Commencement Speech: UP Mindanao graduation, 22 April 2006

Speech delivered by Dr. Jose M.
Tiongco at the 9th Commencement Exercises of the
University of the Philippines in Mindanao, 22 April
2006).

Were I to introduce myself, I would present a simple
country bumpkin of a doctor, a surgeon who was born
and raised in Mindanao. And will die here too. And
that would probably be soon, if I do not finally learn
in my old age to keep my mouth shut.

I have gone around the world a few times and talked to
quite a number of people of different races, people of
different cultural, economic and educational
backgrounds. And this is not the first time that I am
speaking to a UP audience. But I get goose bumps every
time I find myself in a UP institution. It is not easy
to talk to UP people. I should know that. I come from
UP myself.  You can always tell a UP graduate from
those of the other Universities. You would generally
be looking at a person who is multi-talented,
multi-tasked, interesting, interested, articulate,
efficient, effective, competent, self assured, and
eager to learn more; even if you understandably would
also have to deal with a certain palpable cockiness.
Would you agree?

But if there were a Jesuit in the audience today, he
will probably rise up to say that I am really
describing an Ateneo person as well! I have been with
the Ateneo much, much longer than I had been with UP.
And I would have to agree, especially on the cockiness
part. But I will argue that it is in the University of
the Philippines that the student acquires on top of
all that I described, a sense of Nationalism, of
cultural identity, and a burning sense of outrage at
the historical and present oppression of our country
and our people.

And this is what UP is really known for. Would you
agree?

Yes. I can attest to that, having graduated 35 years
ago from the University of the Philippines College of
Medicine in Manila. And those were the times in our
nation’s history when the UP students hurled
themselves at the Marcos military in the cities and in
the countryside to tell them and the rest of the world
that they would rather die than tolerate oppression.

That was 35 years ago. And today I often wonder what
happened. How could such a pure and pristine movement
that wore the invincible armor of love of country and
resistance against fascism degenerate after all those
years into the tattered rags of banditry, extortion
and opportunism?

Those who were fortunate enough to die in the struggle
have remained true to the cause. But that cannot be
said for the unfortunate many who survived. For one
can now see quite a number of them carving out their
opulent lifestyles in USA, paying only lip service to
the sufferings here in the Philippines. And those who
have decided to stay in the Philippines can now be
seen walking the corridors of power, integral parts of
the system they had previously fought against and
wished to destroy.

What started out with a bang has now ended with a
pitiful whimper, if not with the clink and clatter of
thirty pieces of silver.

Is our history really meant to be this way?

In a couple of years, the University of the
Philippines System, the most venerable educational
institution in the country will be celebrating its
centennial.

How would history judge UP in the last one hundred
years? If the long suffering people of the Philippines
were to examine the University of the Philippines
System and grade its performance for the country in
the last 100 years, would the UP pass or fail the
examination?

Or to put it bluntly and more graphically, if the
President of the University of the Philippines System
were to be dragged kicking and screaming into a
people’s court to account for the one hundred years
the blood sweat and tears of the poor people of the
Philippines were used to support UP as the citadel of
the True, the Good and the Beautiful in the country,
would she be able to give an answer that will be
acceptable to the tubercular stevedore in Sasa wharf
who eats only once a day and whose children sit in
malnourished stupor by the roadside?

Can she answer for the fact that up to 90% of the
graduates of the UP College of Medicine are serving
the Americans and not the Filipinos who sacrificed for
their education and training?

Can she answer for the fact that even as the graduates
of UP College of Law top the Bar every year, the halls
of Congress in the Philippines are filled with UP
lawyers who use their legal gobbledygook to pass laws
favorable to the multinational business industries in
the country and detrimental to the poor in the
Philippines?  Can she justify why justice in the
Philippines is officially and unofficially for sale
and is out of the reach of the ordinary Filipino who
lives below poverty level?

Can she answer for the fact that the graduates from
the UP College of Agriculture in Los Banos devastate
hundreds of thousands of hectares of prime land in
Mindanao growing bananas, pineapples and oil palm for
the transnational industries while the Philippines
must still import the Filipinos’ basic needs in rice
and sugar?

Can she answer for the fact that UP Geologists and
Mining Engineers ravage our mountains and soil our
pristine streams, our rivers and our seas and
irreparably harm the environment and the health of our
indigenous tribes and people as they extract minerals
and precious metals for foreign business concerns?

Can she answer for the fact that while UP College of
Mass Communication supposedly teaches the loftiest
principles of information dissemination and the
responsibilities that come with the freedom of speech
and __expression, her graduates lead big Media
organizations in the Philippines that are active and
willing servants of big business interests and
political pressure groups? The Philippine Media is a
world wide marvel for its prattle and irresponsibility
and for the naked arrogance of its power over our
people. It has become more predatory, mercenary and
corrupt than the government institutions it denounces
every day in print and in lurid broadcast coverages.

