Sen. Bam Aquino Speech

Privilege Speech: Accepting Pope Francis’ Challenge

Senator Paolo Benigno “Bam” Aquino IV

16th Congress, Senate of the Philippines

Privilege Speech, 26 January 2015


Accepting Pope Francis’ Challenge


Mr. President, distinguished colleagues, mga kaibigan, mga kababayan. I rise today on a matter of personal and collective privilege, with an inspired spirit and renewed energy, to build a better Philippines hand-in-hand with every Filipino.

It has been one week since His Holiness Pope Francis left our humbled shores after spending five blessed days in our country.  During this time, Pope Francis captivated the nation and inspired the people with his charming smile and gestures of gratitude, humility and empathy. People are clearly inspired.

Mr. President, thousands of Filipinos lined his path, with some going to great lengths and enormous sacrifices just to simply catch a glimpse of the Holy Father. Libu-libong mga pamilyang Pilipino / ang naghintay nang ilang oras upang makilahok sa mga events ni Pope Francis[1].

 Kabilang na riyan si Mang Antolin Adlawan. Sa kabila ng kanyang edad na animnapu’t anim na taon ay naglakad siya ng tatlumpu’t anim na araw patungong Tacloban para lang makadalo sa misa ng Santo Papa[2].

Sa misa sa Luneta, anim na milyong Pilipino ang dumalo sa gitna nang malakas na ulan, sama-samang nakinig sa mensahe ng Santo Papa at nagdasal para sa ating mga pamilya at buong bayan[3].

 Undeniably, Pope Francis has given many of us the precious gift of inspiration, through his words and his being. The challenge for us now is to turn Pope Francis’ messages into action and make his calls into reality that will benefit our countrymen, especially the poor and marginalized.




Mr. President, I’d like to highlight three themes from his life and advocacy that we can emulate and translate in our own lives and to our own work as well – and these are a life of simplicity, a heart of inclusiveness, and a renewed vigor to ensure the dignity of the poor.


A Life of Simplicity

Kilala si Jorge Mario Bergoglio sa kanyang simpleng pamumuhay, kahit noong siya pa ay ang Arsobispo ng Buenos Aires sa Argentina.

Sumasakay lamang siya ng bus at di gumagamit ng mamahaling sasakyan sa pang-araw-araw. Nakatira siya sa isang maliit na apartment na puwede namang mas magarbo ang kanyang tahanan dahil isa siyang arsobispo.

Nang mahirang bilang Santo Papa, pinili niya ang pangalang Francis bilang pagbibigay pugay kay St. Francis of Assisi, na santo ng mahihirap at nangangailangan.

When Pope Francis addressed the Roman Curia last December, he talked about a “disease of hoarding[4],” and even said: “Accumulating goods only burdens and inexorably slows down the journey!”

His call for a simple and plain lifestyle is indeed an example for all of us to look at our own lives and appreciate the things and the blessings that we have had.


The challenge for us, public servants and leaders is to “uphold the public interest over and above personal interest,” and to “lead modest lives appropriate to their positions… not [to] indulge in extravagant or ostentatious display of wealth in any form[5].”  These phrases are from RA 6713.


President Aquino’s leadership emphasized the eradication of the wang-wang culture, “the image of blaring, much-abused sirens, to symbolize all things corrupt and crooked in Philippine politics.”


The call for simplicity is not for simplicity sake. Rather, it is a challenge for our leaders not to be separate from those that they serve. The call for simplicity must go beyond the superficial and symbolic. It is a mindset, which roots leaders with the people they serve.  It is a constant reminder for empathy – to feel what most feel, so that the decisions we make will always be for the many and not the few.




A Heart of Inclusiveness

Secondly, the Pope calls for us to be inclusive and, as he instructed cardinals last year, “to fight any discrimination[6].”


Mr. President, during Maundy Thursday of last year, Pope Francis broke tradition when he washed and kissed the feet of 12 persons with disability for the Washing of the Feet ritual[7]. Several of them were women and another man, was a Muslim.


Pope Francis reminds us that we live in a world that is as diverse as it is magnificent; and that though Filipinos have differing beliefs and varying perspectives, we are united by our dream to build this country.


Kung naaalala po ninyo ang sinabi niya sa mga kabataang Pilipino sa UST, “women have much to tell us in today’s society[8].” Sa mata ng Santo Papa, maging ano pa ang iyong kasarian, relihiyon at estado sa buhay, dapat pantay ang pagtrato at may boses sa lipunan ang lahat.


Our colonial past and rich history, where our Malay roots have been mixed with Chinese, Spanish, American, and even Indian and Mediterranean decent, have made our culture into a melting pot of diverse ways, values and norms.


Add the fact that a tenth of Pinoys are living and working abroad, we, Filipinos, are a truly global, genuinely accepting and accommodating people.


Thus, we call on all Filipinos today to go back to who we are, and further create a kinder and gentler nation – a more forgiving and compassionate people that care for each and every Filipino, regardless of their ethnicity, race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, civil status, age or medical condition.





