28 June 2016,
UP Mindanao Administration Building,
UP Mindanao graduating students of 2016, congratulations for a job well done. I am honored to have this opportunity to speak before you today, as we send you off to your next journey. There are many reasons to celebrate this big day but let me begin by reminding you that as graduates of UP Mindanao, you are special.
Even the location of your campus is special. It is an hour away from the bustling heart of Davao City and is surrounded by a landscape isolated from urban and commercial distractions. Students who come from various places and backgrounds are as diverse as the plant and animal species that thrive in the more than 200-hectare campus of UP Mindanao.
The significance of Davao City, of course, has become more pronounced in the political sphere with the election of the city’s mayor to the country’s highest seat of office. He was elected on a platform of change.
Creation of UP Mindanao
More than what I have already mentioned, you are special because of the history of UP Mindanao.
I don’t know if you are aware that UP Mindanao is the only constituent university of the UP System that was created by an act of congress. UP Mindanao was a product of two decades of active lobbying by UP alumni in the region for the creation of a University of the Philippines in the South. Republic Act No. 7889, signed into law in 1995, breathed life to this endeavor and created an institution which was mandated to provide affordable quality education, scholarly research, and responsive and relevant extension services to diverse, marginalized, and deserving sectors in Mindanao and neighboring regions.
Right off the bat, UP Mindanao was given this noble mission of bringing Tatak UP higher education to the region. It is my hope that you, as graduates of UP Mindanao, will share in its endeavor going forward—just as you have dedicated your energy, talents, and so many sleepless nights to get to this, your graduation day.
Let me hasten to clarify, though, that with the enactment of Republic Act No. 9500 in 2008, UP Mindanao is now governed under this new Charter of the UP System.
The Sablay in UP
In any case, today is your Sablay day. For those who are not familiar with our institutional and academic culture—this sounds like an ominous foreboding. For all of us here, however, today’s event is a victory and a beginning of a journey toward greater things.
In colloquial Filipino, sablay means “failure or missed chance.” But the word originally refers to the draping fabric worn on the shoulder by indigenous Filipinos. The verb isablay means to put a precious object upon one’s shoulder, as a way of giving value and respect to this very object.
In 1990, the Sablay was introduced and replaced the traditional mortarboard and toga in UP Diliman. In 2000, the UP officially adopted this culturally meaningful and colorful clothing as our official academic costume to signify the University’s commitment to the pursuit of knowledge, cultural enrichment, and scientific advancement.
Although the official UP Sablay is now also woven in the North (in Baguio City, for instance), it got its inspiration from the Iloilo fabric called hablong and the design from the Mindanao malong—the traditional garment worn by ethnic tribes in Southern Philippines and the Sulu archipelago.
The Sablay symbolizes our nationalism and the importance we put upon our indigenous culture—values you learned from the University. It also carries our official colors—maroon, green, and yellow gold—to signify the high standards of honor and excellence each graduate embodies. It is adorned with ukkil (or foliate patterns) that represent the growth of knowledge and geometric motifs from various indigenous Philippine tribes that represent diversity.
In many cultures around the world, traditional weavers knit their community’s life stories in intricate and colorful fabrics. In the same vein, the Sablay is your life story. It is a narrative of your aspirations, apprehensions, struggles, perseverance, and ultimate success. The Sablay bears the initials of the University of the Philippines in Baybayin.
Hence, the narrative of each thread revolves around UP, and thus, the nation.
By no means is the Sablay an adornment you wear as a prize. It represents the nation’s hope in you as future leaders. As UP graduates, you were taught to think differently, to challenge long-held beliefs, and to provide answers rather than merely pointing out problems. Hence, you bear the responsibility of taking leadership in the development of our country and the Sablay draping on your shoulders symbolizes that burden.
A Philippine President from Mindanao
You are graduating at a crucial point in our history. A few days from now the national government will be under a new administration. At its helm is a leader who hails from this region and is known for his efficient but unorthodox leadership.
With more than 100 million people, our country is one of the most populous nations in Southeast Asia. About a quarter of that population is mired in poverty. Moreover, there is a widening gap between the rich and the poor, on top of rampant corruption, inadequate infrastructure, poor-quality public service, and decades of insurgencies. These are big challenges.
As a new thread of Philippine history gets woven in under the new administration, you are going to become the new physical and natural scientists, teachers, social scientists, architects, artists, agribusiness experts, and knowledge workers who will contribute to the continuing saga of weaving the country’s socioeconomic fabric. You will become both fuel and fodder to the new administration’s redistributive policies. You will be part of the transformation that our people wish and hope, and as UP graduates, you are especially expected to play a role.
It is, no doubt, going to be a critical period of history for all of us.
The promise of Mindanao
All eyes are on Mindanao right now, not only because the incoming president is from the region, but also because he has vowed to end government’s preoccupation with “imperial” Manila—a situation that has left many far-flung provinces underdeveloped. If the incoming national administration can also continue the peace process in the region, it will no doubt foster greater stability in the South, attract more investment in this region, and unlock its economic potential. This Mindanao that has long been viewed as a land of promise might yet become a promise fulfilled. A lot of you, if not all, will be at the forefront of these changes.
