Press Release
August 7, 2013


Padilla Room, Senate of the Philippines
August 7, 2013


Her Excellency Agnes Nyamande-Pitso, Senators Cynthia Villar and Nancy Binay, former Senators Aquilino "Nene" Pimentel Jr. and Heherson Alvarez, Former Deputy Speaker Lorenzo Tañada III, Human Rights Commissioner Loretta Ann Rosales, Secretary Oscar Yabes, Ms. Teresa Debuque, Mr. Praveen Agrawal, Ms. Cecille Guidote Alvarez, Ms. Marichelle Torres, Ms. Maricor Book, guests, friends, ladies and gentlemen, good afternoon.

I am honored for this opportunity to share my thoughts and express my great admiration for a man who is larger than life.

Nelson Mandela is a symbol of honor, peace, courage and magnanimity. He has lived an amazing life. A life marked by global admiration and peppered with daunting personal challenges, as well as, struggles to balance his advocacies and his obligations to his family and community.

There are many things that can be said about Nelson Mandela. Certainly, an afternoon is not enough to discuss the impact of his life and work on humanity. However, I would like to mention a few highlights of Nelson Mandela's life that would give us an insight in the character of one of the most revered and popular world leaders.

Nelson Mandela marches to the beat of his own drum. In the 50's, during his early years with the African National Congress (ANC), he was clearly following the path of non-violent resistance pursued by Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr.

However, in the 60s, he took a different road. Inspired by Fidel Castro's 26th of July Movement in the Cuban revolution, he led the ANC's armed wing, known as MK, and even received guerilla training in Morocco from Algerian fighters. He drew ideas from the literature on guerilla warfare by Mao and Che Guevarra. His thoughts were also influenced by Jawaharlal Nehru and Karl Marx.

Eventually, he returned to the path of non-violent resistance and racial reconciliation. The ANC under his leadership continued to engage the government. This is an important lesson that can be learned by countries that are having internal conflicts; and the lesson is the effectiveness of engagement and peace negotiations should not be underestimated

Because of his advocacies, he was imprisoned in Robben island for 18 years before he was transferred to Pollsmoor prison, and then later to Victor Verster Prison. All in all, he was not a free man for 27 years with his rights denied during his incarceration. When his mother and eldest child died, he was not allowed to attend their funerals.

Even if he was subjected to less than humane conditions while he was in prison, he was never vengeful when he assumed the presidency in 1994 at the age of 76. Instead, he vigorously pursued the path of reconciliation; and, showed grace that would build trust between the black majority and white minority, and break the chain of violence that bound the country.

Having been a part of former President Corazon Aquino's administration, I can attest that the work of a transition government is never easy. The challenges are colossal. The leader must have the strength of character, a nerve of steel and the heart for the job.

I can imagine how difficult it was for Mr. Mandela to preside over the transition from apartheid rule to a multicultural democracy. Moreover, he inherited a country that was suffering deep racial division, widespread poverty, and disparity of social services between the white minority and black majority. The apartheid wounds were not easy to heal and yet, he had the courage to prevent even his own people from getting back at their white oppressors.

One of his strategies was to create the broadest possible coalition in his Cabinet. He extended the hand of peace to the prominent figures of the apartheid regime. He said and I quote, "courageous people do not fear forgiving for the sake of peace."

Nelson Mandela experienced untold suffering while in prison. And yet, he had the big heart to forgive his jailers. That act secured for him a revered place in history since it started the reconciliation process in his deeply divided country. His vision for South Africa is clear. He wants his people, regardless of color, to live in peace and harmony. He is a peace-seeking warrior who respects the rule of law, the principles of fair play, constitutional procedures and minority rights.

As President from 1994 to 1999, he worked hard to bring South Africa to the world stage. At the domestic level, he signed into law a new constitution and established a strong central government based on majority rule. His Reconstruction and Development Plan (RDP) aimed at funding the creation of jobs, housing for his people and basic health care.

Nelson Mandela is, no doubt, an idealist in his younger years. But his decisions at the latter years of his life spoke volumes of his pragmatism. Even if he is a socialist, his government adopted liberal economic policies so as to promote foreign investments. He is a veritable democrat, showing a deep respect for the will of the majority.

When his term ended in 1999, he did not run for another term even if he could have easily won. Instead, he focused on his Mandela Foundation, raising money to build health clinics and schools. He is committed to the fight against HIV/AIDS, the disease that killed his second son in 2005. He never stopped advocating for peace and equality.

Nelson Mandela is an icon of peace, held in high esteem all over the world. He is the first black President of his country. He set up South Africa's first black law firm with his good friend, Oliver Tambo. He married his third wife, Gracia Machel, at the age of 80, proving that love knows no age. Gracia Machel's life is also extraordinary. She is the only woman in the world who married two Presidents/national leaders. Her first husband, Samora Machel, was the President of Mozambique who died in a fatal plane crash.

Even in his sunset years, Nelson Mandela, often referred to by his clan name, "Madiba", continues to be a source of inspiration worldwide. His charisma goes beyond borders. International organizations, world leaders, students, artists and people from different walks of life championed his cause.

Today, the Senate of the Philippines proudly joins the world in celebrating the life of Nelson Mandela, an extraordinary man, living in extraordinary times.

Thank you very much.

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