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CEBU, Philippines – Former vice president Leonor “Leni” Robredo described this year’s graduates from the University of the Philippines in Cebu as the batch that triumphed over the pandemic and reminded them that they broke through the challenge of COVID-19 because of the solidarity in the community.
In her commencement speech on Friday, July 21, the Angat Buhay founder, commended the young graduates for their efforts, but they should remember that there were “invisible hands” which helped them overcome one of the biggest challenge of humanity.
“Within the past years, you were forced into an almost overnight transition in terms of the way you learn, the way you interact with each other, the very way you live in the world,” said Robredo, who is also a human rights lawyer.
During the pandemic which gripped the whole world for nearly three years, the online transition of education was hobbled with many adverse effects on the population of enrollees, losses for review centers, and even the closure of private academic institutions.
To remind the graduates of how they survived the pandemic situation, Robredo shared a “personal mantra”—a word that she brings with her as a now-private citizen participating in the development sector.
“That word is solidarity. Taken within the context of your graduation, solidarity could mean very simply that none of us ever gets to where we want to be on our own. This is the truth we all know in your bones but can be obscured by the weight of our personal struggles our individual hard work by all of the things that that we did on our own,” Robredo said.
The human rights lawyer added that even when the young students felt alone there would always be “invisible hands” working in the background to empower them and make burdens feel lighter.
From parents and friends to teachers and support systems, Robredo said that they were never truly alone.
“Once we begin to understand this, solidarity takes on another perhaps deeper meaning. We realize that just as we are never the sole and final cause of our achievements, so should we never be its endpoint,” Robredo said.
Fighting the good fight
The former public servant also didn’t miss the opportunity to discuss at length the fight that most student activists in the UP system are engaged in: the fight against oppression.
Robredo discussed the challenges of dealing with individuals who only pursued individual enrichment at the cost of the masses and their rights.
“If history has taught us anything it is that such a mindset of self-absorption of never having enough that is at the root of many of Humanity’s greatest challenges. Because at the end of it all, taking and taking from the world, unmindful that in taking more than we need we deprive others and being so ignorant of our interconnectedness that we run roughshod over the rights and dignities of others,” the lawyer said.
For Robredo, the opposite of solidarity is selfishness, and the same would be the root of all authoritative regimes waging war on the country’s poor, dissent, and the truth.
“It is at the root of corporations digging countless holes in the ground and extracting resources and burning them until the entire planet runs a fever,” she added.
Onward, Iskolar ng Bayan!
As a UP alumnus herself, Robredo urged the graduates to see solidarity as a viable strategy for survival as she did in 1986, during her senior year in college, when she took to the streets with her peers to fight for rights.
“When I saw peers even younger than I was throwing themselves at picket lines, raising their voices with millions to assert their right to a free future, I began to see firsthand how structural ills can only be healed through collective action and how collective action is only possible if we see others with equal dignity and therefore equal agency,” Robredo said.
The former vice president hoped that the graduates would continue to carry the spirit of solidarity within them when they finally leave to make a name for themselves outside the university.
“There is nothing you cannot achieve. You will look back to these years with fondness and perhaps a little disbelief. You will remember the struggles the triumphs and more importantly, ‘the how,’ not alone but through the support and solidarity of others,” Robredo said.
Robredo was elected Philippine vice president in 2016. She ran for the presidency in 2022, but lost to Ferdinand Marcos Jr, the son of the deposed dictator.
For its 84th Commencement Exercises, UP Cebu produced a total of 359 graduates from its colleges.
Watch the video of Robredo’s commencement speech here. – Rappler.com