I could go down the line and pile up quite a lot of
indictments against the UP system. But my time here as
a speaker is limited.

Of course, it could be argued that UP’s role is that
of Education and is different from that of the
Government of the Philippines that makes the policies
and enforces the laws of the land.

But UP’s role as the country’s premier institution in
education and training precedes that of the
government; because it uses the Filipino taxpayers’
money to train the leaders who eventually control the
reins of government and private enterprises in the
Philippines.

If the University of the Philippines takes great pride
that her graduates easily top the government
examinations in any professional undertaking, the
University of the Philippines must also bow its head
in shame and sorrow because it cannot shirk the
accountability and responsibility for her graduates
who raid the coffers of the country, corrupt the
morals of our people, and turn the Philippines into an
international basket case and permanent laughing stock
of the nations of the world.

I am a simple country doctor. And I do not have claims
to be part of the academe. But I do not believe in
Education and Training for the sake of Education and
Training themselves. I do not believe that Education
does not have anything to do with Moral Duty and
Accountability. I believe that UP, as an educational
institution, must have something to do with the clouds
of unmitigated materialism and greed that darken the
cultural horizon of the Philippines today. I believe
that a University education, especially in UP has to
do with the constant search for what is Good, what is
True and what is Beautiful, no matter how polluted
these concepts may have become through their constant
prostitution for personal motive and gain.

What makes a UP student momentarily flash the bright
colors of Nationalism and love of country, and then
upon graduation, promptly fall into the grey colors of
compromise and conformity just to be able to exist in
a way of life that forces him to suppress the shame
and the painful voice of conscience within himself,
shut himself inside his own ego, praise with bitter
half-smiles the oppression and exploitation of his own
people so he can beg with his eyes for a small part of
the loot to be thrown his way?
What dulls the edge of his seething outrage?

I came back to Mindanao from my studies in UP Manila
to seek the answers to these questions.

Mindanao is the second largest island in the
Philippines. It comprises thirty percent (30%) of the
country’s land area and is home to twenty percent
(20%) of the population. Seventy five percent (75%) of
the Mindanawons are of migrant stock, from the
different areas in the Philippines who came to escape
the cultural, political and economic baggage that
burdened them in their places where they were born.
They came prepared to bear the new burdens of
adjustments with and consideration for others of
different cultures, traditions and religions. They
came prepared to work. And work hard for their
children and for their children’s children as well.
They came prepared to respect others and be respected
in their own right.

Mindanao is the richest island in the Philippines. It
produces 54% of the Gross National Product but gets
only 7% of the national Budget. One senator from
Mindanao once describe it as the National Cash Cow
that gets only dog food – crumbs from the tables of
the rest of the country. But without Mindanao, the
entire Philippines would starve to death.

The Philippines is a typical example of external
exploitation by the G-7 countries, and Mindanao is the
typical example of internal exploitation by the
central government in Manila.

But it is here in Mindanao where the real heart of the
Philippines beats.

The average Mindanawon is multi-cultural and
multi-lingual. He lives in his community, comfortable
in his culture, his own way of life, even when his
next door neighbor and friend dresses differently,
eats differently, talks to his children in another
language, and adores another God. His children play
happily with the children of people in his community
whom his ancestors used to be afraid of and hated and
waged continuous wars against.

It is here in Mindanao where the people consider
diversity not as a divisive factor but the key to
Unity and progress. It is here where we respect the
rights of others to their own thinking and culture.
Here where the central government is physically and
administratively distant, the people have learned that
working together in mutual respect and consideration
is the key to save our families, our communities and
our country.

For generations, your fathers and mine, products of
different cultures in the Philippines, have worked
hand in hand and side by side in peace and brotherhood
with each other and the indigenous peoples here in
Mindanao. We belong here.

It is only when the Manila government makes moves in
Mindanao that devastating wars happen among the
inhabitants of our island. It is a past and present
government practice that the undesirables in the
military and civil services in Luzon and the Visayas
are punished for their transgressions by sending them
to Mindanao – where they usually wreak havoc on our
lives.

Generations of hard work and carefully nurtured
goodwill among peoples in our island have been erased
by thoughtless and exploitative laws that are passed
in Congress in Manila by people who have never been to
Mindanao and are even afraid to visit it.

Twenty years or so ago, a group of UP graduates here
in Mindanao visited the other sites of UP in other
areas in the Philippines like, Baguio, Diliman,
Manila, Los Banos, Iloilo and Cebu. And they wondered
why there was no UP in Mindanao.

