By former President Corazon C. Aquino
Speech delivered at the Joint MBC-MAP General Membership Meeting and PinoyME 2nd Anniversary
February 26, 2008

Yesterday, we marked the anniversary of the remarkable People Power revolution that ushered in a new era of hope for our nation. Twenty-two years ago, we began the arduous task of reviving the democratic institutions that the Marcos dictatorship had destroyed.

And it is with shame and sadness that we today revisit those institutions in the same state of disrepair: an executive branch wielding tremendous power and patronage, unchecked by a largely subservient legislature; an electoral process so prone to manipulation; a military and a bureaucracy that are highly politicized; a system of governance utterly lacking in transparency and accountability.

Worst of all, we seem so hard-pressed to express a collective sense of moral outrage at the wanton abuse of power at the highest levels of government. Twenty-two years after EDSA I, how can we tolerate a president of doubtful legitimacy who can brazenly stonewall the search for truth and who can routinely intimidate dissenters, journalists, businessmen and ordinary citizens with impunity?

Has People Power passed away out of sheer weariness and frustration at the seeming futility of trying to make our democracy work? The cynics, mocking our inability to assemble the numbers which would approximate the legions that swelled our protest rallies in the mid-1980s, would like us to think just that. But perhaps they are looking in the wrong direction.

If there is anything that the past 22 years have taught us, it is the realization that People Power must start from within. The potential for greatness of every Filipino needs to be cultivated before true strength in numbers can be realized for our nation. People Power resides inside each of us, waiting to be unleashed to trigger a chain reaction that would transform the fabric of our society.

Those four memorable days in February 1986 gave us a glimpse of what that latent power can achieve. Filipinos from all walks of life abandoned all concern for personal interest and safety to gather at EDSA to pray, to care, to share, to give one another a measure of comfort and courage at a most perilous time. In the face of such solidarity, not even fully armed soldiers and tanks could turn the democratic tide.

Unfortunately this internal, moral dimension of People Power got overwhelmed by the manifold exigencies of restoring democracy. All too soon, most Filipinos began reverting to their old ways — putting the interest of self and family above that of the national community. And we are now paying the price, perhaps, for having failed to cultivate a counter-culture of giving, compassion and spirituality in a more deliberate way.

Today, we are suffering a severe moral crisis that permeates every level of our society. Mr. Jun Lozada gave us a graphic description of how low our state of governance has sunk when he talked about “permissible zones” for kickbacks on public projects and how he had been instructed “to moderate the greed” of the favored proponents of the ZTE-NBN deal.

As discomfiting as it may be to hear such words uttered during a live telecast of a Senate hearing, virtually none of us can feign shock at these revelations. That’s because many of us are inured to a culture of malfeasance and are partly to blame for allowing such depths of corruption to persist.

Like Mr. Lozada, we are all imperfect human beings with our share of weaknesses and faults, big and small. But how many of us are willing to undergo the individual transformation from which social change can begin? How many of us can muster the courage to confront ourselves, to rise above the culture that shaped us — for better or for worse — and may have warped our sense of values?

Only by willing ourselves to change can we achieve the moral clarity to tell our children: “This culture of corruption is unacceptable! You and future generations of Filipinos deserve a society far better than this.” Only at this point would our collective outrage rise like a tidal wave to wash away the rotten foundations of our society.

The cynics among us might view this as unabashed idealism. After all, Dr. Jose Rizal said practically the same thing through Padre Florentino in El Filibusterismo, and Filipinos then and now did not seem to take heed. But there is hope germinating in the most unlikely of places.

Over the last two and a half years, I have had the privilege of drawing inspiration from ordinary Filipinos, who amid the squalor in some of our poorest communities, lead far more honorable lives than the high and mighty among us. They are mostly mothers trying to carve out an honest living through micro-enterprises. They are silently working themselves out of poverty, saving up to put their children through school and slowly improving their quality of life. And they are doing so with a cheerful spirituality that puts to shame those of us who have so much more in life, yet gripe from day to day. And to each and every mother in these communities, the path of hope begins, incredibly, with a micro-loan of P5,000 or less.

