On June 24, Chief Justice Reynato Puno served as the keynote speaker at the Araw ng Maynila rites. His speech touched on the history of the country’s first city and praised the Outstanding Manilans honored that day. Then, in two lengthy paragraphs, he thundered against the most pernicious threats to our democracy:
We look up to our honorees today for inspiration, as guiding lights as we face problems that threaten the existence of our democratic and republican character as a nation. Without doubt, a primary threat to our democracy is the lack of truth in a lot of the ongoing political, social and economic discourses. With the coming electoral exercise, our people need the truth and nothing but the truth from those who govern us and like to govern us; for the people cannot exercise their sovereign judgment at the polling places if what is foisted to them are half truths, if not falsified facts. Electoral exercises are meaningful only if the voters, especially the less cerebral masses, are well educated on the hot button issues of the day and are not waylaid by misinformation. Given our penchant for the cult of the popular, the cult of conformity, we cannot afford any impoverished debate on such issues as rule of law, good governance, corruption, poverty and environment. We are happy that three of our awarders are from media and one comes from the academe. It is the media and the academe that can separate the reel from the real; it is the media and the academe that can lift the iron curtain of wrong information that is fed to our less literate people; it is the media and the academe that have the highest intolerance to falsehood; more than the swine flu, we should dread the epidemic of ignorance for, as the Scripture reminds us, it is truth that will set us free.
Without doubt too, the other problem that will not let go our eyeballs is the problem of poverty. We are facing the inevitability of recession; no ifs and buts about it, the number of our people sinking below the poverty line is not decreasing for we see the rising number of clenched fists belonging to the least, the last and the lost. If that is not enough, we behold the worst kind of poverty – the poverty of spirit, the spirit of greed of the few that devastates the many which is most unfortunate for history teaches us that when the reign of greed begins, the rule of law ends. We are thankful that we are honoring awardees who have lived lives that prove we can have fathomless faith on the assurance that hard work can break the chains of poverty; that poverty need not be the perpetual prison of the poor; that honesty in business is rewarded and ought not to be a matter of moral generosity. The rags to riches stories of our honorees should inspire our poverty stricken people; they should serve as antidote to their antipathies; and they should encourage them to resume their journey to hope. We thank them for the message done through philanthropy that the few cannot flourish at the expense of the many.
I have heard the Chief Justice speak several times; I thought this speech, in particular these two paragraphs attacking the “lack of truth” in contemporary politics, the “epidemic of ignorance,” and, worst of all, the “poverty of spirit” that results from the “greed of the few,” was his best.