Speech of Ramon Magsaysay Awardee Haydee B. Yorac before the Ateneo de Manila University Convocation on September 15, 2004
I thank the Ateneo University for bestowing upon me this honor. It is particularly poignant for me that this special ceremony is only for me and the late Father Niall O’Brien after the ceremony for all other awardees on July 29.
Niall O’Brien was my friend with whom I had split a beer or two a long time ago while we contemplated Philippine society and debated the answers to its problems. He was an Irishman who lived and died a true Filipino in the way he worked for the people specially the poor. Up until his death, he showed unshakable faith and love and hope for and with whom he worked.
Government service has been largely shunned by those who have options as to work. The pay is low, the work is heavy, government is perceived to be generally corrupt and incompetent, and there is too much interference by those who have nothing to do with the office.
But there are unseen rewards, not illegal or immoral, in government service. My work in the Commission on Elections, for example, enabled me to see the distant provinces in the country and to interact with all sorts of people including the military, the warlords and the ordinary people. It was an experience more instructive than all the political science and sociology courses I took in the university. It enabled me to understand why rules on elections did not seem to operate in many parts of the country; it caused me to know how to make the formal rules work. The bonus is seeing the beauty of the country such as watching the sun merge with the calm and quiet Sulu Sea during sunset.
I, therefore, encourage particularly the young people, especially those who are not burdened by family responsibility to spend three to five years in government. In this way, you do not leave the government largely in the hands of the mediocre and indifferent and the corrupt. We have no right to moralize, unless we help when given the chance.
We are living in a time of crisis.
The tendency is to be cynical or helpless. This is the beginning of despair that will surely make things worse and institutions spiral downward for the worse. It is precisely during these times that we should be determined to make things better, to dredge our reserve of strength and moral conviction to counter the downtrend. It is the time to renew our faith and our hope that we can do better for our country. Not faith and hope in the abstract, but faith and hope founded on our commitment to work and do things for the better.