PNoy speech at the inauguration of the PEFTOK-Korean War Memorial Hall


Speech
of
His Excellency Benigno S. Aquino III
President of the Philippines
At the inauguration of the Philippine Expeditionary Forces to Korea (PEFTOK)-Korean War Memorial Hall
[Delivered at the Libingan ng mga Bayani Annex, Taguig City, on March 29, 2012]
Of course, the most famous veteran from the PEFTOK, former President Fidel Valdez Ramos; His Excellency Lee Hye Min; Minister Park Sung Choon; Dr. Paterno Villoria, who speaks Korean quite fluently to these untrained ears—perhaps I should ask him how one will study Korean in a most expedient manner, and by which method [Laughter]; Secretary Voltaire Gazmin; Secretary Joey Villanueva; Congresswoman Herminia Roman; Representatives Jose Zubiri; DFA Undersecretary Linda Basilio; PVAO Administrator Nestor Carolina; officers, members of our Armed Forces; PEFTOK veterans and their families present today; our Korean community leaders; honored guests; ladies and gentlemen:
Good afternoon.
When Korean liberty was attacked in 1950, Filipinos were among the first of their Asian brothers to step onto the shores of South Korea to lend a hand to a neighbor in peril.
In a span of five years, more than seven thousand Filipino soldiers were dispatched to the Korean Peninsula at a time when our fledgling democracy was struggling to recover from the ravages of the Second World War, and to rebuild the lives and communities that had been destroyed.
As a country that fought to regain the freedom of its people, we knew that it was our responsibility to see that the same values our heroes died for were not trampled upon elsewhere. With World War II fresh in their memories, and well-aware of what this undertaking would demand of them, our soldiers plunged into the fray without hesitation, joining the fight to defend the freedom of South Korea, to defend the ideals of their country, and to defend democracy.
This memorial hall is a testament to the bravery and the sacrifice of those who took the burden of war on their shoulders so that a people might be free. Here, we remember the men of the Philippine Expeditionary Forces to Korea. Here, we look back on a shining moment in our history, and we are reminded of the special bonds that have tied our fate to that of the Korean people for more than 60 years.
My father was one of those who made the long journey to the Korean Peninsula, though he was armed only with his typewriter—firing off news stories, and not bullets, as a correspondent for the Korean War. As a young man, he saw the courage and determination of our soldiers and the resilience of the South Korean people. In his dispatches from the front, my father paid tribute to the importance of solidarity, the demands of sacrifice, and the true value of freedom and democracy.
He would return from the war and embark on a political career with those lessons in the back of his mind. They became the strongest weapons he had when he learned what it meant to fight for freedom in a time of peace. When my father opposed a dictatorship that kept the Philippines in darkness for more than twenty years, it was out of a desire to stand in solidarity with the Filipino people, and out of a desire to safeguard the democracy of our country.
When I think of my father, I am reminded of another man he had the privilege of meeting—a man who lived by and upheld the same principles of democracy, a man who similarly opposed authoritarian rule despite the threat to his life, and I refer to the former President Kim Dae-Jung of South Korea.
They both knew that it was not enough to have independence. They knew that they could only be worthy of the sacrifice that so many men made during the Korean War if they fought for, and gained true freedom for all their countrymen. Many of you may be familiar with a simple sentence attributed to my father. And I quote: “The Filipino is worth dying for.” I believe His Excellency, former President Kim Dae-Jung thought the same of his people.
Though we may be divided by distance, by language, and by culture, the Philippines and the Republic of Korea share a similar history. We surpassed the hurdles that our early democracy presented; we survived and learned from a brief encounter with authoritarianism; and from these experiences, we stand today as more mature democracies committed to the development of our peoples.
It is because of men like my father and Kim Dae-Jung, and the thousands who fought in the Korean War—it is because of the trials and achievements of the past that our countries have grown to where we are today. We stand on the shoulders of giants, and we have only the privilege and the responsibility of building on the foundations they have laid down. The difference now is that instead of winning a war, we are tasked with winning the peace. We have gained our democracy; now, we must live up to it.
A peaceful society is a must if we truly want to develop this country—and maintaining peace sits at the very core of all of our efforts to ensure that the benefits of democracy are felt by each and every one of our people. I believe that this is a goal shared by the Republic of Korea—knowing, as we do, what it means to have our freedom threatened by oppressive forces.
