A Speech to Remember

Commencement exercises are momentous events so whenever I am invited to address a graduating class, I start to panic. What relevant and unforgettable advice can I give? What ponderous message can I possibly impart?

By chance, I came across Vice President Sergio Osmeña’s memorable speech at the Commencement exercises of the Manila College of Pharmacy and Dentistry in 1940. It was written succinctly and his optimism, palpable even today, must have inspired those young pharmacists and dentists.

VP Osmeña went directly to the point. The stability of our democracy was threatened by “…the necessity of making readjustments in our national economy…”He was referring to the Tydings-McDuffie Law also called the Independence Act. Once the Philippines became independent again, the exports to the USA would no longer enjoy preferential non-tariff treatment. That could have a very negative impact on the economy.

However, VP Osmeña must have exuded confidence as he told the graduates that with independence finally in sight, the Commonwealth government had been implementing measures to develop the domestic market and foster industries that will produce exports competitive in the world market.

Largely agricultural, the Philippine economy was based on exportation of raw materials like abaca and other fibers, sugar, tobacco and coconuts., so laws were enacted to create national corporations designed to foment the industrialization of the above-mentioned crops, in order to generate employment and increase the purchasing power of the internal market.

The National Power Corporation was established to provide cheap energy for incipient industries while credit facilities were made available to small farmers and business people, usually victimized by loan sharks.

VP Osmeña must have been happy to announce that the National Land Settlement Administration would open agricultural colonies in undeveloped areas and that these “…new communities consisting of small landholders will constitute the bulwark of a democratic nation.” Moreover, there were sufficient funds to build roads, bridges, ports, housing facilities, hospitals, government buildings, parks and recreational centers.

The graduates must have been inspired by that reassuring speech of no less than the Vice President. How heartening that the Commonwealth government was on track and ready for Independence. “You are expected to play an important role in the attainment of our objective…” the VP exclaimed, It was almost a command.

I am certain that no one listening to VP Osmeña that day ever imagined that soon after the country’s bright future could be so irreparably and cruelly destroyed by World War II.