110TH Anniversary of the First Philippine Republic
Malolos, Bulacan
January 23, 2009, 7:00am


I am deeply honored and humbled to speak before you today as we commemorate the 110th anniversary of the inauguration of the first Philippine republic.

Our history as a nation has been replete with stories and vignettes of our struggle as a people. Looking back, all the roads that had led to the establishment of our first republic were indeed paved with blood, sweat and tears of our forefathers.

On September 15, 1898, a revolutionary congress was convened here in the historic town of Malolos, for the purpose of drawing up a constitution for the new republic. The Malolos Constitution, referred by Emilio Aguinaldo as the “supreme expression of the nation’s will”, was approved by Congress on November 29, 1898.

However, events that took place at the time, both here and abroad, posed a formidable challenge to the revolutionaries. Just when they thought that liberation from the Spanish colonizers was within their reach, the Treaty of Paris was signed on December 10, 1898 by Spain and America.

The treaty provided for, among others, the cession of the Philippines to the United States. In exchange, America paid Spain the amount of 20 million dollars. This development would have dampened the spirits and dimmed the hopes of any ordinary Filipino. But not the revolutionaries of that era. The Treaty aroused the collective anger of the people and unified Filipinos from different classes. It armed them with a stronger resolve to harness all means at their disposal in order to achieve their goal of liberating the Philippines from foreign powers. Rising to the challenge, they laid down their lives and fought with all their might until, after a long and violent struggle, the prospect of self-governance was already on the horizon. The Malolos Constitution was promulgated on January 21, 1898. Two days later, the Philippine republic was inaugurated with Emilio Aguinaldo as president.

That event, 110 years ago, put the Philippines in the annals of world history for emerging victorious and becoming Asia’s first republic.

I find the commemoration of historic events such as this every year both compelling and inspiring. It is up to us leaders of this country to make sure that the sacrifices made by thousands of Filipinos who wanted the succeeding generations to live in a country free from the influence and dictates of foreign powers will not be lost on us and on the generations after us.

We need to reflect on the struggles and hardships of our forefathers to give us a better appreciation of our history as a nation. We need to extol the valor and courage of our heroes so that we will not lose our focus when our country is rocked by political and economic storms just like what we are going through now.

We need to constantly remind ourselves that who we are or have become today as a people and as a nation, we owe it to our forefathers who had the vision and insight as well as the unwavering determination to realize the Filipinos’ collective dream of having a free and independent nation.

We live that dream today.

However, we must not take for granted the freedom and independence we are enjoying right now. We must remain vigilant. With freedom comes responsibility – the responsibility to zealously protect and promote the democratic legacy passed on to us.

At this juncture, allow me to share with you a personal observation. Indeed, it is opportune that, in the midst of all the clamor calling for, on one hand, and, on the other, opposing any amendment to the 1987 Constitution, we are called to look back to the events that led to the establishment of our very first Constitution. In the past, I have been vocal in espousing the need to review and amend certain provisions of the Constitution. But in the same way, I have also voiced my opinion that any moves to revise or amend the Charter must only be pursued lawfully and must be undertaken giving great consideration for the voice of our people whom we serve.

Perhaps one may say the circumstances then, during the establishment of the Malolos Constitution, and now are very much different. I will not hesitate to point out, however, that the challenge is very much the same: that the fundamental law of the land should be made responsive to the needs of our people, protecting our inherent rights and promoting our national interests.

It is only fitting, therefore, that we are reminded of the sterling qualities of the people who made up the Malolos Congress. Defying the odds then, they crafted the Malolos Constitution which spoke of the people’s collective will to govern themselves. The Constitution was an expression of the Filipino people’s democratic leanings. It ordained a government where power is exercised and shared by three co-equal branches of government: the executive, legislative and judiciary. More than a century later, we can be proud of what we have achieved and what we have become as a people and as a nation.

Today, we stand here with pride and joy swelling in our hearts. Proud to be Filipinos. Proud to be inheritors of a glorious past. We must draw courage and inspiration from our forebears. We must not tire of carrying the torch of freedom and independence and pass it on to the succeeding generation.

Our vision and hopes for the future should be anchored on the democratic traditions passed on to us by the men and women who walked before us on this hallowed ground. Our long march to freedom and nationhood should inspire us, 110 years later, to continue the pursuit of democratic ideals. Let the spirit of the first Philippine republic stoke the fire of nationalism and stir the passion for democracy in our hearts.

Thank you very much.

Mabuhay tayong lahat!