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Lifting the Nation from Poverty Through Excellence

Senior Associate Justice Antonio T. Carpio

Commencement Speech delivered on 30 March 2015 at the City of
Malabon University
Mayor Antolin Oreta III, President Ramon Maronilla, other members of the Board of Regents,
the faculty and staff of the City of Malabon University, the graduating class and their families,
distinguished guests, friends: Good afternoon to you all.
Thank you for inviting me this afternoon to speak to the Class of 2015. And congratulations
to all the graduates and their proud families.
During the Ramos administration, I had the privilege to work with National Security Adviser
Jose Almonte. His fascinating autobiography - Endless Journey - written by the awardwinning journalist Marites Vitug, has just been released. It is a great book about nation
Almonte came from humble beginnings. He was born in Estancia, a barrio of Malinao town in
Albay province. His father worked as a bus conductor and his mother was a teacher, who
became permanently paralyzed after giving birth to Almontes younger brother. For food, their
family planted sweet potato, tuber yam, corn and vegetables.
Almonte did not allow poverty, even the Second World War, get in the way of his education.
He woke up at four in the morning everyday to prepare his meal, feed the carabao and fetch
water for his family. Dressed in rumpled clothes full of patches, he crossed a big river and
walked barefoot for two hours going to school and another two hours returning home.
He graduated from elementary school third in class. One of his teachers joked that the first in
class would become president of the country, the second vice president, and the third adviser
to the president. Little did she know that, almost five decades later, her little prophecy would
come true.
Almonte hardly thought about college because of his familys poverty, until one day when he
received a letter urging him to take the entrance examination to the Philippine Military
Academy where education was free. The letter stirred his hopes and opened a door to a
college education.
The door to a PMA education opened more doors. While leading his platoon in Sierra Madre,
Almonte met then Capt. Fidel Ramos. There, in the middle of the jungle, the two men
engaged in conversations not usually heard in the military. After all, soldiers are trained to
follow orders and not to ask questions. They asked themselves why they were killing their
fellow countrymen and why their fellow countrymen were rebelling against the government.
These conversations became the genesis of their joint work in nation building.
When President Ramos assumed office, he appointed Almonte national security adviser.
During one of their first meetings, President Ramos gave Almonte two pens one black,
which the president used for signing, and one red, which he used for writing marginal notes.
He told Almonte that he was not merely part of the staff, but a partner in nation building.
The Constitution mandates that the State shall give priority to education to foster patriotism
and nationalism, accelerate social progress, and promote total human liberation and
development. The Constitution recognizes the importance of education in nation building.
Education is considered the great equalizer that will allow the marginalized poor to join the
mainstream of society. Education is the ticket to a good future. Because of education,
Almonte was able to rise up from being the impoverished public school student who walked

barefoot for two hours to school, to becoming the Presidents partner in dismantling
monopolies and leveling the economic playing field.
Education is a potent tool people can use to improve their lives. Social and economic barriers
may affect or limit the opportunities for some people. However, poverty is not anyone's preordained destiny. Poverty does not define a person unless a person allows it to define him or
her. Through education, perseverance and hard work, anyone can rise up and have a chance
at success. Almonte is living proof, among so many others, that a person, through education
and perseverance, can lift himself up from poverty.
Most important of all, education is the foundation of nation building. With education, the
possibilities for a nation are boundless. Without education, the possibilities for a nation are
non-existent. With more than half a million college graduates every year, the Philippines has
a solid foundation for nation building. But why has the Philippines remained underdeveloped?
Obviously, we have failed to capitalize on the individual and collective value of more than half
a million college graduates every year.
We have waited for economists, futurists, and planners to tell us how to capitalize on the
value of our college graduates. There is no need to wait and waiting is a waste of time. It is
up to each and every individual graduate how to make the best of his college education. The
power to translate a college education into a productive or income producing tool lies in the
hands of each and every graduate, not on economic planners.
Filipinos desperately hope for change. We want to eradicate poverty, corruption, violence and
many other problems perpetually plaguing our country. However, hoping alone will not
change anything. In order for things to change in our country, we have to change individually
our mindset first. There is no other way. We, each and every one of us, must individually
commit to be the starting point of change in our country. We cannot wait for a political
messiah to miraculously solve the problems of our country. We have no control over that and
a political messiah is simply wishful thinking. The only thing you can control is your own
individual action, your own personal destiny. Each of us must individually be the very change
we want to see in our country.
A nation, like any organization, is only as good as the people composing it. An institution of
learning, like the CMU, is only as good as the faculty and students composing it. If most of
the students graduating today in CMU are straight A students, then CMU will be the number
one university not only in the Philippines, but also in the whole world. Such an achievement
does not require any outside assistance. It is up to the individual student to commit whether
to excel in his or her studies. If each and every individual student makes such commitment,
and pursues such commitment until graduation day, then the entire school automatically
becomes a world-class institution of learning. The power to achieve excellence in education
lies in your own hands, in your own decision.
Once you find work, whether as employee or self-employed, commit to be a center of
excellence in your work. If you are a mechanical engineer, be the best mechanical engineer
you can be. If you are an accountant, be the best accountant you can be. If you are an
Information Technology specialist, be the best Information Technology specialist you can be.
If you are a public school teacher, be the best public school teacher you can be.
Strive for excellence on you own as an essential part of your personal work ethic. If each and
every one of you adopts excellence as your personal work ethic, then all of you here this
afternoon, individually and collectively, will have a tremendous impact on the building of our
nation. And if all the Class of 2015 throughout the Philippines adopts excellence as their
personal work ethic, the power of their collective excellence in various fields of work will
catapult the Philippines to a much higher level of development. The power to change our

country for the better lies in your own hands, in your own decision.
In my chambers in the Supreme Court, I have had a zero-backlog in my case docket for the
last five years. I strive to make my office a center of excellence. Many of you will work in
government, including the City Government of Malabon. Strive for excellence in your work in
government, no matter how humble your work may be at first. If all government workers
strive for excellence in their work, then the entire government will become a center of
It is time for our people to stop searching for political messiahs, or looking to the next
elective leaders, to deliver us from poverty and underdevelopment. It is like waiting for Godot
he will never come. The building of a nation starts with the individual citizen. Each
individual must be his or her own center of excellence. If every individual gets into this
mindset, if every individual strives for excellence in his or her work, then the entire
Philippines will become a center of excellence, which will translate into economic, social and
political development. The building of this nation is a decision, and the individual action, of
each and every citizen. Unless we realize that and act on it, we will be waiting for Godot.
To the Class of 2015, you have been given the education you need to make a difference in
your lives, and to build our nation. Use this education, with perseverance and dedication, to
make yourself a center of excellence in any work you do. In that way, as you succeed in your
work, you are part of that great undertaking called nation building.
Once again congratulations to the Class of 2015, and I wish you all success in whatever
endeavor you choose.
Thank you, and a good day to all.