A Renewed Vigor to Ensure the Dignity of the Poor

Lastly, Mr. President, the Holy Father emphasized his call to be at the forefront of eradicating poverty, to be at the peripheries, to be at the margins of development. He has challenged us to re-examine our Christian faith and lifestyle.


Even before he was Pope, he pushed for jobs and enterprises with his work in the slums of Argentina. The real Buneos Aires was a far cry from the beauty that we see in movies. The city slums, known as villas of misery, are so savage that even ambulances and police have refused to enter[9].


Among the Pope’s parishioners were unemployed and hungry. Teenage pregnancies were rampant while drug users and criminals roamed the villas[10].


As Archbishop of Buenos Aires in 1998, Padre Bergolio then worked to revive and invigorate the Catholic movement in the villas. From a few priests, he doubled the number of priests in the area. His parishes started programs to rehabilitate and uplift the poor of Buneos Aires.


They built a recovery center for drug addicts, a high school and a technical vocational school, farms where addicts worked and lived, a home for the elderly and children, and a community radio and newspaper[11] to give the people in the margins a voice.


One of the Jesuit charisms is “to go where there is the greatest need[12]” – to be at the frontiers of development, to be with the most vulnerable and suffering. This is the call that we must heed – helping our countrymen means going beyond the common understanding of charity.  It is restoring the dignity of the poor and providing the opportunity of earning for themselves and their families.


Mr. President, in solidarity with the Pope’s call to build a Church of the poor and for the poor, we must ensure that the Philippine government is a government completely and utterly focused on fighting poverty and providing opportunities for our countrymen.


We need to ensure that as we establish the K-12 system in our basic education, our young Filipinos will have the right knowledge, skills and attitudes that will make them competitive in the job market not only in the country, but in the ASEAN region and in the world as well.


It is our fervent hope that the families under the 4Ps program will graduate from just being beneficiaries.  And that the Sustainable Livelihood Program will be given more emphasis as our countrymen strive to overcome poverty.


Let us help in organizing our farmers and fisherfolk, provide the right technical assistance and access to capital, link them to proper markets, and help them break free from the cycle of poverty.


In addition, we must also be able to support institutions / that help our poor communities as well – microfinance organizations, cooperatives, social enterprises, and inclusive businesses.


The call is to make our dream for our people to be able to stand on their own feet, provide food for their families, send their children to school, and build lasting homes a reality.




The Pope’s visit to the Philippines can remain a record-breaking event, a fond memory we cast to history, or we can turn it into something even more substantial.  All of us, together, have the power to make this year’s Papal Visit a major turning point for our country.


As we bid farewell to our cherished Pope Francis, let us reflect on how each of us can personally contribute to improving the lives of our fellow Filipinos. Each of us has a role to play. Each of us has the opportunity to make a difference. Each of us can be that agent of change.


Now, we have been blessed with both the instruction and the inspiration to do so. Concrete action and palpable change are the greatest gifts we can give Pope Francis.


Let’s make him proud.  At bigyan po natin siya ng panibagong dahilan upang bumalik sa Pilipinas!


Maraming salamat at magandang hapon sa ating lahat!



[1] Lozada, David. 16 January 2015. “Families Tell Tales of Sacrifice, Hope to Meet Pope Francis.” Accessed via last 21 January 2015.

[2] Alamar, Noel. 16 January 2015. ABS-CBN News. “This Man Walked for 36 Days just to See Pope in Tacloban.” Accessed via last 21 January 2015.

[3] Hegina, Aries Joseph. 18 January 2015. Philippine Daily Inquirer. “MMDA: 6M Filipinos Attended Pope Francis’ Luneta Mass, Papal Route.” Accessed via last 21 January 2015.

[4] Address of His Holiness Pope Francis. “Presentation of the Christmas Greetings to the Roman Curia. 22 December 2014. Accessed via last 25 January 2015

[5] Civil Service Commission. Republic Act No. 6713: An Act Establishing A Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees, to Uphold the Time-Honored Principle of Public Office being a Public Trust, Granting Incentives and Rewards for Exemplary Service, Enumerating Prohibited Acts and Transactions and Providing Penalties for Violations thereof and for other Purposes. Accessed via last 25 January 2015.

[6] Gibson, David. 22 February 2014. Religion News Service. “Pope Francis Charges Cardinals to Oppose ‘Any Discrimination.” Accessed via last 21 Janaury 2015.

[7] Davies, Lizzy. 17 April 2014. The Guardian. “Pope Francis Kisses Feet of Women and Muslim Man in Maundy Thursday Rite.” Accessed via last 25 January 2015.

[8] 18 January 2015. “Where are the Women, Pope Francis Asks UST.” Accessed via last 25 January 2015.

[9] Cohen, Haley. 20 March 2013. The Atlantic. “Slum Priests: Pope Francis’s Early Years.” Accessed via last 25 January 2015.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Allen, John, Jr. 7 April 2013. National Catholic Reporter. “Pope Francis Gets his ‘Oxygen’ from the Slums.” Accessed via last 25 January 2015.

[12] Ciancimino, David, S.J. 2 October 2013. Raatior Ventures. “NY Jesuit Provincial’s Response Leaves more Questions than Answers.” Accessed via last 25 January 2015.

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