30 August 2013

Acceptance Speech for the Rotary Outstanding Surigaonon Award for Law and Public Service

Dinagat Islands Rep. Kaka Bag-ao delivered this acceptance speech last 30 August 2013 for the Rotary Outstanding Surigaonon Award for Law and Public Service (Rotary International District 3860). 

First of all, I would like to thank the Rotary Club of Surigao Metro for this honor. Sa pagkatinood lang, nakuyawan ko sa inyong gihatag nga pasidungog para kanako karong adlawa. Now I have to  consciously strive to live up to this honor that you have bestowed upon me today. I am proud and at the same time humbled by this award.

Before I became a legislator, I was a people’s lawyer and a member of civil society. I have marched with the Sumilao farmers in their long journey to claim what is rightly and justly theirs. My experience with farmers, lumads, fisherfolks and other marginalized sectors that I have worked with taught me a lot about life and about the struggle to make this world a little better for our all of us and the generations to come. They taught me the value of perseverance in the face of adversity. They taught me to dream and struggle to make steps towards the attainment of that dream. 

Sa akong mga naubanan nga paglimbasog ug pakigbisog sa mga katawhang kabus natilawan nako ang grabe nga mga pagsulay, mga kalisdanan ug mga kapakyasan.  For example in the case of the Sumilao farmers, despite all the strong legal arguments that we have presented, despite the strength of the farmers’ claim of their land, we lost our case in the Supreme Court. We lost not because the landlord have a stronger claim and a stronger case but because our justice systems is caught in the claws of the rich, the mighty and the powerful.  Many believed that the Supreme Court decision made the farmers’claim over their land an impossible dream, It would have been easier to give up and pack up and live what others call a “normal” life.  But the Sumilao farmers refused to give up hope. They refused to be defeated by a system that is so biased against them. In the in end after many years of struggle the found a way to defeat that system that is designed to keep them landless, poor and hopeless. They are now owners of the land they till. My journey with the Sumilao farmers and other poor communities that I have worked with taught me that even the impossible can be made possible. 

When my team and I were discussing about the possibility of my running for the seat of the Lone District of Dinagat Islands in the House of Representatives, we knew that defeating a member of an established political clan was impossible. Pero na-inspire po kami sa sinabi ni Gimli sa The Lord of the Rings: "Certainty of death, small chance of success - what are we waiting for?"  Nangahas kami and again we made the impossible possible. 

The lesson that I have learned in the experiences that I have mentioned is that we need to have faith in the face of adversity. We need to believe that if we do the right things at the right time, if our mission is just, if we do not surrender to the setbacks and failures that will come our way and if we persevere we can make the impossible possible.

Our mission in Dinagat is not just winning the election. Becoming its Representative is not the goal. We have won the electoral battle but we have yet to win the war. We are waging war against poverty and under-development. We are waging a war against government neglect. Our goal is to be able to contribute significantly to the development of our home province and its people. We have to make the people believe that we can make government work for us, for our interests, for our welfare. After decades of government neglect even that is an almost impossible task. We also need to make government realize that Dinagat is not a hopeless case. We have to convince government that development in our province is possible, that its investments in the province will not go to waste. We have to make the people of Dinagat believe in themselves, believe that if we do the right thing at the right time and if we persevere we can win this was against poverty and under-development.

Service above self.  This is a Rotarian value that is reflective of what public service should be.  Sabi nga ni Congressman Bolet Banal, isa sa mga kasama ko sa Kaya Natin! Movement for Good Governance and Ethical Leadership, “QC Bago Sarili” para sa kanyang distrito. However, this goes out for all of us, especially for us who represent our respective district constituencies in the halls of Congress. Paglilingkod sa kapwa bago sa sarili.

I’m sure many have felt disillusionment in everything that is transpiring in our country. I am both regretful and proud to tell you that I have not felt the same way. In order for me to be deserving of the honor that you have now bestowed upon me, I have no choice but to foster and strengthen the hope in my heart that we can still catalyze change in all levels of government, and I commit to faithfully do so.

As a Surigaonon by birth, even if Dinagat is now a separate province, we are still one in our aspirations—we desire a future that is brighter for our children and a society that is more just to all, especially to the marginalized.

This award is one of those ways to remind me constantly of who I am in the course of the struggles that I face. I am a Surigaonon—a Mindanawon. I was born in a land of promise that is stifled by adversity. I was raised in a land where I was taught to remember to look back and be part of the solution to move forward.

Ngayon, alam kong kulang pa. This is why I continue to look back to be one with my fellow Filipinos in Mindanao, especially in Caraga, in the next steps as we move forward.

Salamat para sa karangalang ito. Through this honor, I am reminded of my duty to take advantage of the numerous opportunities to create that change that we long for in Caraga. Through this honor, I am reminded of my responsibility to continue pushing forward as I constantly look back on our struggles and triumphs as one people, regardless of provincial borders. 

Thank you very much! Daghang salamat, Rotary Club! Mabuhay ang Dinagat! Mabuhay ang Surigao! Mabuhay ang Mindanao!

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