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Thy Kingdom Has Come

(Note: I was sifting through some of our old photo albums the other day when I saw a copy of an elocution piece that I wrote and delivered during an elocution contest at Loyola House of Studies (LHS) in 1969. I was then an idealistic college freshman at the Ateneo de Manila University. After reading it, I thought the general content of the piece is still quite relevant today. So I decided to reprint it in this column – a throwback of sorts of my thinking 50 years ago.)

A problem is before me today. It is a problem I can no longer deny and whose painful effects I and its victims can no longer stand. It is, therefore, a problem that needs an immediate response. So I stand before you today to challenge you to face this problem in all honesty and openness.

When the war broke out in 1941, the Filipinos emerged as fierce freedom-fighters. They bravely fought and died in the bloody battlefields of Bataan and Corregidor, but not only for freedom’s sake, but driven by the hope that someday their children and their children’s children will find themselves living in a free land. Indeed, their sufferings were not in vain for in the early morning of October 20, 1944 a solemn promise was fulfilled in the Gulf of Leyte – an occasion that marked the beginning of a new era for us Filipinos.

But, after 25 years, justice has still to be served to majority of our people, especially the marginalized in our society. It is a shame that 25 years later, our people still find themselves housed in conditions unworthy of their dignity as human beings. Yes, it is a shame that 25 years later, the Filipinos are slaves of injustice in their own land by their own people. So, I stand here this afternoon, as Martin Luther King once said, “To dramatize a shameful condition.”

Visit the railroad tracks one night and there you will see the people bound by the chains of extreme poverty of which they have no escape. Go to the crowded street of Quiapo and there you will see a poor jeepney driver being molested by a policeman for not giving his daily ‘lagay’ (grease money). Go to Laguna and there you will hear the farmers clamoring for justice because the land they have been cultivating for many years have now been grabbed by a wealthy lawyer. Try to walk along Quezon Boulevard and there you will see an elderly woman, hungry and pale, going from one garbage bin to another, looking for something to eat. Go and visit the ‘sacadas’ in Negros and there you will see them working from 4 o’clock in the morning to 5 ‘clock in the afternoon, and receiving a daily wage of P1.50. Go to every corner of this land and you will see a man, a woman, our brother, and sister, devoid of their dignity, deprived of basic material possessions, victims of social injustice.

This is the social picture of the Philippines as she stands today. It is indeed a land where the ideals of those Filipinos who fought during the war are slowly beginning to fade. It is a land where the tree of Christianity bears the fruit of inequality. It is a land where Christians enslave their fellow Christians. But we cannot abandon and overlook the urgency of the moment because this land is your land and my land. Its people are your people and my people. We, therefore, have to stand up and fight for this land with vigor and determination.

Let us not look back at the past when we, because of our cowardice to face community controversy, tolerated the continued growth of this malady. Let us forget that time when we, because of our silence, have given safe conduct to the people responsible for the situation we are in. Let us forget that time when we, because of our ‘that’s-alright’attitude, paved the way for our opportunist political leaders to act with arrogance as they ransack the coffers of our government. Let us forget our failure in the past. Let us now face the present and think of the future.

There is something, therefore, that I want you to know. This is not the time to rationalize the causes that led to our present social condition. This is not the time to tell the people to pray and wait for the grace of God to descend from above. Now is the time for us to realize that our main task at the moment is to “transform this land into a world where freedom is not an empty word and the poor Lazarus can sit down at the table and eat with the rich.” Now is the time for us to lift our people from the abyss of social injustice and lead them to that land where they can exercise their rights without fear to get what they need and deserve.

Time is short and there is no time to rest. As you leave this hall and meet a friend, tell your friend and yourself not to rest until the ‘barong-barongs’ that your friend and you see become a home where the people can live a life befitting their dignity; tell your friend and yourself not to rest until that poor jeepney driver in Quiapo is assured that he will no longer be bothered by that greedy policeman; tell your friend and yourself not to rest until the light of satisfaction shines in the face of that old woman in Quezon Boulevard; tell your friend and yourself not to rest until those farmers in Laguna have taken back their lands; and finally, tell your friend and yourself not to rest until the ‘sacadas’ in Negros receive a living wage proportionate to the hardships that they injure. And if human frailties and difficulties hound your friend and yourself on the way, tell your friend and yourself to remain steadfast and stand his/her ground for his/her own sake and the future generation.

These are my dreams and aspirations. The future may be uncertain, but I believe that the day will dawn when my dreams will be fulfilled. I believe that someday the rich will realize that every person is entitled to happiness in this world. I believe that someday the perpetrators of our social woes will let the poor acquire what rightfully belongs to them. I believe that someday we, by the way we live, will be able to comfort any person dying of hunger and tell that person that he is our brother, that she is our sister. I believe in these things and I believe that they will happen because I still believe in the goodness of people and in the love of God. I, therefore, believe that one day social justice will reign.

This, then, is my hope. It may not happen this year or next year. But let us not stop hoping. And above all, let us not stop doing.

Let us, therefore, act and live a life that is in harmony with our Christian belief. Let us live a life of dedication – the same kind of dedication that enabled the late President John Kennedy to affirm, “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.”

Let us live a life of faith – the same kind of faith that enabled the late Martin Luther King to assert, “With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discord of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood.”

And finally, let us live a life of love – the same kind of love that enabled Christ to say, “Greater love than this no one has, that one lays down his life for his friends.”

It is only when this hope becomes a reality that we can truly approach the altar of God and be able to say before receiving the precious Body and Blood of Christ: “Our Father, Thy will has been done. Thy kingdom has come.”

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