BISAG UNSA: Building a nation worthy of the Filipinos

(Speech delivered on the 75th Commemoration of the Araw ng Kagitingan at the Veterans Memorial Park, Davao City, 9 April 2017, with the theme Tungo sa Bayan na nararapat sa mga Pilipino, mga Pilipino na nararapat sa Bayan.)

Hon. Mayor Inday Sarah Duterte, Honorable Members s of the Sangguniang Panlungsod, officers and members of the City Government, officers and members of the sponsoring organizations of this gathering, our honorees – the World War 11 Veterans, their relatives, guests, friends, ladies, and gentlemen, Good Morning.

I am greatly honored to be invited to talk on the 75th commemoration of the Araw ng Kagitingan and to join everybody in paying respects to our departed heroes and the surviving veterans of the 2nd World War. My view of the history of our country is one of endless struggle for independence and freedom– three hundred years against Spain, forty years against the USA, and four years against Japan.

That is why, in my vocabulary, any Filipino who fought against our colonizers is a hero, and those who fought the Japanese during the 2nd World War fall under this category. Mabuhi ang atong mga veteran.

I take great pleasure in noting that we are commemorating the bravery of our veterans in this particular spot – the Veterans Memorial Park. This used to be called Clifford Park, named after Lt. Thomas Edgar Clifford Jr, an American regimental commander who died in Tamugan at the close of the war against Japan. It is alright to recognize Americans who fought side by us with us against Japan, but first and foremost, we must recognize and honor our own heroes. Our own Filipino heroes who fought for our freedom across the centuries.

And there are thousands of them, hundreds of thousands of heroes who resisted foreign conquerors throughout our history. And Davao has plenty of them. Unfortunately in Davao, they remain unknown. Our most known historical figure is Datu Bago, and he remains controversial because of the confusion about who is to be considered a Filipino hero.

To repeat my definition, any Filipino who fought foreign invaders is a hero, no ifs, no buts. Datu Bago stands tall among them because he kept the Davao tradition of fighting off foreign incursions, so that the Davao Gulf region would be the last territory to be occupied by the Spaniards.

Davao is, indeed, a “cradle of noble heroes.” For you can only keep Davao free if the entire people cooperate to resist foreign aggression. After being conquered, Davaoenos continued the fight to become free. Many uprisings during the different colonial eras are recorded in Davao. In fact, Davao has earned the distinction of being the only region that has succeeded in killing two District Governors of our colonizers.

In 1861, the people of Bincungan, Liboganon killed the Spanish Davao District Governor Jose Pinzon y Purga. In 1906, Lumad hero Mangulayon killed American Davao District Governor Lt. Edward C. Bolton in Malita.

But the heroic deeds of our local heroes are not mentioned in our history books. Many of us do not know their names. Not knowing our heroes and their deeds is not knowing our history. A people who do not know their history have nowhere to go. There is clearly a need to retrieve our heroes from oblivion so we can honor them properly for fighting for our country.

That is why our celebration today is very important. We are recognizing and honoring our own Filipino heroes who fought during the 2nd World War. I see some names in the Programme. I hope at some future date, we will read their biographies and that they will be mentioned in some book that will tell of their deeds.

Our history shows that we were defeated many times, but we also won some battles. We commemorate our defeats because they teach us lessons, but more importantly, we must celebrate our victories, and honor our very own heroes because they are the source of our inspiration to make our nation “nararapat sa mga Pilipino, at mga Pilipino na nararapat sa Bayan. (A nation worthy of the Filiipinos, and Filipinos worthy of the country.)

This is the new challenge facing us. We may have driven out foreign troops, but we still have a long way to go to make our country a better place for the Filipino people. We know the grave problems that continue to drag our country down. And we must continue to struggle to achieve our vision of a country that is developed and prosperous.

At this stage of our history, new battle lines have been drawn, calling on us to take sides – hopefully the side for the common good. Three major fronts have been opened up: the social front, the political front, and the economic front.

On the social front, there’s the war on drugs, criminality, and corruption. This war has the support of our people, but the success of this war will come to nothing unless we also wage war against war on the political front. That is, we must instead wage peace. For over four decades, the politics of “total war,” and “all-out war” have failed to solve the rebellion of the Bangsamoro and the New People’s Army. Mindanao continues to bleed, our country continues to bleed– unnecessarily wasting lives and resources that could have been put to better use. We need to rethink the war strategy. We must instead develop strategies of peace so that peace will finally prevail in our land to address more serious economic problems.

The social and political stability of our country is a precondition for the success of our war on the economic front. Last year, a conservative estimate of our unemployed labor force was 2 million, while our underemployed stood at 7 million. According to the Asian Development Bank, 25% of our population lives below the poverty line – that’s 25 million people, 8 million of whom are food poor, living in extreme poverty.

This dismal situation is not “nararapat sa mga Pilipino.” What is worthy of the Filipinos is a nation that is prosperous and progressive. We need new soldiers, warriors, and heroes who will wage war against unemployment, against poverty, against hunger, against underdevelopment. We must create wealth. We must make, build, manufacture, develop, and innovate. We must industrialize, we must increase trade and commerce.

We commemorate the 75th Araw ng Kagitingan to honor our heroes and veteran who fought for our country’s freedom. They are our inspiration. The best way to honor them is to continue their fight so that we will achieve total freedom–freedom from hunger and freedom from poverty and make our nation “nararapat sa mga Pilipino.” Mabuhi ang atong mga beterano. Daghang salamat.