It was lodged early in my childish mind that the Philippines stood in the exact center of the world. When I learned to study maps I would look from the Philippines to east and west, south and north, and know the world had swept in from all sides to merge in the Philippines. We were the meeting place, the melting pot of the nations, the bridge upon which rested the four corners of that world.
Filipinos had invested lives and blood in human rights. Thus, when the United Nations set out to formulate a universal declaration of human rights, the Philippines was an earnest and enthusiastic participant. The Filipino people had spent close to 400 years fighting for human rights; we wanted the principles and ideals we had fought for enshrined and made secure.
I longed to be President of the Philippines. I was determined to challenge Quirino. But even if I lost, the very fact that someone had dared challenge him would weaken his power. I firmly believed that owing to my years of experience in the United States, which had given us its concept of our democracy, and the years of experience in the United Nations, I would be able to give the Philippines an intelligent and honest government. I had served under four presidents and felt that I had been through the mill. Patriotism had its part in my decision; I was being forced into it by circumstances, not by politics.
The presidency of the United Nations was not thrust upon me overnight. I had to grow up to the measurements it demanded of a proponent of peace. This was done session by session, step by step. It entailed trips halfway around the world, again and again. It demanded nights without sleep, studying, writing, poring over documents; days without rest, and always the curb on the temper and the willingness to give and to receive.
I do not wish to denigrate what America did for us or taught us. What we learned about American culture—their ideals and values—helped to launch us on to the mainstream of liberal democracy. What was wrong was the mistaking of the same means for the same ends. It was not the American enthusiasm to proselytize democracy among us, but the lack of understanding of the workings of the Filipino mind and society that failed.
Can I be blamed for indulging in bitterness? Everywhere in America new Japanese stores are doing brisk business. Japanese products are in every American store. I see Japanese trade being nourished and reactivated in America while the Philippines has to fight for everything it gets from this country.
It was our belief then, and we believe even more strongly today, that we were presiding over the birth of the first truly representative world government, a Parliament of Man, which would bring all nations together in a genuine organic union that would guarantee not only peace for all time, but the achievement of whatever purposes mankind set their hearts to.
After Vietnam, I do not think the American people will ever consent to involving their troops in Asia. Thus, an American defense of the Philippines in the future is dubious. The Americans must now think of themselves, and I don’t blame them.
The luxury of choice is not always open to ASEAN countries. We in the ASEAN, separately and together, have a moral, legal, and if you wish, even a divine right to run our affairs in ways which suit our temperaments as peoples.
The calculus of great power relationships in Asia, including Southeast Asia, is a riddle and will remain so for an indeterminate future.
The survival of mankind will depend on a rational and peaceful use of the sea, its seabeds, and its resources. For as global land resources diminish in relation to the expanding population, mankind must turn to the sea for life.
Diplomats are truly an endangered species. Diplomats have been ambushed, bombed, threatened, and in some cases murdered with an impunity which defies rational explanation. If we look for answers, it might possibly lie in this: It reflects the chaotic conditions of an emerging world whose outlines have yet to be defined.
One should not condemn too quickly the regulation of civil and political rights when this is rendered necessary by the need of the community to defend itself from the depredations of a few. To give free rein to the nihilist few in the name of human rights would mean the ultimate folly of collective suicide.
This is what we mean by human rights: The right to life is basic. The right of all human beings to the integrity of their bodies, the freedom of their minds, to lives of dignity and fulfillment and peace—to that right we can give our allegiance without exceptions or reservations or evasions. But we have, I fear, been toying with abstractions. In the Philippines, we have sought to give life to this all-embracing concept. Fundamental to the achievement of this goal is the question of land reform. A second point is education through cultural re-orientation which makes possible the development of skills and receptivity to new ideas. And the third point is a massive effort at economic development aimed at benefitting all segments of Philippine society.
Rule by martial law, if unduly prolonged, will be governed by the familiar dynamics of dictatorship. Succession in such governments is achieved by violent coups, leading inexorably to the total defeat of the democratic processes.
Most of us view reality through rose-tinted glasses. The problem, therefore, is not in reality but in our glasses.
While you think governments are trying to run the press, governments think the press is trying to run their countries.
This article originally appeared in the August 2014 issue of Esquire Philippines.
*Minor edits have been made by the Esquiremag.ph editors.