President Benigno S. Aquino III called on the Filipino people to preserve the country’s freedom as he addressed the nation in his last Independence Day commemoration on Sunday.
Speaking during the traditional Vin d’Honneur in Malacañang Palace, President Aquino, whose parents are known as defenders of democracy, asked his fellow countrymen to be vigilant against people who might once again jeopardize democracy.
“I emphasize that this has happened. Once, a fellow Filipino stole our freedom. This means that if we are not vigilant, it could happen again,” he said, alluding to the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, who placed the country under Martial Law for nine years, trampling on fundamental rights and freedom.
The President recalled his experience as a 13-year-old boy during the Martial Law years through a video presentation played as a highlight of his speech.
The video showed the reenactment of the detention of his father, the late Senator and democracy icon Ninoy Aquino, at Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija.
“As we enter a new chapter in our history, let us never forget: Freedom must be defended and protected. Everything that is of value must be worked for and fought for,” said the Chief Executive, who on June 30 will be handing over the presidency to President-elect Rodrigo Duterte.
He said he is proud to say that he will be leaving behind a much better Philippines, citing the benefits enjoyed by PhilHealth members, scholarships provided by the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA), and strides made in education, employment, infrastructure, the peace process, and the economy.
“We have proven our capacity to fight for democracy. We have shown that we can take back democracy when it is stolen from us. Now, let us prove that we can continue making democracy work for the benefit of our people,” the President said.
“We have achieved everything we are enjoying today while respecting the process, the law, as well as the rights of each person. We did this without silencing anyone, and while valuing the freedom that those before us fought for. We firmly believe in this principle: That there can be no true progress if we surrender our dignity and our rights,” he added.
In his toast, the President urged his compatriots not to lose patience with democracy and neither to take it for granted nor “be passive in its defense”.
“To our hard won Filipino freedom: Earned by the blood and sacrifice of martyrs, nurtured by the vigilance of an empowered people, may it never again be challenged, diminished, or negated,” he said.
He also wished for the continuing cooperation of the members of the Diplomatic Corps in addressing challenges being faced, not just by the Philippines but the entire world.
In response to the President’s toast, Dean of the Diplomatic Corps Archbishop Guiseppe Pinto expressed his gratitude to the President and the Filipino nation for the “hospitality and kindness” that make their work and stay in the Philippines “enjoyable and productive”.
“Mr. President, please accept our heartfelt thanks for the interest and appreciation you have shown for the work of the ambassadors and their collaborators in carrying out their mission,” he said, wishing the Philippines “prosperity and progress”.
Aside from foreign diplomats, also present at the event were members of the Senate, House of Representatives, judiciary, Cabinet secretaries and businessmen. PND (jb)