, “An hour of your lecture seems an eternity.”
Therefore, I will speak for less than a quarter of an hour this morning.
Search for the Truth
Lately, our nation is again preoccupied with one of the most basic yearnings of man since the dawn of time – the search for the truth. This is the bread-and-butter of any University – indeed a University exists to search for the truth. Now and then, the search for the truth becomes a pronounced national concern, and the values that we hold dear as a free and democratic society – transparency of public transactions, accountability of public officials, and access to information on matters of public concern – suddenly hang in the balance.
If the truth is suppressed, we feel threatened that our values as a people are being destroyed. However, I have faith that the truth will eventually triumph and that is what counts in this world. The established order often rejects or hides the truth, but ends up engulfed by the truth. The truth has an ironic way of fighting back and emerging victorious.
In 1633, Galileo, a mathematics teacher at the University of Pisa, taught that the earth moves around the sun. The Inquisition convicted Galileo of heresy because his teaching contradicted the Vatican’s belief that the earth never moves. The Vatican forced Galileo to recant, placed him under house arrest for life, and banned his books. Of course, Galileo’s teaching triumphed and he is now recognized as the father of modern science. More than 350 years later, in 1992, Pope John Paul II expressed regret for the persecution of Galileo, and officially conceded that the earth was not stationary.
In 2001, during the impeachment trial of former President Joseph Estrada, the Senate refused to open the second envelope that supposedly contained information on the Jose Velarde bank account. In the eyes of the nation, the truth was inside that envelope. The Senate’s refusal to open the envelope triggered a mass action in EDSA that brought down the President. Ironically, the prosecution did not even have to present in evidence the second envelope during the plunder trial of President Estrada.
The truth liberates us from fear and hatred. A young black girl appeared before the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The police had killed her father, mutilated and burned the body. The police harassed her and her mother. After she told her story, the Truth Commission asked if she was willing to forgive those who killed her father. The young girl replied, “Yes, my mother and I would like to forgive them. We just want to know who to forgive.” This explains the African word Ubuntu. The young girl was saying, “I am in this situation because of what we all are. I just need to know the truth to forgive and to move on with my life.” Indeed, the truth brings out the humanity in us.
Recently, our nation struggled to find out the truth about the National Broadband Network Project. You may not be happy with the outcome but do not despair for the story does not end there. In the end, the truth will see the light of day.
When I joined the Ramos Administration in 1992 as Presidential Legal Counsel, the best advice I got was from the then National Security Adviser, General Jose Almonte. He told me, “Stick to the truth. You will never go wrong.” This struck me because it came from someone supposed to be obsessed with secrecy.
And this advice, which has steered me away from many troubles, I shall pass on to the Class of 2008. Always stick to the truth and you will never go wrong. The digital world is flat and information spills and spreads instantly and horizontally in all directions. The little lies that you tell will be digitized, saved, indexed, and stored for all the world to browse, google, email, blog, download, and print. So when you write your resumes, be truthful even if you cannot fill up one sheet of paper.
Improving Productivity and Skills
What does a judge or justice like me do? I apply the law to settle disputes so that justice may be done. By law I mean the Constitution, existing statutes passed by the legislature since the American regime, and decisions of the Supreme Court since 1901. That will probably fill up a library and many judges do not even have a library. Many judges do not even receive copies of Supreme Court decisions until after one or two years, when the Supreme Court Printing Office publishes the new volumes of the Philippine Reports.
When I was still in the private practice of law, I had in the hard disk of my notebook computer all the laws and decisions since 1901. I had a search engine that allowed a full-text search and retrieval of the laws and decisions. So if I type a word or phrase, like habeas corpus, in seconds I have on my computer screen all the laws and decisions containing the phrase habeas corpus. I can then cut and paste the passages I need into the document I am working on. What used to take me weeks to research took me less than an hour with my search engine.
After I joined the Supreme Court in 2001, I volunteered to set up the Supreme Court E-Library. My vision was simple: when writing a decision, every judge in the country should have at his or her fingertips all the laws and decisions of the land. So I put up two electronic libraries: The first is a web-based E-Library using the web-based version of my search engine, and the second is a Compact Disc E-Library using the desktop version of my search engine. The cost of all the software, which I simply downloaded from the vendor’s site, was less than P300,000. In just eight months I was able to launch the first web-based, full-text search and retrieval electronic library in the Philippines, and one of the first among the judiciaries in Asia.
Right now, any judge anywhere in the country has two ways of accessing the E-Library. If the judge has an Internet connection, the judge can go, any time of the day, to the E-Library website of the Supreme Court. We upload to the E-Library website the Supreme Court decisions within 48 hours from promulgation. If the judge has no Internet connection, the judge can use the two Compact Discs that we send by registered mail to all judges in the country. We update the Compact Discs twice a year. It costs us less than P12 to make one Compact Disc copy. Before the existence of the E-Library, we used to ship volumes of books to judges. Now, we send only two Compact Discs.
An SWS survey taken before the E-Library was set-up showed that a majority of the judges did not receive copies of the latest decisions of the Supreme Court. When another survey was taken one year after the E-Library was set-up, the situation had turned around – a majority of the judges received copies of the latest decisions of the Supreme Court. Of course, the judge, especially if an old one, may not be the one actually using the computer but his or her clerk or researcher. But no judge can now complain that he or she does not have access to the laws and decisions.
