A picture of stark and shocking tragedy by one of splendid heroism flashed before my mind’s eye as I entered this hall a few minutes ago. The picture was kaleidoscopic, painful, and bloody, almost to the end. It was a composite picture of the enemy occupation from the fall of Manila to the return of the victorious American forces of liberation, or from the day the ominous and dreadful shadow of Japanese tyranny darkened our land to the time the light of liberty swept it away.
I am happy to know that the main object of your conviction is to reaffirm here and now your burning faith in the cause of democracy and freedom. It is more than that. You wish to rededicate yourselves to the progress and well-being of your country. With so lofty a purpose actuating and guiding you, I have no doubt that something concrete will emerge from this meeting, and something that will be of material help not only to the members of your organization, but also to our people as a whole in taking up the formidable challenge of national recovery, which should carry with it the moral and intellectual uplift of the individual.
You represent an important part of the heroic hosts who, disdaining danger and even death, generously succored some of our countrymen in times of dire peril.
Passionately believing in the efficacy and importance of democracy as a way of life, which to me is the only way of life that is compatible with human dignity, you leaped into the fray without arms.
But you had the courage — the courage born of desperation and sustained by the sacredness of your cause. The odds were tremendous. Nevertheless the call of duty, the cry of our ravished country, spurred you on and you continued the struggle unequaled as it was until the forces of imperialism and hypocrisy were utterly routed.
It was shortly after the sad and heart-rending surrender of Bataan in 1942, after the long and exhausting encounters on its sun-baked plains, and treacherous terrains, and later in the deep tunnels of Corregidor, that you started rallying cautiously and imperceptibly under the standard of freedom. The flag of our country was your flag because to you it symbolized to us today the heroic struggle of our people, a struggle that may have suffered reverses, but has never known ultimate defeat.
From that time on to the decisive moment when the fate of liberty and democracy in our shores trembled in the balance, all of us, in one way or another, open or secret, played a part in harassing or outwitting the enemy, revealing in whispers the whereabouts of his military installations, blowing up bridges he had prepared or constructed for his retreat, or conducting a campaign to hasten the liberation of our home. The active underground movement offered a lesson in strategy. It did not escape detection, but amazingly resourceful it spread, going from one place to another, with the torch of freedom always burning bright, until the dawn of reckoning for the ruthless invader.
In the long dark days of our captivity and the heroic outbursts of our indomitable resistance, we learned the terrible secrets of war.
There are in the final analysis no real victors. Human lives and human suffering are the futile stakes. Neither the victor nor the vanquished profits by war.
In fact they both suffer from its cataclysmic impact as they become weakened, confused, impoverished, and demoralized.
In the light of this fact, we must remember that the sleep of the heroic dead is never peaceful. Side by side with the fallen heroes of our friend and ally, the United States, they share a common dust, a common earth, a common resting place. We have not yet paid the price of peace. We have not paid the price of peace exacted in the bloody trenches and foxholes of Bataan, in the tunnels of Corregidor, on the roads of Central Luzon, in the mountain fastnesses and wildernesses, on the read beaches of the Bicol regions, Lingayen, and Leyte. Perhaps we shall never be able to meet the obligation we have incurred.
Those who have paid the supreme sacrifice will want to know the answer of the living. What are we, the survivors, doing in the interest of peace? They will want to know if we realize that peace is not obtained completely until we have shaped the instruments of the institutions that will effectively prevent the recurrence of war. They will want to know if we are as vigilant as they were in protecting, maintaining, preserving, and enhancing the ideals and freedoms they fought for. The attainment of a real peace is a difficult and tortuous process in the same manner that the achievement of victory in war is a bloody and arduous ordeal.
The same qualities and more, which we employed in hastening our liberation, should now be exercised in securing real and enduring peace. In these times of regeneration, we have need of courage, proud and unflinching, of energy, abundant and untiring, and of unity, persuasive and unbroken, courage to protect the fundamental truths, such as the Bill of Rights; energy for the repair of devastated areas and for the expansion of our national economy; unity in all the tasks we undertake, foreign or domestic.
As in the years of conflict, we must realize and remember that service to the country must always come first.
Patriotism is not only written with heroic blood; it should also be written with mind and muscle.
It demands an endless sacrifice not only on the battlefields, but also in trade, in industry, and in the professions.
It is a source of comfort to us that we have passed the critical period of the tragedy into which war had plunged our people and country. We have made vast strides towards the restoration of our socio-economic life. The cruel imprint of the holocaust on our national landscape has to a large extent disappeared. There is a minimum of suffering among our people, compared with the peoples of other countries, and signs are not lacking that material prosperity will soon penetrate our land. We owe these major advances in our national life in a way to the statesmanship and foresight of our leaders in the Government and in other fields of endeavor, but mainly to the people themselves, for having ungrudgingly cooperated with us.
Progress and prosperity, if not guarded, maintained, or augmented, are not conditions that make for peace. It is for this reason that in the early stages of our attempts at reconstruction and rehabilitation we enlisted the services of the veterans of the last war and other wars. Many of those whose services the Government could not utilize have distinguished themselves in private undertakings. The work both groups have accomplished has immeasurably helped us in stimulating activity and progress in many fields.
