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On service to the country

LATE last year, during the centennial celebration of my alma mater, I was invited to talk about an interesting and rather difficult topic, “On Service to the Country.” This column is based loosely on this speech which I delivered during the alumni homecoming of the University of the Philippines-College of Business Administration last December 6, 2016.

It was a challenging topic to discuss because I believed that service to the country is deeply personal. No one person or group has the monopoly of serving the country. I certainly do not claim expertise on this topic. The arena within which one can serve the country is not limited to government service or the so-called parliament of the streets. The world is big enough for our good intentions and patriotic endeavors.

But I think there are certain ideals that we can agree on. For instance, service to the country must have as a precondition love of country. Patriotism precedes service to country for how can you serve a country which you do not love? Was is not Andres Bonifacio who wrote, “Pakatandaang lagi na ang tunay na pagibig sa Dios ay siya ring pagibig sa Tinubuan, at iyan din ang pagibig sa kapwa” (Remember that true love of God is also love of country as well as love of countrymen).

This is the real historic role of the University of the Philippines and other institutions of learning. Our schools must play their role in educating young Filipinos, not just to become good employees or good business persons, but also to become good Filipinos by imbibing in them love of country or “pagibig sa tinubuang lupa.”

Do you still recall the “Panatang Makabayan” which our schools made us recite every day? The last part of the current version goes like this: “Iaalay ko ang aking buhay, pangarap, pagsisikap sa bansang Pilipinas.”

But I like the old one better not just because I was more familiar with it but because I think it is more poetic and stronger in commitment: “Paglilingkuran ko ang aking bayan ng walang pag-iimbot at ng buong katapatan. Sisikapin kong maging isang tunay na Pilipino sa isip, sa salita, at sa gawa.”

When I was growing up, my dreams were simple, just like most young kids at the time – a better life, a bright future.

But it was not big. I had no interest in politics. I never dreamed about becoming a congressman or a senator or a president.

That all changed when I entered UP in 1966. The years I spent in UP, particularly at the College of Business Administration, were a turning point in my life as they gave me the opportunity to dream big.

I met passionate and intelligent people my age who have dreams larger than they are. Many of my classmates at that time wanted to change the world. I said to myself, “Gusto ko lang baguhin e palakihin negosyo namin samantalang itong mga kaklase ko gustong baguhin ang mundo.”

It was my encounter with the best and the brightest in the country that allowed me to dream big. Sure, I still want to give my family a better life but I realized that as I work on this, I can also fight for better lives for my neighbors, my community, and my country.

I do not think there is a sufficient handbook or a guidebook on how to serve the country because, as I wrote in the beginning, serving the country is inherently personal. As a Filipino, you harness your own talents, passion, patriotism, and knowledge to help the country in the best way you can.

Set up a business, pay your taxes, employ Filipinos and give them the benefits they deserve. Or you may want to work in government and efficiently and honestly provide public service. Others may want to speak the truth through journalism or the new media. Still others might go to foreign lands to provide for their families and at the same time help the Philippine economy through their remittances.

Serve the country in your own personal way. But remember that while service to the country driven by patriotism is deeply personal, it is also inevitably communal. Serving the country requires the collaboration of each and every one of us. Precisely because dreaming big means dreaming for people beyond your family, beyond the people you know.

I remember during the last year of my UP college life, I would join demonstrations and rallies, just like most students in UP in those days. The First Quarter Storm was raging and we would board buses from Diliman to Agrifina Circle where we would start our march to Malacañang.

I was not the radical “aktibista” but I remember being amazed at the power of social consciousness in uniting a bunch of young people with diverse backgrounds into a common cause. It was an amazing feeling. It was an experience that changed my life. It was a period in our history that changed the country.

(For comment/feedback email to:mbv.secretariat@gmail or visit www.mannyvillar.com.ph) (Senator Manny Villar)