I recount to you this to stress two things. First, every profession or work today will enjoy a quantum leap in efficiency and productivity if technology is applied. This is true even for ancient professions or work like the law. Second, technology does not have to be expensive. I remember the director of a government agency telling me that they spent over a hundred million pesos to set-up their electronic library, and theirs is not even a full text search but only a bibliographic search. Our cost in setting up the Supreme Court E-Library was a pittance compared to that.
In your own profession, work or business, always be on the look out for new ways of achieving greater efficiency and productivity at the least cost. That is how you will survive and even get ahead of your competition. Tap the information in the World Wide Web, but keep a healthy skepticism about such information because they are not always correct and they may even mislead you.
Your graduation today is not the end of your education. This is a Commencement Exercise and to commence is to begin – you are about to begin educating yourself without the help of your professors. You are your own teacher now, and your classroom is the World Wide Web. You must also read the latest books on your chosen career. If six months from today the last book you would have read is your textbook in college, then you are failing in your post-graduate self-education.
To survive and prosper in a highly competitive world, you have to continuously sharpen your skills and present yourself as among the best globally. In this global economy, you are not competing with your classmates or neighbors, but with the new graduates in other parts of the world. Have no fear – this global competition can be fun, exciting and rewarding too.
The Hope of Mindanao
In 1994, when the late Congressman Elias Lopez told me that the time had come to establish UP Mindanao, I readily agreed to join him in making a final push to convince President Ramos and the UP Board of Regents to make UP Mindanao a reality. I had two reasons for doing so.
First, Mindanao had long suffered from a brain drain because many of its bright students who studied in Manila never returned to Mindanao. I believed it was time to stop this brain drain so that the bright students of Mindanao will stay in Mindanao to develop its economy and resources. Second, I hoped that UP Mindanao, located in Davao City where I was born, could eventually evolve into the leading university in the East Asia Growth Area.
Thus, as I address you, I see before me the hope of Mindanao, the new generation that will build on where the previous generation has left off. The task ahead may be daunting, but not insurmountable. Thirteen years ago, the grounds of this campus were farmland, and despite meager resources, the pioneers of UP Mindanao, through sheer hard work, perseverance and good administration, have gradually transformed these grounds into an academic place of learning worthy of the name of the University of the Philippines.
In the early 1980s, Davao City itself was in economic stagnation because of the precarious peace and order situation. Many of its residents left for abroad. Investors shied away. I felt sad every time I came home to visit my parents. But those who remained worked harder, persevered more, and never wavered. The city government, with the support of the people, fulfilled its primordial duty of maintaining peace and order. Today, less than 15 years later, Davao City is a modern, progressive and bustling metropolis.
It takes less than 15 years to turn around a city and even an entire country. In the 1980s, we looked at the stagnant economies of China and India as hopeless cases – with their billion-level population, centralized or highly regulated economy, and aversion to foreign investments. Less than 15 years later, China and India have become economic powerhouses, highly competitive, and investor friendly.
We, too, can turn Mindanao or even our country into an economic powerhouse in less than 15 years, through hard work, perseverance and good governance. What is important is that you build and improve on what the previous generation has left you.
In your case, you are entering an economy that while not prosperous, is nevertheless slowly growing. Other generations before you were not as fortunate. Many of the problems the nation face today are not insurmountable. Often what is needed is simply knowing the problem and showing political will.
Before 1993, it took Metro Manilans several years, sometimes 15 years, to get a telephone line. Most Filipinos in the provinces could not even hope to get a telephone line in their lifetime. Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore described our telecommunications system at that time in this manner: “99% of Filipinos are waiting for telephones and the other 1% are waiting for dial tones.” It was national humiliation.
As Presidential Legal Counsel, I advised President Ramos that the solution was simple and did not need budgetary appropriation or legislation, but only required political will because the existing monopoly would fiercely resist the solution. I recommended to the President to issue an Executive Order mandating existing telecom companies like PLDT to interconnect with any new company that entered the telecoms industry. The President issued the Executive Order and new companies, like Globe and Smart, rushed to enter the industry. Competition became intense among the telecom companies. Telecom companies offered instant connection through cellular phones, sometimes with free handsets. In Metro Manila, telecom companies could install landlines in less than two weeks.
Of course, I was viciously attacked in the press by those who lost their privileged monopoly. But it was a small price to pay to see a fisherman in Basilan call with his cell phone the fish vendor in Zamboanga City to ask for the current market price of lapu-lapu. That is how the country became connected during the Ramos Administration.
The same thing happened in our then creaky and inefficient shipping industry. I recommended to the President to abolish, through an Executive Order, the so-called “prior operator rule” in the shipping industry. The “prior operator rule” was an administrative rule devised to favor existing operators by giving them a first refusal option to put up new ships that any new company proposes to deploy. In short, the “prior operator rule” gave existing shipping companies a veto power over those who wish to compete with them. The President issued the Executive Order abolishing the “prior operator rule” and soon we saw new super ferries and ro-ros plying the sea-lanes.
I recount to you this to illustrate that while the problems facing your generation may appear overwhelming, the solutions are often simple and may require only common sense. What is difficult is to summon the political will to apply the simple solutions to long festering problems. You do not need capital or technology to have political will. It is a matter of personal perseverance and determination.
I close to say to the Centennial Class of 2008 – always stick to the truth, look for innovative ways to keep on improving your productivity, sharpen your skills continuously, and as the hope of the next generation, persevere with utmost determination, and build and improve on what the previous generation has left you.
Maraming salamat. Mabuhay tayong lahat!