(Speech of Comelec Commissioner Ma. Rowena A. V. Guanzon before the graduating class of 2017 of the U.P. School of Economics. Delivered at the UPSE Recognition Rites held at the U.P. Theater on 23 June 2017.  The introduction to the speaker can be found here.)


Dean Orville Solon, Prof. Ma. Joy Abrenica, Prof. Maria Socorro Gochoco-Bautista, Prof. Aleli Kraft, Associate Prof. Agustin Arcenas, Prof Joseph Capuno, Asst. Prof. Renato Reside Jr, Asst. Prof. Margarita Gonzales, Asst Prof. Maria Cielo Magno, the faculty and staff of the UP School of Eocnomics, the best school of economics in Asia and possibly in the planet, the graduating Class of 2017, good afternoon.

I want to thank you for inviting me to speak because you make me feel that today I am also graduating from the UP School of Economics. That is because I was an “irregular” or “rogue” student when I was here because I spent more time in rallies and the tennis courts than in the classrooms, although I have at least one witness who can testify that I did graduate in the summer of 1979, and that is no other than our Dean Orville Solon. In 1978 to 1979 we co-founded the UP Economics Towards Consciousness and he was our first Chair. ETC was born on the floors and corners of the school grounds, an idea of no more than ten students who did not think that the school organizations in the college reflected their principles on social consciousness and style.

I owe my education in the School of Economics to my professors, especially to Professor Gwen Tecson, who patiently taught Economics so well that I actually understood it. I remember Prof. Philip Medalla, Prof. Paderanga. Prof. Mahar Mangahas was my professor in Agriculture Economics.

When I was Mayor of Cadiz City during the administration of President Corazon C Aquino, I met NEDA Secretary Solita “Winnie” Monsod in Malacanang. I introduced myself as her former student. Of course she didn’t remember me. I told her that when she was present I was absent and when she was absent I was present. Calculus Economics was difficult, but the professor was interesting. To our professors, past and present, thank you from the bottom of my heart.

I thought that Dean Orville Solon was merely practicing his sense of humor when I was told that I would be your commencement speaker. I was hardly your ideal scholarly Econ student, but after thirty eight (38) years since I graduated, I have done a lot of work, made mistakes, learned my lessons from failures, and fairly succeeded in my career of choice. I have a happy and socially and politically conscious family, and made many friends for life from UP. I couldn’t ask for more. I suppose my experiences qualify me to speak before you today.

What can I say to the brightest Economics students in the country? I wrote down ten points. If you can remember three, the Dean will let you graduate today.

1. Do not let history pass you by. Do your part. Speak out. Stand for what is right and just. Participate. Contribute your efforts and your talents to a good cause, be advocates for social change, the environment, human rights or other interest where your heart is

Your education in UP will surely not prepare you for everything, but it has prepared you to analyze, to be critical, to stand up for what is right and just, and to protest against what is wrong. People who are not from UP say we protest too much. But the tradition of protesting against wrongs is inseparable from our tradition of honor and excellence. It is inseparable because UP brought us up to serve the people, with honor and excellence. So when some say we protest too much, I tell them they protest too little.

When some say those from UP are mayabang, tikalon, arrogant, I say that is a badge of honor. Hubris is only for those who have the intellectual right to claim it. Kaya panindigan nyo yung yabang natin. Dapat pinakamagaling kayo. And someday, when you have done something good, or when an asteroid or planet is named after you, or when you belong to a group that helps poor people, we will be there to clap for you, proud to claim you as one of our own.

It was here in UP that I trained for the real world – a world where there is poverty, where 101.5 million Filipinos live below the poverty line, where there are the powerful and powerless, battered women, children who are victims of rape, children who could not go to school, where there are corrupt people in government and those who murder with impunity.

When I was in UP I studied to pass my subjects even while I felt that ours was a broken world. But I had hope, just like many others, that one day, Martial Law and the dictatorship would end.   I enjoyed my campus life and my friends here but I felt that we were not safe. Some of our friends were arrested, and we faced an uncertain future. Even my father, a Judge, thought that law was not the career for me under Martial Law. But I told him that with more reason that I should be a lawyer, because we were under Martial Law. And not just any lawyer, but a lawyer from the UP College of Law.

I was admitted to the Bar in 1985 and worked in one of the largest law firms in the country. But in 1986, Ferdinand Marcos, under pressure from the international community, called for a snap election and Corazon C Aquino was chosen by the opposition to be the candidate for President. The Corazon Aquino for President Movement was organized nationwide including in Negros Occidental, my province. A brother of Ninoy Aquino came to my law office with a good friend of mine, to request that I and my family lead the campaign for Coryin Cadiz City, my hometown. That would have been not so difficult except that the one leading the campaign for Marcos was a warlord, our congressman. And I am talking about a real warlord, with a private army, with the police and military under his beck and call. I am talking about the Escalante Massacre type of a warlord.

I called my parents. My father was a Judge and my mother a Provincial Board Member. Both are still alive at 92.  It was not an easy decision for me, but I followed my heart, and my intuition, whatever you call it, that this is it, this is now or never. This is the fight that we have been waiting for. And we might die in the process.

I resigned from ACCRA Law Office, and the managing partner, Teddy Regala, gave me about P7000 as separation pay. With that in my pocket and some savings, I went home.

I and my two brothers (one of them a doctor who graduated from UP Zoology and Marine Biology) and our eldest sister, a lawyer and now a judge, had a meeting with our parents. Our youngest sister Viki was graduating from the UP College of Medicine that year. We knew what we were up against. We knew we could not possibly make Cory win in Cadiz. We lacked campaign funds, we only had a few loyal people who could not carry firearms, and less than ten sugar planters from Cadiz who were on the side of Cory. We organized a rag tag band of campaign leaders and workers, aided by the workers of some sugar planters.

