Today we commemorate our 120th Independence Day or 'Araw ng Kasarinlan', which marks the proclamation of the First Philippine Republic and declaration of independence from Spain on 12 June 1898.
We achieved independence from Spain through unremitting struggle. While the first Philippine Republic did not last long because another colonial power took over the reins of power, we finally achieved national independence in 1946.
As we remember the gallant efforts of our forefathers and other leading figures of the Philippine Revolution of 1896 and thereafter, we must take this occasion to re-affirm our commitment to defend our hard-won national independence at all costs.
Today, we have built the foundations of a modern and progressive nation from the ruins of war, picked ourselves up from the dark years of dictatorship and tyranny, and from 1986 onwards, restored democracy and the rule of law.
But there are formidable challenges to be hurdled if we are to lend substance to 120 years of national independence.
Roughly a third of all Filipinos still live on the edge of poverty. We must strive towards sustained economic growth that will create more jobs and lift them out of poverty.
Systemic corruption results in the diversion of billions of pesos from the national treasury to private pockets, funds that should instead be used to build more public infrastructure and deliver vital services, such as education and health, to the poor and the disadvantaged.
And while we have achieved significant progress in restoring peace in Mindanao, we still have to address the root causes of armed rebellion in other parts of the country.
We must ensure that the sacrifices of our forebears shall not have been in vain. That means our people, especially the youth, should zealously guard our independence even as we strive towards enhanced democracy as well as justice and prosperity for all in the years ahead.