Thus was born a dream. And the dream was brought to a
reality ten years later. I have watched UP Mindanao’s
development through the years as the youngest, least
funded and most neglected institution in the UP
system. And I have cheered your valiant efforts. I
knew in my heart that you would be different from all
the other UPs in all the other places in the
Philippines because of the legacy of cultural
belongingness, respect and tolerance you have been
exposed to. And I never doubted your success.

I do not believe that the majority of your students
use UP Mindanao only as a jumping board to UP Diliman.
Only the most calloused and unseeing students would
not swear to the vision and mission of UP Mindanao.

The University of the Philippines in Mindanao is
committed to lead in providing affordable quality
education, scholarly research, and responsive and
relevant extension services to diverse, marginalized
and deserving sectors in Mindanao and neighboring
regions through its programs in the sciences and the
arts inculcating a passion for excellence, creative
thinking, and nationalism in the context of cultural
diversity in a global community.

As you graduate from the youngest UP institution,
aware of your role in community building in Mindanao,
you are sending a dare to the older institutions in
the University of the Philippines System. Here is UP
Mindanao’s answer to the failures of the University of
the Philippines System: Belong to the Land and to the
People, and serve them well!

From here onwards you have crowned yourself with the
laurels of commitment to service.

Do not listen when they tell you that the crown of
laurels you wear is soaked in disappointments and
bitterness and the dried leaves hide thorns and
maggots. Do not listen when they say that a life
dedicated to others is not a life; that it does not
bring food and comfort to you and your children; that
it brings you no honor and laurels serve not even as
condiments for a meal. Do not sell your life of
service to your countrymen for thirty pieces of
silver.

Because if you do, then deep in the night, years and
years from now, when your remaining hair has turned to
silver, a small voice will speak to you, just before
you fall asleep. And you will have to listen to it. Or
break apart.

And it will be in Spanish. Because it was said by a
man who died young, twelve years before the University
of the Philippines was born in 1908. He was a man who
spent the last years of his life here in the service
of our people in Mindanao. And he said it to an old
man like me, who had white hairs on his head. And this
may well have been spoken by you, the graduates of a
young and dynamic UP Mindanao to the old and failing
University of the Philippines System.

Cuando tenga canas come esas, senor, y vuelva la vista
hacia mi pasado y vea que solo he trabajado para mi,
sin haber hecho lo que buenamente podia y debia por el
pais que me ha dado todo, por los cuidadanos que me
ayudan a vivir, entonces, senor, cada cana me sera una
espina y en vez de gloriarme de ellas, me he de
avergonzar!

Ug sa ato pa:

Sir, pagabut sa panahon nga ang akong ulo, maora sad
kadaghana ang uban susama sa inyo, unya balikon nako
ug lantaw ang akong kinabuhi, unya Makita nako nga ang
akong mga paningkamut diay, alang lang sa akong
kaugalingon ug walay kalabutan sa mga maayong butang
nga ako untang nabuhat u di kaha kinahanglan buhaton
alang sa lungsod nga mao’y naghatag sa ako sa tanan,
alang sa akong mga isigkatao ng mitabang sa ako arun
manginabuhi; nianang panahuna, Sir, ang tagsa-tagsa ka
uban nga anaa sa akong ulo mahimo ug maidlot nga tunok
nga muduksak sa akong panghunahuna ug inay nga
mahimayaon ako sa akong katigulangon, iduko hinuon
nako ang akong ulo sa tumang kanugon ug kaulaw!

So if there is anything then, that Mindanao has taught
you here in University of the Philippines, it is to
belong to land, to belong to others, especially those
who have made you what you are; to be sensitive to
their needs, to constantly consider the other person’s
way of thinking, in much the same way as you
considered everyday, what language to use to talk to
the little child of a jeepney conductor who took your
fare, or to the daredevil habal-habal driver who took
you over the butt breaking roads to your refreshing
little UP Mindanao campus.

Look up to the mountain that you see everyday. Breathe
in the pure air of Mindanao. This may be your last day
in the campus. Take it all in. And remember it well.
Most of you will wander far over yonder, but you will
never find anything more beautiful.

Because you will never find the True, the Good and the
Beautiful in the world, no matter where or how you
search, unless you find them first here on that
mountain where the gods of our beloved Mindanao dwell,
here among your people who made you what you are now,
and finally, here in your own heart. (Dr. Jose M.
Tiongco is a graduate of the University of the
Philippines College of Medicine Class 1971. He writes
a column titled “Child of the Sun” for MindaNews and
is the author of “Child of the Sun Returning,” a book
about the early years of the Medical Mission Group
Hospitals and Health Services Cooperative-Philippines
Federation, where he is chief executive officer).

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About mindanaw

A Journalist from Mindanao

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