Senator MAR Roxas Accepts FNF’s Freedom Flame Award

MAR Roxas delivers his speech as Freedom Flame awardee
MAR Roxas delivers his speech as Freedom Flame awardeeFNF Philippines

Senator Manuel Araneta Roxas II (MAR) is the lone awardee of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom’s (FNF) Freedom Flame Award this year.

The Freedom Flame Award is a recognition given to individuals whose contribution to promoting freedom and liberalism in the Philippines has been exemplary.

“For more than a decade now, you have been an esteemed partner of FNF in its work in the Philippines,” said Wolfgang Heinze, FNF Philippines’ Head of Country.

“As an organization that promotes liberal values, the Foundation highly recognizes your outstanding contributions as a public servant since you started in 1993. The liberal policies you championed especially in the field of economic freedom — boosting small and medium enterprises and harnessing information technology industries, have made breakthroughs in Philippine development,” Heinze announced as he conferred the award to the Senator.

Joining Mr. Heinze in recognising Senator Roxas are The Honorable Vice President Leni Robredo and FNF Regional Director for Southeast and East Asia, Mr. Moritz Kleine-Brockhoff.

“I accept this award not as a reward but as a challenge to dedicate my remaining years to fulfilling my part in establishing a better, more relevant social contract for all Filipinos,” said Senator Roxas.

FNF awarded Senator Roxas at the Freedom Speech gala night on 27 November 2018 at the Museum of Natural History in Manila.

Watch the event video here:

Freedom Speech 2018FNF Philippines

Senator MAR Roxas full speech
Freedom Flame 2018

Many many months ago, in my inaugural appearance before the LP after the 2016 election, I stated that our loss in the elections was mine alone, and not a loss of the values, the principles that we hold dear and that we fought for and continue to fight for. It is in that context that I make my remarks regarding tonight’s high honor. 

It’s been ten years since I addressed the gathering of the FNF. Back then, FNF was celebrating its 50th birthday. Back then, we liberals believed we were at the dawn of a new age for liberalism. Freedom, globalism seemed to be advancing everywhere. We believed that our core beliefs had an important contribution to make in terms of liberalizing not just economies but political systems as well. 

Back then, I asserted that a corrupt government such as the one LP was resisting at the time cannot bring meaningful change for Filipinos. I’d said that the challenge before us was to turn government from being an obstacle to becoming an enabler of our people. 

In 2010, we were given a mandate to achieve precisely the things I’d said our country needed. By 2016, flushed with achievement, filled with confidence, and convinced that the wave of freedom had an unstoppable momentum, we put ourselves forward for a fresh mandate from our people. Our platform was anchored on freedom; the aspiration that each family would be free from hunger, free from fear, and free to dream. 

We thought we would have a passing of the torch. Instead, we experienced the bonfire of the vanities. Indeed, as we look around the world in contrast to a decade ago when freedom seemed to be advancing everywhere, freedom today seems under threat virtually everywhere. At the time we were repudiated at the polls, quite a few people looked at the tidal wave of populism, born of resentment, flustered by divisive technologies, and fueled by demagoguery, and believed that our defeat could be explained as merely due to a failure of communication or marketing. 

When we assess what happened in terms of the hallmarks of our campaign, daang matuwid, pagiging disente, it was hypothesized that these terms have come across as elitist, exclusionary, self-righteous but then, there is the danger in heeding the lesson as being a mere failure of words and tone. That would be an injustice both to ourselves and to the electorate. To restrict the lessons of 2016 to the superficial levels of advertising or projection is to avoid what is a harsher, perhaps truer judgment. 

What took place was our failure to be relevant. We failed to be effective in terms of achieving the desires of those we sought to serve. This is ironic because we are a party that believes in a free market and ours was a failure to connect with that market. We thought that we had put together a delicious menu of empowering policies for the individual, the family, the community: PhilHealth, 4Ps, BUB. But if our failure had been merely one of marketing, then the public should have elected a similar menu. The public didn’t do that. 

What was selected by the public was an entirely different cuisine altogether. We were fixated on processes that came up short on determining the outcomes for what the public not only expected but desired. We put in place programs that were achievements, singular achievements in the history of our nation. 

