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Aquino to Ateneo grads in 2016: ‘If you do not fight an oppressive structure, you are supporting it’

By SAAB LARIOSA Published Jun 25, 2021 9:33 pm

With former president Benigno 'Noynoy' Aquino III's remains now at Quezon City's Ateneo de Manila University (ADMU) for a one-day public viewing, his 2016 Commencement Address for his alma mater is now making waves online.

The former president’s 19-minute speech tackled a surplus of topics, from his friendship with then Ateneo President Jose Ramon Tizon Villarin, SJ, or “Fr. Jett,” his time as a student, to his eventual lasting lesson for the graduating class of 2016.

Coincidentally, his address took place exactly five years and a day after his untimely death on June 24.

Graduating from the university 35 years before the address, the "true-blue" Atenean spoke to the class five days before his term as Philippine president ended.

"Nagtataka rin ako kung bakit marami ang nagsasabing, 'We will miss you,'” he quipped. "Kung minsan po ay napipilitan tayong sumagot ng 'Sandali lang nandito pa ako, bakit na ninyo ako nami-miss? At pagkatapos po ng termino ko, sa Times po ako titira. Hindi naman ako aalis."

He confessed that his speech was already on its third version, as he wanted to leave a good impression on the students.

He started off comparing the past batches of Ateneo students with the present, calling forth the use of social media sites like Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram that have shaped the students' perspectives. But he also deepened the discussion into the hardships he faced as an Atenean during the Martial Law era.

“Pero mahirap isabuhay dahil sa panahon namin sa ilalim ng diktadurya, hindi sigurado kung may kinabukasan kami.  Kapag nagsalita ka laban sa kanila ay puwede kang makulong, ma-torture, o mapatay."

He shared that he never got to attend his graduation and instead received an Exit Permit before the Aquino family was eventually exiled to Boston. He also told stories of their three-year residency in America.

“Marahil, nabasa na rin ninyo ang nangyari sa aking ama noong panahong iyon," he added. "Ginawa lang naman niya ang kanyang trabaho bilang Senador. Nang makakalap siya ng impormasyon tungkol sa pang-aabuso, isiniwalat niya ito. Pinalagan niya ang pang-aapi at pagiging ganid ng diktador. Dahil dito, inaresto siya habang nagtatrabaho sa gitna ng gabi, at ikinulong.”

“Ano ang ibig kong sabihin dito? Di ba, kung magpapatuloy ka ng sistema na hindi sasagad sa pagkakataon ng iyong kapwa, iniiwan mo sila sa mababang kalagayan. Sabi nga sa liberation theology, 'if you do not fight an oppressive structure, you are supporting it.” 

"Kapag nagkasakit sila at nagkaroon ng epidemya, paano ka makakatiyak na exempted ka sa sakit? Malinaw naman sa ating kasaysayan: Walang problemang nalutas dahil sa mga taong walang pakialam.

Malinaw naman sa ating kasaysayan: Walang problemang nalutas dahil sa mga taong walang pakialam.

He went on to reference Ateneo's university hymn, A Song for Mary, as a starting point that the graduating students can remember during trying times.

"Para sa akin, ang burol ang Ateneo, ang ating mga kaibigan, at ang ating pamilya na humubog sa atin. Kabilang sa mga natutuhan natin ang pagiging kritikal sa mga nangyayari sa ating paligid. Kumbaga, sinanay tayong hindi maging kaladkarin o sumabay na lang basta sa agos ng nangingibabaw na opinyon.”

“Nung huling taon nga namin sa Ateneo, ang sabi ng mga guro namin: Kung pagkatapos ng lahat, ang alam niyo lang ay facts and figures, nabigo kami. Tinuruan namin kayong kumuwestyon sa nakasanayan. Nagtagumpay kami sa pagtuturo kung 'now you know that you do not know.”

Hindi tayo nagsanay para lang magkulong sa isang ivory tower. Hindi para sa sarili lang ang tuon ng kaalamang nakalap natin dito.

“Ngayon, kasama ako sa mga buong-buong nagtitiwala sa inyo: Nawa’y humayo kayo at maging ‘Lux in Domino,’ taas-noo kayong maging Men and Women for others, at maging mga exemplar ng sigasig, malasakit, at integridad sa mahaba ninyong paglalakbay down from the hill,” the former president concluded.

The Aquino family announced that Noynoy died at 6:30 a.m. on Thursday, June 24. His cause of death was "renal disease secondary to diabetes."

His burial will take place on Saturday, June 25, at the Manila Memorial Park. He will be laid to rest beside his parents, the late president Corazon Aquino and former Senator Benigno Aquino. He was 61.

Read the full speech transcript here.