It has always been fashionable to bemoan the “neglect” of Mindanao and government’s ineptitude in responding to its problems. Often, this line of thinking is used to frame a tale of hopelessness so ingrained in the region, justifying the impetus to leave and venture in so-called greener pastures.
I hope you do not fall into this reductionism. You know better that the conflict in Mindanao has nothing to do with religion or its cultural core. It has a solution if we tirelessly pursue its conclusion. Of course, there are terrorists, bandits, and extremists here and there. But terrorism, extremism, and banditry are not problems exclusive to Mindanao. These likewise exist as global threats. And the best way to combat them is to be aware of the factors that have brought them, in the first place.
Perhaps it is too heavy a burden, but you, the UP Mindanao graduates, are who we hope will be among the competent and responsible leaders of the South.
The UP graduate’s commitment to the nation
Transferring the UP Sablay from your right shoulder to the left today is more than a ceremony. It represents a commitment to weave the future of this nation, through your skills, talents, and dedication. It is also acceding to the commitment to serve our country and people. However, service to the nation does not have to be through big endeavors. It can be a small well-intended intervention. It can be a little act of kindness. It can be as simple as fulfilling your civic duties as citizens and acting with justice, honesty, and good faith in dealing with fellow citizens—and encouraging others to do the same.
I must emphasize at this point that service is a commitment, not an entitlement. UP graduates do not have a monopoly of patriotism, selflessness, or even competence.
The need for humility and staying connected
While UP students are often told they are a cut above the rest, you as UP graduates should not harbor an elitist attitude that will keep you segregated from others. More than intellect, you need humility. As you go into your professional life and embark on your chosen fields, you will notice the perceptible air of respect—and sometimes disdain—from others. It comes with the package. Be open and humble about it.
Like the threads woven into your Sablay, you unravel too easily unless you are able to work with others. Connect with your superiors, workmates, and clients. More importantly, you need the same humility to serve—to connect with our people. That is because you studied in UP not to become this nation’s privileged intellectual elite—but this nation’s hope.
Preparing for a life of service
Right after you leave UP, you often become passionate about your role to help the nation.
But if you are to serve the people, then you should at least be armed with enough experience, empathy, and credibility to understand their needs. So you should not expect, nor should you be expected, to immediately serve national needs or become pillars of social justice as soon as you get your diploma.
Nation building, lest we forget, is not an internship nor an OJT (on-the-job-training). It is not an experiment. You can serve the people more effectively when you shall have prepared yourself and built on what you learned in UP.
I believe that as UP graduates, you have the freedom to reap the material rewards of your education as you develop your capabilities through experience. You may even pursue further studies or work overseas. In due time, I know, you will aspire to serve others.
So as you leave the portals of UP Mindanao, take with you your talents, enrich them with perseverance, and strengthen them with optimism. Service to our country is a commitment of a lifetime, so there is no need to rush. The nation will understand that you have to first build yourself up, help your family, or send your siblings to school, before you can broaden your reach to serve the bigger Filipino community.
Adopting an international outlook in serving the country
Your service need not be confined in the Philippines. Serving our country does not mean limiting the breadth of your wings. There are regional and global leadership positions that can also impact the country.
Here at UP, we have begun adopting an international outlook. Not only do we work to increase the mobility of UP students across the world through exchange programs, we also pursue more academic and research partnerships between UP and universities from different countries. As the country’s sole national university, UP must internationalize so it can enhance its capability and that of its graduates to serve our people and to take leadership in the development of a globally-competitive Philippines. I believe UP can do better, and achieve more, if we collaborate closely with other leading universities in ASEAN and the rest of the world, and learn from their best practices.
The country can benefit a lot from the international experience of UP graduates only if those who go abroad will eventually return, sooner than later, or at least, reconnect through collaborative partnership with those working in the country. Remember that your nest is here, and that there are students like you once were, still learning how to fly.
The Sablay: a reminder of the commitment to serve
The Sablay now on your shoulder bears the story of our nation and people. After this ceremony, you will probably wash it, fold it neatly, and store it in a safe place. But the essence of it will remain on your shoulders—as a reminder of the burden you bear—your commitment to serve.
If you choose to renege on this commitment, I am certain the thought of the Sablay will remind you. The reminder will be whispered in the failed dreams of your generation, in the cries of those at the margins, and in the silence of the oppressed. Even more simply, you will be reminded because I know you will miss UP.
When you are ready to serve, do what you can for our country and people. The moment you answer the call of service is when the Sablay will truly embody your success as a UP graduate.
Congratulations again to the UP Mindanao Class of 2016!
This message is part of the collection of Messages from the President of the University of the Philippines. You can access the other pieces by clicking through the image below.
For photos of the event, please click through the album below.