MANILA, Philippines – The day that President Rodrigo Duterte declined an honorary degree offer from the University of the Philippines (UP) was also the day that Vice President Leni Robredo accepted an honoris causa from another school.
“It is with deep gratitude and humility that I accept the honorary degree of Doctor of Humanities that this University has conferred on me. My prayer is to be worthy of the honor in all that I do and in all that I am,” Robredo said in an April 19 speech before the graduating class of the University of Saint Anthony in San Miguel, Iriga City, Camarines Sur.
Robredo advised the graduates to “take the uncertainty of the future, and use it to learn how to adapt — to face every challenge as it comes, and confront setbacks with a faithful heart,” which she said she had to learn as a student of the University of the Philippines where she was an economics major.
She said that at first, she had a “clear path in mind,” – go straight to law school and follow the footsteps of his father, who was a judge in Naga City.
But Robredo said UP and the 1986 People Power Revolution against President Ferdinand Marcos “transformed me and my ambitions.”
“Before that, I thought I was insignificant in the greater scheme of our nation’s fate. I know that some of you may feel that way right now: that your voice is too small to be heard or that you are not important enough to make a difference,” the Vice President said.
“But my time at UP proved that no matter who you are, no matter how small you might feel, you have it in you to make an impact on the world. You have it in you to make a real and positive change in our country,” she said.
“As I mentioned, I promised my father that I would go straight to law school. But being a student activist made me realize that young as I was, I could do so much more for the country if I gained some work experience, and if I did that work in the field of public service.”
After Robredo was allowed by his father to postpone taking up law, she said she worked at the Bicol River Basin Development Program Office, where she met Jesse Robredo, who later became her husband.
“When I finally became a lawyer, I decided to pursue a career in law that was different from my peers. Most lawyers make a lot of money, but I knew by then that wealth for wealth’s sake was not a priority for me and Jesse.”
“Instead, I decided to become a public service lawyer: first with the Public Attorney’s Office, and later, for a network of volunteer lawyers called SALIGAN. In the course of my law career, I dealt firsthand with the grim realities among the poorest of our people. I saw how the law could be subverted so that it protects only the rich, while the poor are forced into deeper deprivation.”
She said her life was disrupted following her husband’s death but her self-trust helped her “to recover even as the pain remains.”
“I was also deeply grateful that Jesse’s influence over our family was not cut short by his death. In fact, his legacy gained new strength among the Filipinos who came forward then, and told us of how they were inspired by him.”
“That was when I decided to heed the call of political leadership. That was when I decided to continue the work that Jesse had devoted his life to.”
“It was another period of adjustment, and in those days, I never imagined that I would one day become Vice President of our country.”
“But here I am now, proving that the future will always have its share of disruptions. But I am also proof that if we adapt to these challenges, if we are steadfast in our faith, we can emerge stronger.”
While Robredo on Wednesday thanked the University of Saint Anthony for conferring an honorary degree on her, Duterte declined on the same day the same offer from UP amid criticisms by the university’s alumni and students.
“With due respect sa UP, I do not accept (awards) even when I was mayor,” Duterte said during a press briefing in Bohol.
“As a matter of official policy, I do not accept awards,” the President said, explaining that it’s his “nature” to shun recognition since he became a public official.
Duterte quickly added that he was not rejecting UP’s offer. “Di ko naman ni-reject. I simply decline.”
UP’s offer to Duterte was found dishonorable by many UP alumni and student leaders because of the chief executive’s alleged human rights abuses.
“President Rodrigo Duterte is a self-confessed murderer. He is unworthy of any distinction from the University of the Philippines,” said Benjie Aquino, incoming chairperson of the UP Diliman University Student Council from the organization UP Alyansa, in a statement issued on Wednesday.