President Benigno Aquino III on Wednesday urged Filipinos to unite and stand against threats to freedom, as he reminded the public to “show the true qualities of the Filipino.”
Alluding to recent territorial disputes with Asian neighbors, Aquino vowed in his Independence Day speech to “take care of what is rightfully ours,” even as he noted the Philippines has “never trampled upon the rights of others.”
“As we stand for our rights, we must continue exhibiting the values Filipinos are known for: Aggression does not run in our veins, but neither will we back down from any challenge,” the President said, after leading a flag-raising ceremony in Manila.
“We have not claimed or demanded territory that clearly belongs to another. We have neither condescended upon nor oppressed others,” he added in the ceremony held before the monument of revolutionary leader Andres Bonifacio.
The Philippines on Wednesday celebrated the 115th anniversary of independence from nearly three decades of Spanish rule, as declared by Emilio Aguinaldo on June 12, 1898.
Referring to the occasion, Aquino said: “Let us not wait three hundred years, or three decades, or even three years, before we resolve to come together and gain freedom from hunger, poverty, or whatever threatens our sovereignty and security.”
The Philippines is currently embroiled in tense disputes with China and other neighbors over territories in the West Philippine Sea. Its ties with Malaysia have also been threatened after followers of Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram staked out in Sabah, which they claim as ancestral land.
“We need to weigh our decisions carefully when it comes to these matters,” Aquino said, stressing that harming others, sowing discord and taking advantage is not in the history of the Filipino people.
“If there has been disagreement, the whole world has witnessed our willingness to sit down and conduct dialogues in a peaceful manner,” he added. The Philippines has brought China before a UN arbitration body and has earlier called for talks on the Sabah row.
He nonetheless highlighted the need to “increase the capabilities of our Armed Forces.” Aquino last month announced a P75-billion military upgrade to help boost the country’s capability to defend its territory against “bullies.”
“It is not right for Filipinos to have to stand suffering for even one minute longer. If it had only been possible, these problems should have been solved yesterday. But since this is impossible, let’s do it today,” Aquino said.