NEW YORK CITY — Amid applause and a standing ovation of more than 500 people in attendance, President Benigno S. Aquino III was conferred a Doctor of Laws, Honoris Causa, by Fordham University in ceremonies held at the Rose Hill Campus in the Bronx, New York on Sept. 19. He is the eight President of the Philippines to have received such an honor.
“For following the words that his late father wrote to him from his prison cell in Fort Bonifacio — serving the Filipino people with all his heart and with all his might and with all his strength — we, the President and Trustees of Fordham University, in solemn convocation assembled and in accord with the chartered authority bestowed on us by the Regents of the University of the State of New York, declare Benigno Simeon Aquino III Doctor of Laws honoris causa,” said Fordham officials at the university’s Keating Hall.
Fordham officials cited President Aquino’s efforts to bring a “brighter future for Filipinos.”
“The President has proposed an economy that is transparent and accountable and based on free and fair competition. With a government that is also transparent and accountable and working effectively with various private-public initiatives, the President and his team are laying down the foundations for a brighter future for all Filipinos, but especially for the poor,” they said.
As part of its tradition, the university carved the President’s name on the steps of the “Terrace of the Presidents” in front of Keating Hall. President Aquino joins over 30 world leaders who were conferred an honorary degree by Fordham. His name is carved beside that of his mother, former President Corazon Aquino who received the same honor on Sept. 26, 1986.
Joseph M. Mcshane, S.J. President; John Tognino, Chairman of the Board of Trustees and Henry M. Schwalbenberg, Associate Professor of Economics and Director of Graduate program in International Political Economy and Development presented the conferment of the honorary degree.
At the beginning of his speech accepting the honor, President Aquino elicited laughter from the audience saying that he “just came from China.” From there, he went on to say that he was representing “a people who were not given, but rather, who gave themselves, a fresh start.”
Aquino recalled his father’s imprisonment during the declaration of Martial Law in the Philippines where the “will of the dictator was founded, after all, on fear, and there were many who found it advantageous to be instruments of the apparatus of intimidation and corruption.”
“When my father was murdered, “Ninoy, you are not alone,” he said, “precisely became the rallying cry of my countrymen,” that led to a “death-defying desire to uphold the principle that our our social contract cannot tolerate anyone being above the law.”
He said that “united, our people made a stand in the main avenue of Metro Manila, called EDSA, just as their countrymen did throughout the Philippines, forcing the dictator, his family and retainers, to flee like the thieves they were, into the night.”
Aquino was 12 years old when Martial Law was declared and was in primary school at the Ateneo de Manila University. By the time he was 26, the Marcoses fled to Hawaii.
Aquino said that his first act as chief executive was “to dispense with the use of sirens and to prohibit their use for other officials except for those entitled by law, and to furthermore prove my seriousness by leading by example to symbolize a change in the mindset of officials from behaving as masters to being authentic public servants.”
“It is in small things,” he said, “that big things are accomplished: where the population not only abides by the law, but insists on its implementation. There you have a people truly secure in their freedoms.”
He then laid out what he has done during the first year of his administration and his hope that by the end of this term, people “will have grown so accustomed to genuine public service and so intolerant of corruption, that whether a saint or a sinner succeeds me, no one will be able to roll back the tide of progress and good governance.”
The President also quoted in his speech what her mother told the “6,000 Filipino gathered” in attendance in the same campus he was in at the moment: “Make us proud of you, show the rest of the world that we are a wonderful race and that we are a people to be respected and admired.”
And with that, he acknowledged with pride all Filipinos: “Indeed, you have made us proud. You make me proud for you have remained true to yourselves. Whether at home or abroad, the Filipino stands for something. By holding fast to democracy, by working mightily for reform, it can well and truly be said, there is no corner of the world where a Filipino cannot hold their head high.”
While some considered the President’s speech inspirational and uplifting, a few considered his delivery monotonous. When asked to comment on Aquino’s speech, Jesse Arteche of Union, New Jersey, said: “It was poor. He read all the way. The first part of his speech was copied from his previous speeches. He mentioned petty accomplishments — the wang wang, whistle blower protection — but did not give any vision or direction for his term.” He nevertheless acknowledged that everything was positive. “People were upbeat to see the President.”
Another comment from Queens, New York, who declined to be identified, said: “The main takeaway from his speech is that the fight against systematic corruption requires a partnership between the government, NGOs and the Filipino people. The executive office can’t solve the problem by itself and the Filipino people themselves need to stop tolerating corruption.”
However, he wished that the speech should have been more tailored to the occasion and less political. “I’m not sure if the majority of his audience was able to relate to his speech since a lot of the details were specific to the Philippines,” he said. He also thought that the President should have seized the opportunity “to engage young Americans and get them interested in what’s happening in the Philippines.”
“For example,” he said, “Fordham has a great partnership with Ateneo and he could have promoted the great strides the Philippines has made in Social Entrepreneurship as a selling point for taking some courses in the Philippines.” And suggested that, “at some point, he has to stop taking potshots at his predecessor, especially in front of an audience like this one. It seems almost petty and unpresidential.”