COMMENTARY: Keeping Rizal alive in us

By Aldwin Chester Yap Dumago

(Acceptance Speech delivered during the Awarding Ceremony of the 2011 Search for Jose Rizal Model Students of the Philippines at the Order of the Knights of Rizal Headquarters, City of Manila, on 30 December 2011.)

Like Dr. Jose Rizal, we are all dreamers.

I believe this is a dream come true for all the finalists of this year’s search. From our group sharing session last night, I can conclude that it was never a smooth journey for all of us to reach this far.

As for me, I have always wished that one day I will become one of the ten Jose Rizal Model Students of the Philippines. The most recent winner from Ateneo de Davao University was Cristyl Mae Senajon who ranked third in 2007. After reading a newspaper article about her victory, I told myself “I will also win that title.” Three days ago, while I was waiting for my turn to be interviewed, I chanced upon the 10 trophies displayed on the left corner. I went closer then carried the biggest trophy. I asked myself, “How will I be able to bring this home?” And the rest is history.

Being the first from Mindanao region and the first from Ateneo de Davao University to be conferred the title of “Most Outstanding Jose Rizal Model Students of the Philippines” in the 24-year history of the search is indeed a great honor and a privilege. What makes it more special is that this year, we are commemorating the 150th birth anniversary and the 115th anniversary of the martyrdom of Dr. Jose Rizal. This gathering also happens to be the first centennial commemorative program of the Order of the Knights of Rizal. For these reasons, I am truly humbled and grateful for this recognition.

To be nominated by the university to this search is a rare opportunity. To be selected in the top 20 finalists is a testament of years of hard work and dedication in college. To be one of the top 10 outstanding students is a blessing from God. To emerge as the most outstanding among the best students in the country is a greater challenge. It is a personal challenge to continually exemplify the values that our national hero has upheld in his lifetime.

Wika nga ng ating pambansang bayani, “Ang kabataan ang pag-asa ng bayan.” Maka-ilang beses ko na itong narinig pero ngayon lang ito nagkaroon ng mas malalim na kahulugan. Halos kalahati ng populasyon ng Pilipinas ay mga kabataan. Kung lahat ng kabataang Pilipino ay may malasakit sa sariling bayan, hindi malayong umunlad at lumago ang bansang ito. Sino pa ba ang magmamahal at magtatanggol sa ating bayan kundi tayo-tayo rin?

To every one of you present here today, I would like to make one simple request. Can we all be proud of the Philippines? Can we not be ashamed of what we are as a nation and who we are as a people? This is our one and only home. If we learn to love our country, all else will fall into place. I believe this is the best way to honor Dr. Jose Rizal. After all, he died for his unconditional love for motherland. Dr. Rizal is one of the very few greatest men in the world whose existence comes once in every century. We may not be as brilliant as him, but in our own little way as Filipinos, we, too, can be like Dr. Rizal. Who knows? The next President, Vice President, Chief Justice and other leaders of the country will come from this batch of awardees! Only time can tell. In fact, my colleagues here call me Chief Justice because they say that I look like Chief Justice Renato Corona!

Sa mga kapwa ko kalahok sa patimpalak na ito, sana’y huwag tayong mapagod sa paglilingkod sa ating kapwa at sa bayan. Mangahas tayong mangarap ng magandang kinabukasan para sa bansang Pilipinas. Patuloy natin isabuhay ang mga pangaral ng ating pambansang bayani. Hindi kaya ng isang tao na tulungan ang lahat. Pero kaya ng lahat na tumulong sa nakararami. Lahat tayo may magagawa. Hangga’t may Pilipinong nangangarap at nagsisikap para sa isang magandang Pilipinas, mabubuhay ang alaala ng ating pambansang bayani. Dahil kung hindi, gugulatin ka na lang ng kamatayan na wala kang ginagawa.

In the last three days, I have learned a lot about Dr. Rizal thru books, photos, artifacts, and a visit to Fort Santiago where he spent his last days. The national hero that I once knew from my History classes since elementary is now larger than life. We remember the life and works of Rizal. Together we move forward as one people and one nation guided by the inspiration of Rizal and with the grace of the Lord.

I wish to share this award to the 19 other finalists in this year’s search: Ken, Mitz, Cla, Cienna, Aileen, Mark, Jun, Howard, RJ, JC, Kenneth, John, Jam, Yanglee, Rem, Zaldy, Mikko, Bert and Cabe. Thank you very much for the friendship that we have shared in the last three days. Truly, I am in awe of your life stories which are very inspiring. This awarding ceremony marks the beginning of our lifelong commitment to become not just model students but also model Filipinos.

I would also like to share this award to the administrators, faculty and students of Ateneo de Davao University. It is in this Jesuit University that I have learned to embrace values like cura personalis (being men and women for others) and magis (excellence). These are two values which my fellow Atenean, Dr. Rizal, have personified.

To the organizers and judges of this year’s search for Jose Rizal Model Students of the Philippines, thank you very much for this recognition. I will forever cherish this.

Justice Torres, you have my assurance that I will serve mankind in any way that I can.

Above all, to the Almighty Father, who never fails to show his love, mercy and grace, this recognition is heaven sent.

Isang malaking karangalan po na maging Pilipino. Taas-noo kong ipagmamalaki sa buong mundo ang lahing Pilipino.

Mabuhay si Gat. Jose Rizal.
Mabuhay ang kabataang Pilipino.
Mabuhay ang Pilipinas.
Maraming, maraming salamat po.

[Aldwin Chester Yap Dumago is the former president of the Samahan Central Board, the student council of the Ateneo de Davao University.]