His Excellency Benigno S. Aquino III
President of the Philippines
At the International Assembly and Conference of Rizal
[Delivered at the Centennial Ballroom, Manila Hotel on February 17, 2011]
Jose Rizal was a Renaissance man. He was a writer, a doctor, a scientist, a teacher, and a linguist. Had he chosen to live the life of a rich ilustrado without a care in the world, he could have done so comfortably.
And yet our national hero could not ignore what was happening to his beloved Philippines, suffering under the yoke of a colonial power that had oppressed and exploited his people. So he turned his back on a quiet uneventful life and instead dedicated himself to righting the wrongs he saw around him.
I suppose it would belabor the point for me to tell you that what Rizal identified as the cancers of this society have not been fully healed. A quick look at our country will make us realize—there are also many of us who remain hungry, uneducated, homeless, and deprived of access to basic human rights. After so many revolutions, against so many different tyrants, we are led to question: Have we truly achieved freedom? Is this what our national hero envisioned?
But perhaps the more important question is: Are you, as Knights of Rizal, and as citizens of this country, doing what you can to address these problems, the way our national hero once did?
The real reason we are gathered here is not just because of an anniversary, not just because of history, but also because of the fact that we must remember and reignite the ideals that our national hero Jose Rizal gave his entire life to. Today is a reminder of the tasks that lay ahead of all of us.
The Knights of Rizal have done their fair share in this. By encouraging our youth to become new Rizals, to work beyond borders, and to innovate across sectors, your annual Rizal Youth Leadership program is just one example of the many ways in which you have fulfilled your part in our collective responsibilities as Filipinos. But again, today’s celebration tells us that we must not relent—that as you had formed the honor guard in Rizal’s burial in 1912, you continue to form the honor guard of his memory. You are supposed to be teachers of his ethics, defenders of his patriotism, and living examples of his belief in civic participation. You are knights; complete with ranks and insignia, which are recognized by the Honors code of the Philippines as official awards of the Republic, and if you hold strong and continue your dedicated work, and if each and every person in this country does the same, then we will forge further onward into being the Philippines that Jose Rizal once dreamed of, that all of us continue to dream of.
By this I mean: do not waver, do not stray from the straight and righteous path, and know that you are not alone. This is the same commitment I continue to ask of every Filipino I meet, every partner in rebuilding this nation. It is also the same commitment I give for the next five and a half years as a leader, as a citizen of this republic borne out of the sacrifice of so many of our ancestors, among them a doctor from Calamba.
One of the famous anecdotes about Rizal is that when the Spanish doctor took his pulse before his execution, the doctor was surprised to see that he was perfectly calm. This is the power of knowing that one is doing the right thing, of having a clear conscience, and we must learn from this. Each and every Filipino must see that the old way of doing things in the darkness of corruption and deceit has been banished by the broad light of day that has shined on this country once more. We have returned to the much older, much more classical, and much nobler ideals of our heroes—the ideals of honesty, transparency, and nationalism. The Filipino people can dream again. Finally, we can stay true to and fulfill the responsibilities that our heroes have passed onto our shoulders. Finally, under this newfound daylight, we can rebuild this country; we can bequeath to our children a Philippines finally rid of the cancer that has plagued it for centuries, a Philippines that is truly free.