By Telibert Laoc
36th Commencement Exercise of the
University of the Philippines College Cebu High School
16 April 2010, Cebu City
We are all here today for a joyous occasion. We celebrate this occasion with you, the graduates and your parents. We also celebrate this day with our mentors and the support teams in this high school who helped make your four-year experience a meaningful one.
Congratulations to you all!
Thirty-two years ago I was in the same place as all of you are -- right there. Just like your parents who are seated beside you, my parents where also by my side. Like any other parent, they were uncertain of my future but they hoped for the best for me and that things would work out well. Your parents, I am sure, are so happy for you for having gone through this significant rite of passage of graduating from high school at the University of the Philippines.
Since my high school days, I have been through lots of experiences and have immersed in many places and situations here and abroad. I have also made associations with many individuals, and have made and acted on numerous decisions. In many of these instances I know that I have been guided and shaped by the wonderful years of learning spent here in this campus.
Threat to our future
When we graduated from high school, the country was under a dictator. The political condition was grim, the insurgency took such a strong foothold and the threat of the going into a civil war was imminent. Our future did not look good. What our parents had dreamed for us to become could have easily been derailed or stifled by the political uncertainties. In fact going to college was an uncertainty to some of the youth at that time.
In 1986 (a few years before most of you graduates were born) many of our countrymen and women restored the people’s faith in the elections and ensured that the transition to power was peaceful. The culmination of a long struggle against tyranny of a powerful and oppressive few, and a corrupt and decadent system of private and public governance, took the form of the EDSA People Power Revolution – a cathartic moment, a moment of freedom and of great jubilation.
Fast-forward 2010. What have we before us? A situation unlike that of decades ago, and we thought that we had gotten out of that rut already. Despite the honest work and sincere of efforts by many of our people (present company included) to help improve our country, our nation has not significantly alleviated the plight of many of our brothers and sisters living in the oppression of poverty. Many of them have been denied their potentials and of opportunities to become who they want to be. Many of them are so underprivileged and struggling day-to-day that even to dream of a better life escapes them. Corruption remains unabated and unchecked. Politics is as uncertain as it was; and there seems to be no promise of relief even after the elections this May. However, the coming elections are important and it has to be perceived as reflecting the true will of the voters.
My Namfrel experience
I have been tasked today to share with you and with your parents a most challenging and interesting task and duty of protecting the electoral process. On May 10, 50 million are expected to vote. We need to help ensure that what comes out of the ballot is their will.
In 1983 during the Batasang Pambansa (National Legislature) elections the Filipinos introduced to the world a noble concept of engaging volunteers to help ensure that voters are free to cast their votes in secret, monitor the conduct of the voting, and check the accuracy of the counting of the votes. This was the birth of the National Citizens’ Movement for Free Elections (or Namfrel). Their main role is to protect the electoral process without favoring a candidate or political party. In that election, it saw several thousands of volunteers offer time, talent and treasure to protect a key institution of democracy. Close to one million concerned and peace-loving Filipinos supported that effort in 1986 at the Snap Presidential Election. Volunteers throughout the country monitored the outcome of the elections and helped expose the manipulation of the count. The experiences of those who joined the movement have been significant and volunteering, for many of them, have never been that good.
Since then the organization has been active in all the elections in the country. That model of citizen involvement was so effective and inspiring that apart from a Nobel Peace Prize nomination (in 1986), Namfrel members were invited to share their experiences and help set up similar efforts in over 30 countries. I have personally helped and set up such groups in Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Thailand, Indonesia, Afghanistan and Timor-Leste.
At the home front today, citizen volunteers are needed more than ever. So much hope is strung around the elections on May 10 that is it extremely important for us citizens to be involved in protecting it, and ensuring that it will be credible and the results will be accepted by all.
The challenge I pose to the parents here today is to volunteer. If you are supporting a candidate or a political party, please volunteer and campaign wholeheartedly for your candidate. Help voters understand the future that your candidate or party has to offer the country when they get elected.
But for those who opt be non-partisan and prefer to safeguard the electoral process, do so by volunteering with Namfrel or with your own great local organization, the C-CIMPEL (Cebu-Citizens' Involvement and Maturation in People's Empowerment and Liberation). Volunteer along with the members of your family and inspire your friends to also do so.
The challenge to the graduates is to soldier your parents on to sign-up and volunteer. Together, make volunteering for a worthy cause and committing to democracy and to country, a wonderful shared experience.
The challenge to our mentors and the other members of this school is to also sign-up along with your family.
While you inspire others, I am sure that you, too, will also be moved by the dedication and commitment of the other volunteers you will meet along the way. (C-CIMPEL’s contact numbers are 032 412 1322 / 255 2643 or 255 2805. Give them a call when you have the chance)