Today, however, our efforts are aimed not just towards the security of our people. In the Philippines, for example, the greatest battles we are fighting are battles against the entrenched culture of corruption, impunity, and apathy that has worked its way into our government and our society. We are also fighting to free our countrymen not from oppressors, but from the shackles of poverty: by ensuring that our people have access to social services, and quality health and education, by leveling the playing field for business, and by weeding out corruption in government and improving the quality of public service. This is a fight that never ends—so long as some of our countrymen experience hunger, or a lack of education or access to proper health care, we will continue fighting. The famous military motto goes, “No man left behind,” and this is what characterizes our efforts, whether in war sixty years ago, or today, as we tread this path to progress.
With friends like the Republic of Korea, we in government have found it easier to win the peace for our people. The camaraderie that was first formed between Korean and Filipino soldiers laid the foundations for what is now a thriving friendship between our two countries. And in the same way that Filipino soldiers assisted in the defense of your democracy, so too has your country displayed an extraordinary capacity to share.
Last year, the Republic of Korea was the Philippines’ fifth largest trading partner, with total bilateral trade recorded at 6.59 billion dollars. (I think there is a discrepancy in our figures, Your Excellency. We will have to check with our Department of Trade; it seems their pencils are not as sharp as yours, and I think your figures are better than ours [laughter].) You were also one of our top sources of investments for the same year, with 14.15 billion pesos coming into the country. The Philippines also has the largest Korean community in Southeast Asia, not counting the thousands of Korean tourists that visit our country; and similarly, nearly 50,000 Filipinos have found a second home in the Republic of Korea.
The latest example of their generosity is actually just a few meters away. The Human Resource Development Center next door is being built through the collaboration among the Korean International Cooperation Agency (KOICA), our Department of National Defense (DND), and our Technical Education and Skills Development Authority. This center will help us in strengthening the skills of our countrymen, so that they will be better equipped for employment. Two thousand trainers and school administrators will be trained with the help of TESDA and Korean consultants—developing their capabilities so that their knowledge will redound to tens of thousands more Filipinos trained and adequately prepared. For this, and for all the other ways in which you have helped us for the past six decades, you have our undying gratitude.
Not so long ago, in November of 2010, tensions in the Korean peninsula required our working with you and other friends, to ensure the safety of Filipinos in case of conflict. Much as this strengthened our mutual solidarity, it was an unnecessary burden on all of us, when we could have concentrated on commerce and cooperation. No one benefits from a return to those tension-filled days, and it is precisely out of our desire to promote the well-being of all our peoples—Korean and Filipino alike—that we express today our grave concerns over the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s plans to launch what it claims as an earth observation satellite, but is widely believed to be a long-range ballistic missile test between April 12 and 16.
The use of ballistic missile technology in any launch violates UN Security Council Resolutions, and it presents risks to all concerned. It increases tensions, particularly in the period of uncertainty leading up to the launch—where no one is exactly sure of the trajectory of the missile. Similarly, debris from the launch may potentially land in our territory. This is needless provocation not only in the Korean Peninsula, but in our entire region. It is with our respective peoples in mind that we urge again the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea not to proceed with its planned launch.
We must work with each other in the spirit of cooperation and with the goal of mutual success, stability, peace, and prosperity in our region. And this requires all of us to continue to engage with each other, and the larger international community in ways that build confidence. The way forward is for the DPRK to engage the international community and return to actions that promote confidence-building amongst its neighbors.
The 63 years of relations that the Republic of Philippines and the Republic of Korea have shared show us just how much we can achieve when we work together, united under the ideals of democracy. And we are indeed succeeding.
From the day that Filipino troops first landed on the shores of Korea, to our recent experiences of mutual economic success—a little over six decades has shown us that if we persist in looking after our brothers, if we are focused on improving not only our lives, but the lives of others as well, we will be able to win the peace of our generation. And when we achieve this, when it is time for succeeding leaders and stakeholders to take up our work, perhaps then they will also say: we stand on the shoulders of giants.
And before I end: I had the privilege of watching a DVD presentation on the Korean Conflict, or the Korean War, and in one of the scenes, it showed members of the Philippine Expeditionary Forces to Korea landing in Korea. And all of the people disembarking from the ship probably stood no taller than five feet, and they had helmets that looked like they were three sizes oversized for them. And one is reminded: we gained our independence in 1946; by 1950, we were helping others in distress deal with oppression against them. What is striking is that Manila, as you know, was second only to Warsaw in Poland in terms of destruction after World War II. We are told by our historians that we lost one million of our 12 million brethren because of World War II. We were in the midst of trying to rebuild our country, but yet, and I still say, when we sent our troops there, that was a shining moment for our people and our race. We were able to share when we had very little for ourselves. And I think this is the route to go through to advance to where we should be going.
Thank you, and good day.