Let me start by sharing a personal note. Of all the things that I have had to go through in my more than 30 years of existence, the one thing that was most psychologically tormenting and tiring was the long process of trying to find my place in this world. There were times when I thought I had found what I was looking for, only to doubt it afterwards, and the agonizing process would begin again. Yet through it all, I have learned that my experience pales in comparison to that of those who are not even allowed to ask whether there is a better place for them. There I was, thinking that I had the most depressing problem of not knowing what to do with my life, when I found my place among women who had been denied even the opportunity to think about what they wanted for themselves.
Today I stand before you, which is an honor that I have no doubt is a by-product of my years of hard work and my love for my course, which I chose on my own, without any other consideration than that I wanted it. But I also know in my heart that there are others, especially women, who are just as hardworking as I am, and yet are still denied the opportunity to speak their minds, even in their own homes.
Today, I want us to remember them. I have been given the rare opportunity to stand before you and to remind us all of things that we may easily forget or take for granted as we go along our ways. So before we go, this is an opportune moment to reflect on the path that we are to take from this day onwards.
Please allow me then to use this opportunity to remember every woman who has ever been denied the right to speak or to be heard, every woman who is so disempowered as to be afraid to speak her mind; every woman or child who has been made to silently suffer abuse and violence committed against her, for the sake of family “harmony”; every woman who has mustered the courage to speak up only to be re-victimized by a gender-insensitive society and justice system.
Let us remember Karen Empeño, Sherlyn Cadapan, every student, activist, militant, who has been forcibly silenced, arrested, abducted, incarcerated, disappeared, or killed, for daring to speak against the state’s injustices. Let us remember everyone who has ever been denied the right or the opportunity to speak, or to be listened to, on the basis of his or her sex, gender orientation, race and ethnicity, social class, educational attainment.
I remember all of them today, because we are now going to leave an institution that has nurtured us to be critical and vigilant. We have been educated in the premiere state university that prides itself with a tradition of activism and service to the people. Now is the time to re-affirm our commitment to continue to struggle against all forms of inequality and discrimination.
As we receive our diplomas today, let us not forget the thousands of other people out there who, just like us, have a right to be educated but who have been denied the opportunity, because our government has increasingly abdicated its duty to provide free and accessible education to its citizens. Yearly, the government has increasingly cut the budget for education, and we are among the lucky few who could still afford to pay. But what is the point of our UP education if we fail to grasp the inherent iniquity in these policies? A great professor by the name of Monico Atienza once asked me, what is the point of your education if you cannot relate it to the needs of the people? What is the point of our education if we cannot use it to address our peoples’ needs?
I have no doubt that henceforth, we will be able to navigate our paths in the larger society. But more than ever, this society needs our continuing activism and militancy. This is a society where prices of basic commodities and services continue to increase while the wages of our workers remain the same; where ordinary citizens could not avail of basic services because the government has relinquished its obligations to private institutions which main reason for being is to accumulate profits. This is a society where our workers’ basic rights are sacrificed as a leverage for the government to attract foreign investors; where our peasants are continuously being denied their rightful claim to their land. This is a society where hundreds of trees are cut in order to put up parking lots; where our mountains are being destroyed with impunity by foreign mining companies; where destruction of the environment is allowed in the name of profit for only a few. This is a society where one woman is being beaten by her spouse every 43 minutes, because our society refuses to recognize that every woman has the right to be treated with respect and dignity and to be free from violence. Where 11 mothers die every day because the government fails to fulfill its obligation to provide accessible reproductive health services.
This is the kind of society that awaits us. Where it is easy to lose our way, but where we will also find that there are many who continue to struggle against these atrocities and injustices, who continue to stand up for what is just and right .
So before we go, let us make the commitment, that as we try to find our place in this world, we will not find ourselves on the side of those who defend the oil price increase, the budget cut, the cutting of trees for the sake of greed. That we will not, ever, be on the side of those who profit from our people’s exploitation, from the denial of our peoples’ basic rights, from the environment’s destruction.
Nor will we be content with silence and passivity. We will take sides, and we will take the side of the people.
Because we are proud products of the University of the Philippines, and more importantly, of the College of Social Work and Community Development. Our place is with the people and we will continue to struggle for what is just and equitable for the people.
Thank you, and mabuhay po tayong lahat.
[*] Speech delivered during the Graduation Ceremonies of the College of Social Work and Community Development on April 22, 2012. Leavides G. Domingo-Cabarrubias is a lawyer at the WomenLEAD Foundation, Inc. and the legal counsel of the University of the Philippines – Diliman Gender Office. She graduated from the UP College of Arts and Letters (cum laude) in 1995 and from the UP College of Law in 2003. She worked at the Public Attorney’s Office for six years and held a teaching position for many years at the UP – CAL.