Speech of President Rodrigo Roa Duterte during the 21st International Assembly and Conference of the Knights of Rizal
SMX Convention Center, Lanang, Davao City
23 February 2017
Good evening.

Chief Justice Reynato Puno Sr., Supreme Commander Knights of Rizal, and other members of the Supreme Council; members of the Knights of Rizal; honorable guests; my beloved countrymen.

Your conferment upon me today of the Knight Grand Cross of Rizal, the highest degree was the Knights of Rizal could give any person with, is truly humbling.

I must confess, however, that I suffer the sense of inadequacy knowing that I stand before assemblage of men who are so fused with patriotic fervor, deeply imbued with Dr. Jose Rizal’s ideals and visions, and dedicated to the diffusion of his writings and teachings.

Tell me, how does one relate appropriately to such people with lofty credentials? That is the circumstance under which I labor and I can only hope that I would justice the award that you bestow upon me today.

My friends, when I threw my hat in the presidential ring, I knew that our country has beset to the multitude of problems, some minor but mostly major.

I did not know then how deeply ingrained and enormous those problems were. Nonetheless and early on, I felt that there must be a meaningful change or reform with those occupying the highest positions in government.

We know what we need or ought to do but we do not do them because our concept of government is parochial and we cannot rise above our family ethnic and clan loyalties.

As we push through ourselves to a better Philippines, I recall Dr. Jose Rizal’s writings. Thus I have also written the change or reforms if they are to bear fruit must come from the above for change or reforms that come below are upheavals, both violent and transitory.

Perhaps, it would be good for us to revisit the wisdom contained in the words of Dr. Jose Rizal, which reverberate from centuries passed.

To start with after Rizal published the Noli Me Tángere, he created a lot of enemies. And Father Sanchez of the Society of Jesus, who feared for his life and safety and security, warned him of terrible consequences.

He asked Dr. Jose Rizal, “You do not fear the consequences of your boldness?”

Rizal answered: “Father, you are a missionary. When you are on a mission, do your duty without fear of consequences. Are you not afraid, too?”

Father Sanchez retorted: “That is completely a different thing.”

Rizal said, “Not at all, Father. Your mission is to baptize pagans. Mine is to dignify men.”

In his letter to Resurrección Hidalgo, he said, “I have laughed at my misfortunes because nobody wanted to weep with me.”

These are but two of the country’s messages of the wisdom that Dr. Jose Rizal either said or wrote. But these two meaningful outstand because of their simplicity and richness in their meaning and implication.

To say that Dr. Jose Rizal was ahead of his time is no empty statement.

For instance, my administration has proposed to shift from a governmental structure to a federal system. But it is really nothing new for in this the Filipinas Dentro de Cien Años, “The Philippines a Century Hence,” published at La Solidaridad circa [1889] and 1890.

Dr. Jose Rizal saw the merits and the advantages of a federal system of government. No wonder, he predicted that the Philippines would probably adopt a federal republic once liberated. [applause]

For now, we do not need to discuss what these advantages are. That will follow later. Frankly, I hope to see the Knights of Rizal in the forefront of the campaign to shift to the federal type of government.

All of us know how Dr. Jose Rizal died. But we do not know how he lived. Men become heroes not so much because they have died but more so of how they lived.

Indeed, Dr. Jose Rizal’s life was a heroic struggle to dignify the Filipino.

As aptly said by Leon Maria Guerrero, it was when he was commissioned to write a brief of Dr. Jose Rizal’s life that he discovered that the way Dr. Jose Rizal died was not so important as the way he lived.

And since his life was essentially apostleship, the way he lived was not so much important as what he thought and wrote. One’s thoughts revealed in the words government wants life. That is how things are.

Dr. Jose Rizal is as relevant to us now as he was in this nation during his lifetime. His words echo and re-echo through the years, but sad to say, it seems that we have not profited enough from their wisdom.

We need to reexamine our conscious along the lines of Dr. Jose Rizal. Rizal’s thoughts, aspirations, and vision, and then decide whether we strengthen the bond that unites us as a people and nation or tear this country apart.

Finally, let us not delude ourselves into believing that Dr. Jose Rizal was a faultless being because he was not, he was mortal like us.

Summing up the person that Dr. Jose Rizal was, Leon Maria Guerrero in 1961 award winning biography of Dr. Jose Rizal, entitled, “The First Filipino”:

“Rizal was not perfect and he was not always right, but I trust that those who read the story of his life will perceive that his humanity is precisely the secret of his greatness.”

You can be a Rizal, I can be Rizal in our own modest ways and within the limits of our competence and capacities. We can all be Rizals.

Thank you and good evening to all.