Opening of the fifth Regular Session of the Congress of the Philippines
July 22, 1991
This is the last time I shall address you on such an occasion as this. Let us clear the air between us.
I could have made things easier for myself if I had opted for the “popular.”
I could have repudiated the foreign debt, won the passing praise of a greatly relieved people, and the lasting contempt of a devastated country.
I could have opted for outright hostility towards the international banking system and invited its retaliation. But the only result would have been to weaken the present democracy against the conspiracies of the former government with contracted the miserable debt in the first place. I would have taken the chance, if I were the only one at risk, but I had a country to take care of.
I could have called for an elected constitutional convention. Surveys showed that an elected convention was the popular choice to draft a new constitution. But I believed it was more important to draft a constitution and submit it for ratification in the shortest time possible, and hold elections immediately. The people and the army needed a full elected government and a constitution around which to rally in defense of freedom.
I could not afford the luxury of the popular by waiting out the endless deliberations of an elected convention, like the 1971 Constitutional Convention. And besides, what was so great about that experience? After a year of talk and scandal, the final draft was prepared in Malacañang, approved by the frightened Convention, and ratified in a fraudulent plebiscite.
I could have made things easier for myself if I had allowed the Executive to influence the decisions of constitutional commissions. I might have spared myself deep embarrassments by interfering with the judgments of the courts. But I uphold the independence of these bodies. I am convinced it is in all our best interest to respect an independence that may thwart the government’s will from time to time – but is yet our best assurance of justice when we will need justice most.
I firmly believe in the freedom of the press. And I accept the criticisms poured on me, painful as they are, as part and parcel of the hazards of public service, and conducive to its honest performance. True, I have sued for libel, but I did not use the power of the Presidency to advance my cause. And this is shown by the fact that four years later my case continues to drag on. I have not forgotten that what my husband wanted most in prison was for the public to hear the side of freedom, and no newspaper would print it.
I submitted myself to the judicial process as an ordinary citizen, and exposed myself to indignities a president should not endure. But I want to encourage people to seek redress in the law, despite the inconvenience, rather than in vindictiveness, which has no end. I want them to make the cause of justice for one, the cause of justice for all.
I have consoled myself that great men like Gandhi were not spared criticism either, but – regardless of it – he pursued the path he believed was true, mindful only of harmful effects on the people, but not of the consequences to him. He believed that God demands no less of us than that we follow our conscience. God will take care of the rest.
I could have done the popular thing in the last administration, and arranged a nicer retirement for myself. But my instructions to PNB, DBP, GSIS, SSS and Landbank were explicit: no behest loans, and no special favors whether to relative, friend or political supporter. This accounts for their sterling performance, for the unprecedented public faith in their competence and integrity, and for the incalculable contribution, particularly of PNB and the Landbank, to the development of cooperatives and the financing of small and medium enterprises, wherein lies the strongest hope of progress in these times.
We can roll back prices at the drop of a hat and spare ourselves al the aggravation, but we learned that hasty rollbacks exacted a heavier, long-term cost on the economy, and, ultimately, on the people, than they had saved.
I could have done any of the things calculated to win a passing popularity at home. I could have thrown away by so-called popular solutions the goodwill we have built up in financial circles by the strict performance of our obligations. This is the goodwill that accounts for the continued support extended to the Philippine Assistance Program. Anyway, most of the pledges to the PAP are redeemable in the next administration.
I could have said, “Let my successor be presented with the bill for my popularity today.” But it is the people who would pay the price, and I am not made that way.
I did not always adopt the ideal solutions proposed by those who have the luxury of contemplation. Government often had to do what pressing realities compelled it. And if the government sometimes lacked better choices, it never lacked the sincere desire to do good.
I could have promoted only military officers popular with the press, and ignored the experience of a democratic government that has been the principal military objective of the rebel forces and an insurgency that just doesn’t know when to quit. But I chose instead commanders of proven courage, leadership, and fidelity to the Constitution.
I could do the smart thing still, and do the things my opponents unfairly charge me of preparing – rigging the elections in 1992, the way I did not rig the ratification of the Constitution, the national elections, and the local elections. They way they rigged elections from 1969 to 1986. But my instructions to the military and police are explicit. Let them hear it again:
The right of the soldier and the policeman is merely to cast his vote; his greater and solemn obligation is to assure the right of others to cast their votes and get them honestly counted. No soldier has the right to combine with his comrades to campaign for a person or party and deliver to them a block of the military vote. No member of the military shall lend his name, prestige, and the influence of his position to anyone’s campaign. The same holds true for the police.
The military has earned the people’s trust as the spearhead of their liberation and the constant defender of their democracy. To these honors it is my aim to add the distinction of shepherding our democracy through its first political succession, by clean and peaceful elections.
I will not preside as Commander-in-Chief over the kind of military that cheated the opposition in 1978, and me in 1986. That would insult the memory of the man to whom I dedicate this last address to the joint houses of Congress, and stain the proud achievement of this nation in 1986.
I specifically charge AFP Chief of Staff General Lisandro Abadia and PNP Director General Cesar Nazareno with the responsibility to assure clean and honest elections. While they may not fear my displeasure because I will not be president then, they will face the judgement of the disappointed country.
Yes, I could have done all those things that win wide acclaim, exiting as grandly as any president could wish. But while my power as president ends in 1992, my responsibility as a Filipino for the well-being of my country goes beyond it to my grave. A great part of that responsibility is to do the best I can today, according to my best lights, while I have the power to do it.
As President, I have never prayed for anything for myself; only for our people. I have been called an international beggar by the military rebels. Begging does not become me, yet – perhaps – it is what I had to do. I could have kept my pride and held aloof, but that would not have helped our people. And it is for them that I was placed in this office.
Someone who will stand in this place next year, may do better for I believe in the inexhaustible giftedness of the Filipino people. I only hope that he will be someone who will sincerely mean you well.
I hope that history will judge me as favorably as our people still regard me, because, as God is my witness, I honestly did the best I could. No more can be asked of any man.
On June 30, 1992, the traditional ceremony of political succession will unfold at the Luneta. The last time it was done that way was in 1965. I shall be there with you to proudly witness the event. This is the glory of democracy, that its most solemn moment should be the peaceful transfer of power.
Maraming salamat sa inyong lahat at paalam.