Indeed when measured in terms of global standards, our government’s was much higher. We were invited to be co-conveners of a good government global summit. We had A investment grade status. We got glowing marks for fiscal health for a robust economy and our improving competitiveness. 

But, we came up short when it came to connecting this micro achievements with the micro miseries of daily life. In short, we endeavoured to attain the higher echelons of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs to gain the esteem of the world, a self-actualization of the individual. 

Meanwhile, the public was still focused on the rogue battles of daily survival against the elements and the predations of abusers. The imperatives of physiological needs and a need for safety- it could be argued that while we were looking too far in the field, these were not urgent or relevant enough to keep the public engaged and committed to our vision of development so it is not surprising that while we campaigned on the satisfying prospects of steady, incremental improvement, this loss to the fearless, devil-may-care vow to tear the entire system down and impose a hard reset of our whole national way of life. 

As leaders in conferences or locations such as this, we have the opportunity to step back, take a satellite view, and learn from our mistakes. What is the reality that left civil society, a reform-minded political class, and our public institutions in such disrepute? 

Let us return to a basic concept - that of a social contract. The people commit to mutual aid and assistance so that together, we can all achieve a better life. The individual commits to work with the whole by being law-abiding and to share the fruits of their labor such as through taxes so the nation and the people, no one will be left behind. 

In this market, among the most basic of expectations is fairness and justice but our people’s daily experience of justice is that of being denied it. It is expensive, selective, and slow, and worst of all, verdicts can be bought. Another expectation is that of upward mobility based on education but the ordinary person who strives to earn a diploma gets endo instead. 

From justice to education to health and peace and order, citizenship makes constant demands on the citizen; forgetting that for that citizen, meeting those demands are down payments for which a payoff is expected. When a life devoted to down payments doesn’t get you a secure future, government fails to be relevant. Some might have success at a BPO, only to be held up while commuting home. The farmer struggles to plant and reap a crop only to find himself taken advantage of twice every season. Before the harvest, he is burdened by debt. After the harvest, he has to sell at a low price to the very middle man to whom he is already in debt. 

In these scenarios, instead of being a partner in the social contract, what does the state actually represent? It exists only to provide a series of expensive obstacles. 

So here we are, a global shift to a simple solution that might makes right. Those who promise they will use might to make life better for those who feel the social contract no longer included them. Notice that belief in the social contract did not disappear. A desire for justice, freedom, fairness still burns in the heart of every citizen. If anything, the preference we see today for brute force is a desperate and indignant  demand for government to do its part. In a sense, this reassures me that our core beliefs in freedom, empowerment of the individual, and a rules based system remains relevant. 

I continue to believe government is the most effective and efficient means for delivering true uplifting change and the equitable distribution of public goods. Government is the best mechanism for gathering up the efforts of many into one coherent purpose. Furthermore, the core objectives of government is to remain relevant - to govern with firmness and fairness. This falls squarely on the shoulder of government because it’s the biggest player in the public sphere. 

Sooner rather than later, ‘might makes right’ will prove itself the wrong path to revitalizing the social contract. Might that is unchecked replaces fairness with favoritism and firmness with tyranny. If the weakness of civil society and reform-minded politics is to ask for infinite patience while seeking fire away results, the fatal flaw of ‘might makes right’ is that it relies on fear, which means that it is incapable of rectifying its own mistakes. 

The tidal wave of populism has begun to recede for the same reasons it did in past generations. Might doesn’t make right. If leaders have become detached from the public, the solution doesn’t lie in smashing a square peg into a round hole. It lies in an honest reappraisal by both leaders and the public of the social contract. It can be found in leaders imbued with that healthy impatience, imbued with compassion and humanity that can return peoples and institutions to their core beliefs and purposes to improve lives one by one today and not too far off into the future, to reward patience, diligence, and honest law with a better, more secure, and prosperous life in ways that can be demonstrably felt day by day and not just year by year or in decades still to come. 

Friends, ladies, and gentlemen, I accept this award not as a reward but as a challenge to dedicate my remaining years to fulfilling my part in establishing a better, more relevant social contract for all Filipinos. Maraming salamat sa inyo.