We knew the odds were against us, but we also knew one thing we learned in UP, and that is, the five letter word – F I G H T. Fight! My parents, who are the best, most courageous, bravest and smartest parents in the world to me, said that we were on the right side of history, and my mother resigned from Marcos’ party, the KBL or Kilusang Bagong Lipunan and campaigned for Cory publicly.

That was also where I learned how the Commission on Elections and the teachers comprising the Board of Election Inspectors were used to cheat Cory Aquino. So I think it is really providential that I am Commissioner of the Commission on Elections today.

To make the story short, Cory lost the election, and my family planned how to survive our defeat. The next day, very early in the morning, I took a jeep to Bacolod and a flight to Manila. In Manila, people started rallying in EDSA so my friends and I we went to EDSA. When Marcos fled the country, we could not believe it was really over. Martial Law was over.

To make the long story shorter, when Cory Aquino became President, all incumbent officials were replaced by officers-in-charge. Bishop Antonio Fortich recommended me to President Corazon C Aquino who appointed me Officer-in Charge of the Office of the Mayor of Cadiz City. DILG Secretary Nene Pimentel signed my appointment on May 2, 1986. I served as Cadiz City Mayor from 1986 to 1992, having been elected in 1988.

2. Your Economics degree is going to be useful to you and those you serve someday, so remember the practical lessons.

My lessons in Economics were tested on the first day. The previous Mayor spent all the budget of the Office of the Mayor and most of the funds for other departments. Salaries were unpaid. Cadiz was a third class city with a deficit. Infant mortality rate was high at 37 for every 1000, children were not immunized, maternal mortality rate was high, poor people needed potable water, livelihood, school buildings, and many other services.

I had to run City Hall and deliver basic services such as water, health, sanitation, with very little money to start with. I had to professionalize the police, enforce law and order, and involved the residents in the basics of democracy.

Before I started, I asked the help of a retired Auditor, a family friend, and he looked at the books for me, taught me where and how much were the available funds. Talk about an instant practical crash course on how to use scarce resources .

To make the long story short, I hired a good City Assessor and City Treasurer, we did the tax mapping, color coded, because in 1986 to 1992 there was no affordable GIS technology. I computerized the tax assessment records and the civil registry. We declared amnesty for delinquent real estate taxpayers provided they paid their current tax payables, met with business people, who agreed to pay double the business taxes what they were paying (which was really and underpayment in the first place). I closed one movie house just to send a message.

For those who were not delinquent, we improved their barangay roads and farm roads. I personally took charge of the campaigning for higher Urban Basic Services Programme, a joint project with UNICEF, and after a year improved child immunization performance and maternal and child care significantly, and in a few years reduced infant and maternal mortality rate significantly, built thousands of water pumps, gave livelihood to women and the urban poor. There was not a single case of rape reported because I said that I would hang the rapists upside down by the flagpole.

To make the story shorter, from a third Class City in 1986, Cadiz became a First Class City with a surplus before 1992. I would no have been able to do all that if I did not study Economics and Law in UP. Every time someone said it could not be done, I said, “so sue me.”   Of course, all throughout these endeavors, for six years, I carried a firearm everyday.

3. Choose the work that your love, and your will succeed in your career.

Some of you will go to law school, some will make Economics your career as academicians, others will join the banking sector, others will go into businesses. Some of you will work in non-profit organizations. Think of yourselves five, ten, twenty , thirty years from now. Where will you be? What are your career goals?

Whatever field you get into, choose the work that you love and you will succeed. You will succeed because you will put your heart into it. You can have the brightest mind, but if you have no motivation, no drive, no inspiration and no endurance, you will not achieve your best potential.

4 . Regardless of your obstacles, never give up.

Some people start out very poor, some with physical and other disabilities and other disadvantages. But they don’t give up. I know some people who ate only two times a day in campus and shared photocopies of cases of their classmates, and they are successful lawyers today.

The race is not only for the fastest and the brightest; it is also for those who do not give up. If you fail, learn your lessons but get up. Never give up. And someday when you become parents or complement parents, never give up on your children.

5. Create and innovate.

We shall soon release you to the unsuspecting public, who think that you, UP graduates, have the answer to many things. Remember, there are times when framing the question is more important that the answer.

Create not only businesses but also ideas. Create or join organizations and social movements that will transform lives and make our world a better place.

6. And on the practical side of things, don’t spend more than what you earn.

7. Call your parents or those who sent you to college regularly. You will never be able to repay them for their sacrifice and generosity.

8. Keep your friends from UP, you will enjoy their friendship for life, help you find a job, support you when you’re down, and give you good advise.

My friends from the UP School of Economics who gave me my first interesting job in 1979 were Facundo (Pakito) Yaneza and Grace Santibanez, my sis in the UP SILAB Sisterhood. My salary was 27 pesos a day. Most of the good friends I have today are my friends in UP, my classmates in the UP College of Law and my sorority sisters in Delta Lamba da Sigma.

9. If you find it, don’t say no to true love. And if doesn’t work, if it turns out to be a mistake, move on. And girl, forgive yourself for falling for that jerk.

10. And in the end, when it all comes down to just one moment, the moment before we pass away, none of your accomplishments will matter if you do not love God.

 And so today, by the mercy of the Faculty and the power of the Dean, you have been declared graduates.

Go out there and show them how. Make us proud !




Ma. Rowena Amelia V. Guanzon, Ll.B., M.P.A
Commissioner, Commission on Elections

A.B. Economics (UP) 1979 (Student number 74-17196)
Ll. B. (UP) 1984
M.P.A. (Harvard) 1995