It is to the credit of these men, most of them young, that they have unselfishly devoted their time and their energy to the promotion and enhancement of the common welfare. It is to their credit that they have brought into their duties and responsibilities breadth and freshness of view, a comprehensive grasp of the ills of and the problems with which we have to grapple, a brilliancy of strategy in attacking these issues, and a spirit of fellowship. We have an appreciable number of such men in high councils of the Government. The work they have done represents in a large measure a fulfillment of the promises the Government has made in the interest of the veterans, the soldiers, the war widows and orphans, victims of the last war, including the maimed and disabled survivors. You all know how hard and persistently our Government has worked to discharge at least part of the debt it owes you.
For more than a year now, we have continued to pay off pensions to all our veterans. The government has provided wherever possible hospitals for the disabled. It has extended educational benefits to servicemen whose schooling was rudely interrupted by the war, pensioned the widows of soldiers and given allowance for their bereaved children. More than 20,000 widows and orphans and indigent parents are the recipients of such pensions, which constitute a small amount indeed if measured against the services of our soldiers. To attend to the needs of the veterans, we have spent close to 12 million pesos for the Philippine Veterans’ Board. Right now we are fighting for the extension of additional benefits to our veterans under the GI Bill of Rights. Financially unstable as our country is, we are exerting our utmost to pay the sacred debt of gratitude our country owes to its brave and patriotic sons.
For its part, the Government asks nothing less than the contribution of your efforts in our desire to secure the liberty, happiness, and welfare of our people. The works we have so far accomplished is still incomplete. It is our determination to create a state of life which will permit and encourage our people to live in larger freedom and expanding prosperity. We can obtain that freedom and that prosperity, which condition the emergence of real peace, only by a determined and inflexible resolution, concentrated and untiring strength, and ever willing industry.
Though notable, the progress we have so far achieved still leaves much to be desired. Despite the increase in our revenue collections, we have yet to strike a balance between our expenditures and our income. The Government literally is living on borrowed money and borrowed time. Our general fund registered a surplus of 64.4 million pesos, largely because of improved collections and because of the 120-million-peso loan we secured from the United States. We have to evolve measures under which our local governments will be self-supporting agencies. It is necessary that their dependence upon the national government for aid be gradually reduced. This can be done only by registering surplus in their general funds and accounts.
We have to wipe off a great part of our national indebtedness which amounts to more than 62 million pesos. We have to stabilize our currency. We have to control inflation. We have to improve the standard of living of the common tao and enable him to obtain the amenities of life, provided with food, housing, clothing, and other necessities. We have to insure and whenever possible increase the living wages of our workers.
None of these improvements in all the levels of our society can be achieved unless we increase our productive capacity. Production, treasury, currency, labor, wages, necessities, trade are so inextricably linked with the element of life. We cannot expect to maintain our independence without any effort to support it to the fullest measure consistent with our dignity as a people and as a race. That support must come from all of us and should be motivated by no other than the common interest. That support must assume the shape of productive and creative endeavor.
Let me repeat as others have done before me that although we have passed the crisis in our national life, yet we are always faced with the manifold problems not only of stability but also of peace, progress, and prosperity. We have largely recovered from the devastating effects of war, but a country like ours — independent, a member of the community of nations, participant in world affairs — must insure its security so that it can participate as a useful working unit of a world federation.
No nation today however rich and powerful can live in splendid isolation. With others it must share its wealth and independence. Faced with the decisive problems of destructive war weapons, the world realizes with dramatic impact that mankind cannot survive if it persists in provoking the causes which will mean its utter destruction. It is this gloomy and hideous prospect that has impelled all men, regardless of creed, color, or concept, to gather around conference tables so that they may fashion and effective instrument, an efficacious institution, designed to outlaw all wars. The problem of destruction demands planning for survival through joint responsibility.
A universal effort to insure lasting and enduring peace, however, will never work without the cooperation of all men. And the cooperation of all men cannot be secured unless the people in a particular country, the Philippines, for instance, strive to be united and work side by side in the interest of common safety and common destiny.
The Republic, realizing this necessity, has actively participated in the meetings of the United Nations. For the last two and a half years it has concluded treaties of friendships and agreements with other countries, and adhered to conventions relative to trade, commerce, communications, labor. These treaties, agreements, and conventions will mean nothing unless they are supported by the will, the industry, and the understanding of all of us.
We cannot expect to attain a state of life, harmoniously geared to other countries, if we do not endeavor to bring about peace and order and progress and prosperity in our own backyard.
Let us all be united nationally whatever may be our personal differences. Let us give our motherland every ounce of energy, strength, power, and intelligence that we possess.
Let us all cooperate with the Government in the task of national reconstruction and rehabilitation, remembering that happen what may this is our country, the land that God has given us to develop and not to destroy and to make great and happy and prosperous no matter what the obstacles may be.
The members of the Philippines Legion have shown that they are always ready to give us the best of their lives that we may dwell in larger freedom. As we face the future, let us all adopt that spirit and attitude, certain that if we do we shall never fail whatever may be our goal.
We count upon you to help us in molding the destiny of our people and our country as a member of a world confederation. With you we expect to reach the highest pinnacle, the highest summit which man can reach in his endeavor, his work, and his ideals.
We count upon you to help us maintain, preserve, and enhance the freedoms and ideals we have fought for. Only thus can we avoid retracing our steps on a bloody road of disaster like that which we traversed seven years ago.
Source: Speech of the Vice-President before the Manila Chapter, Philippine Legion, at FEATI, February 22, 1948