This is yet another manifestation of the internal dimension of People Power: ordinary Filipinos recovering dignity in the midst of poverty by dint of hard and decent work. Servicing these extraordinary mothers is a small army of microfinance institutions (MFIs) who need external support to harness their full potential in disadvantaged communities across the country.

This was how PinoyME — short for Filipino micro-enterprise — was born two years ago. A social consortium, which brought together some of the best minds and stoutest hearts in the private sector and civil society, was convened to see how best to help MFIs broaden their reach and enhance the breadth and quality of their financial services for the poor. As explained by Mr. Manny Pangilinan earlier, the consortium zeroed in on four areas of strategic intervention — resource mobilization, capacity-building, business development services and knowledge management — that could take MFIs, along with a critical mass of their clients, to the next level.

In addition, these four areas of intervention offer avenues by which other sectors and individuals could pitch in to make the microfinance industry more vibrant and robust. These avenues could range from seasoned bankers providing financial advice to MFIs to corporations lending their marketing expertise, from universities filling the urgent need for more loan officers to IT firms or departments helping organize a rich and useful database for micro-enterprises. This highlights another facet of People Power: bridging those with talent and resources to a sector that services our most needy countrymen in a sustained and widespread spirit of sharing.

The overall strategy also underscores the painstaking and deliberate process it would take to strengthen our democracy at the base. This serves to remind us that People Power is not about quick fixes. It is about bringing people from all walks of life together to build our nation and, by their joint effort, to cultivate shared pride in being Filipino. Ultimately, that is what PinoyME, as the Taglish idiom suggests, is all about.

Our long-term vision is to help change the shape of our socio-economic structure from a pyramid with a wide base of impoverished Filipinos to a diamond with an expanded middle class of empowered and more politically mature citizens.

As a first step toward realizing this vision, the consortium in February 2006 launched a program to raise P5 billion to empower five million Filipinos — approximating the number of families living below the poverty line — in five years.

Five billion pesos — by our financial experts’ calculations, that is the minimum amount it would take to gradually ramp up lending so that MFIs can increase their coverage to five million clients by 2011. Just think about that for a moment: five billion pesos — even less than the figure purported to represent the kickback in a single government transaction — can go a long way in empowering hundreds of thousands of our countrymen along a sustainable path out of poverty.

Given the scores, perhaps hundreds, of government transactions which have escaped public scrutiny and funneled billions in people’s money into corrupt hands, one wonders who is really sabotaging the economy and keeping millions of Filipinos poor.

Even as we take deliberate steps to empower our disenfranchised countrymen and to strengthen our institutions, therefore, we cannot turn a blind eye to what is happening at the highest levels of our government and our society. Let us heed the call for discernment and, together, act with a sense of moral purpose and urgency.

Our guiding light should not be an obsession to evict the President from Malacanang. Given our concern to protect the pillars of our democracy, the extra-constitutional removal of the President is not an ideal we would want to aspire for. But in an environment where abuse of power, in the face of weak democratic institutions, closes all doors of legitimate redress, sadly, we are too often pushed to the brink. That is why the most noble — and least disruptive — way out of the moral crisis would be for the President to resign from office.

These critical times call for strong moral leadership, which clearly she is no longer in a position to provide. She must give way to a credible government that can lead by example. Our country needs leaders who can inspire our people to work and seize opportunities, pay their taxes and together build a good society that every Filipino would feel proud to be part of.

We cannot afford to turn another generation of Filipinos into cynical folk who would eschew responsible citizenship in favor of playing the game of corruption and patronage politics and resigning themselves to the impossibility of fundamental change in government and society.

Rizal, again through Padre Florentino, said it best: “To an immoral government belongs a demoralized people.”

Let us not allow this to come to pass.

Long live People Power! Support PinoyME! Mabuhay ang Pilipino!

Isang e-zine para sa mga kabataang Pilipino ang Naglalathala ito ng mga personal na sanaysay, tula, dula, maikling kuwento, balita at lathalain, komentaryo tungkol sa pambansang usapin, at iba...

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