His Excellency Benigno S. Aquino III
President of the Philippines
at the 2012 N-Peace Awards
[Delivered in Makati City on October 9, 2012]
Thank you. Please sit down. Good morning.
Madame Luiza Carvalho; His Excellency Nawalage Bennet Cooray; His Excellency William Twedell; Secretary Dinky Soliman; CHR Chair Loretta Ann Rosales; Mr. Toshihiro Tanaka; the 2012 N-Peace Awards, starting with Secretary Ging Deles, Her Excellency Farkhunda Zahra Naderi, Ms. Quhramaana Kakar, Sister Lourdes, Ms. Suraiya Kamaruzzaman, Ms. Rupika de Silva, Ms. Amina Azimi, Mr. Sadhu Ram Sapkota; Mr. Renaud Meyer; former representative, Risa Hontiveros-Baraquel; representatives of the UN organizations; excellencies of the Diplomatic Corps; Gender and Peace Advocate; fellow workers in government; honored guests; ladies and gentlemen:
It is during the darkest days of history that true examples of strength and dedication emerge—sometimes from the most unlikely sources. They are the peacemakers: men and women who work for peace, knowing as they do that this is the foundation for inclusive growth, true justice, and the solidarity of peoples.
My sisters and I are fortunate to have known one such example of resolve in the person of our mother, our President, Corazon Aquino. When my father was imprisoned by an oppressive dictatorship for almost eight years, my mother stayed strong; she held our family together. And not once did I hear her speak of hatred or a desire for violence to put an end to the dictatorship.
Not even when my father was murdered, shot while disembarking from an airplane, did I hear her speak of violence or vengeance—both of which were foremost in my thoughts when I saw my father’s bruised and bloodstained body sprawled across the airport tarmac. But perhaps you will understand why I felt this way: after all, being the only son, I wanted to avenge my father and protect my mother and my sisters.
My mother was different. Even if her husband had been murdered and her children orphaned, even if she then faced the daunting task of raising her children alone—like my father, she espoused the return of democracy through peaceful means. When she eventually became the leader of the opposition and later, President; and when the Filipino people took to the streets not with weapons or violent demonstrations, but with prayer and song, solidarity and faith, this was their cry: peaceful change.
I believe that it is in her life—in the lives of women like my mother, Burma’s Madam Aung San Suu Kyi, and our role models for peace that we find the strongest arguments for why women must participate, and perhaps even lead efforts in building peace. In communities marred by conflict, women and children are often forced to bear a disproportionate amount of hardship. Yet, instead of remaining victims or bystanders, the people we honor today have displayed an extraordinary strength in becoming catalysts to achieve and nurture peace. Instead of letting pride and aggression cloud your judgment, as men may sometimes do, you always have seen the urgency of suffering. You will always tend to think of children, of families, of all those who stand vulnerable and helpless in the face of violence. And it is with this desire to bring an end to conflict, to alleviate suffering, and to bring about sustainable and lasting peace for all, that you have dedicated your lives to the pursuit of peace, equality, and development in your communities.
When I learned that I would be speaking in front of you today, a story about Secretary Ging Deles, one of our awardees, stood out in my mind. And I am hoping that she will not mind if I share it with you today. Ging and I were once part of a march organized by civil society, to protest graft and corruption in government leadership. As I was walking behind her, I noticed that she was dragging her feet. I pointed this out, jokingly telling her that it seemed like the soles of her shoes were about to fall off. Ging admitted that they were, and that she was trying not to let others notice.
We continued walking, and it was not long before the soles fell off completely, and Secretary Deles was marching in her bare feet, with only the tops of her rubber shoes intact. She could have stood aside, stopped marching, but she did not even complain or make a big deal out of it. And I am as certain of her dedication as I am of her discomfort now; Ging was never one to point towards her own sacrifices, knowing that so many others have done as much, and more in the name of the cause they believed in.
I wanted to share this with you because I have always believed that actions, and not words, show best the true character of any person, man or woman. And I am sure that similar stories abound in the lives of all our awardees: from those who braved insurgencies and threats of violence to do their work, as Radha Paudel and Mana Lou have done, to those who have mobilized civil society and paved the way for increased economic, political, and social participation of women and the marginalized in different ways, such as Quhramaana Kakar, Farkhunda Zahra Naderi, Suraiya Kamaruzzaman, Rupika de Silva, Amina Azimi, and Sadhu Ram Sapkota.
Suffice to say: I am deeply honored to be here today, as we recognize your achievements—achievements you have not claimed for yourself or for personal fame, but for the thousands you have aided. On behalf of them all, allow me to offer you my congratulations, and more importantly, the collective gratitude of all gathered in this room, and of all our peoples.
Today’s ceremonies are as much a tribute as they are an expression of solidarity. Our countries have not had the most peaceful histories: insurgencies, the polarization and misuse of political systems and governance, and a lack of inclusive growth have, in one way or another, left their mark on our peoples. And so I believe that it is even more heartening that we are all coming together in recognition of our awardees from Afghanistan, Indonesia, Nepal, Timor-Leste, Sri Lanka, and the Philippines, all of whom are fighting towards the same cause and employing the same honorable methods.
In your own individual capacities, you have embodied the belief that a just and lasting peace can only be achieved when every sector takes part in the process of peace-building and development—when no one is left behind, when the voices of all are heard and valued, when men and women alike are empowered to take part in nation-building.
This is the same spirit that has informed our most recent achievement on the path to peace—an achievement in which, I am proud to relate, Secretary Deles has played an important role. Just last Sunday, our administration announced the forging of a Framework Agreement with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, after decades of armed conflict and bloodshed—an agreement that will hopefully seal a final, lasting peace in Mindanao and in the Philippines.
We must admit: building peace is not easy. But each of our awardees has already shown us that even a single person can accomplish so much if it is borne out of a desire to help our fellow men. The awardees who are here today have already blazed a trail and shown us the course we must take, allowing us to innovate, so to speak, and find our own ways of becoming role models for peace.
I believe that we can do this on a regional, and even global scale: that we must all take part in building a virtuous cycle among ourselves, where we provide not only role models, but mentors and companions to each other, driven by similar experiences and similar goals. We have already started, through our participation in networks like the N-Peace, through which we have been allowed to share our best practices and strategies. In this way, even as we build peace in our own communities and nations, so too will we help to foster peace in the global community: a peace that will lead to the progress, prosperity, and stability of all nations and peoples.
Thank you. Good day.