Grads told: Silence when you can speak is unjust, causes injustice
Protests and placards are often part of the graduation ceremonies at the University of the Philippines
Artemio Dumlao
Grads told: Silence when you can speak is unjust, causes injustice
Artemio Dumlao ( - June 25, 2019 - 4:42pm

BAGUIO CITY, Philippines — Supreme Court Associate Justice Leonen told the 351 members of the graduating class of the University of the Philippines in Baguio to continue the struggle for justice.

While acknowledging that "making the right decisions during times of crisis is difficult as it puts your life and career on the line",  silence, Justice Leonen said, "maintains the status quo."  

He said silence means others will be victims of the system as well.

"Our silence in the face of abuse of power skews the system in favor of those with resources and against (the powerless)," he said, adding keeping quiet legitimizes greed and erodes public trusts and institutions.

"It is not only unjust, silence when we have the ability to speak is also cause of injustice," he said.

He told the graduates—led by 20-year-old Biology summa cum laude Kenworth Bal-iyang—that no doubt the decision to speak up or shut up "is an experience you will go through."

"Silence when we fall victims or after we serve as accomplices to corrupt acts," he said, adding "doing the right thing is necessary because of poverty and oppression." 

'Always struggle, serve the people'

Leonen also touched on the government's perceived meekness over the Recto Bank incident, where 22 Filipino fishermen were left behind after being rammed by a Chinese vessel. "What use when we lose our strong words when a fishers' boat is sunk," he said.

He then asked graduates: "Do we still have the passion and courage to do right by our people?"  

He said that the next generation should work to be "better" than previous ones.

"Make your existence more meaningful. Do not allow yourselves to be silenced," he said.

RELATED: Duterte sorry Recto Bank fishermen feel belittled

In the face of threats from those who abuse, Leonen told the graduates to "persist always and resist injustice" while reiterating UP's tradition of activism.

"Always struggle," he said. "Serve the people."

'We owe the people, not the government'

Aptly, Bal-iyang, in his valedictory address, acknowledged that "the real problems of the nation lie outside the boundaries of our university."

Remembering his childhood in  Gregorio del Pilar and in Quirino, two towns nestled between the Ilocos lowlands and the Cordilleran highlands, Bal-iyang said: "I have seen and heard stories of my people’s struggles." 

Discrimination against ethnic minority groups, lack of access to quality education and healthcare, decreased agricultural productivity, environmental degradation, and land encroachment by opportunistic elites are some of the problems they have faced and continue to face, the valedictorian said.

"Beyond my homeland, more troubles are faced by the Filipino people,"  he said, citing issues of extrajudicial killings, marginalization of the Lumads in the Bangsamoro region, contractual labor, brain drain, disinformation, imperialism, loss of our marine territories, endangerment of our fishermen’s lives, and overexploitation of resources. 

"These are rampant in our present-day society."

READ: Biology major from Ilocos Sur is UP Baguio's second summa cum laude grad

The class valedictorian also enjoined his batchmates: "As we leave the University and pursue our own goals, let us not forget our honor as Iskolar ng Bayan indebted to the nation."  

He said that that debt is not owed to the government or any other political authority "but to the Filipino people, the Filipino masses who have showed resilience and resistance in centuries of struggle."   

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