Thank you all for inviting me to this solemn ceremony of paying tribute to the symbol of our nation, our sovereignty and our freedom.

Today, we collectively face a fast changing world.  In fact, Filipinos here and abroad have proudly acknowledged and proclaimed that change is beginning to re-make and re-shape our country in a manner that is unprecedented. 

Power centers around the world are shifting while foreign policies are changing along with it. And the pendulum swings from one ideology to the other, from the relaxing of borders to the erection of walls that keep people apart; from believers in free international trade to devotees of economic protectionism; from policies which concentrate on internal capacity building to strategies that support expansionist mindsets and rebalancing of strategic influence.

For us at home, we have a President who from the day he assumed office, is living up to his campaign pledge that “change is coming”.  Yes, we have a President whose priority is realigning our foreign policy and relations to the mandate of the Constitution. We have a leader who is relentless in the quest for lasting peace through negotiations in good faith, without sacrificing our territorial integrity, eroding our freedoms or weakening our democratic institutions; one who is committed to the fight against corruption and criminality as preconditions to stability and prosperity.  He has declared war against illegal drugs that has placed our people in the grip of drug lords, drug dealers and drug pushers and their coddlers in government service.

This makes my job as Secretary of foreign Affairs stimulating and challenging.

Our Vision in the DFA is preserving the resilience of our foreign service and we have shown the global community – and individual players and actors in such community – that we firmly and strongly stand our ground to protect our sovereignty as a nation and our well-being as a people.

Speaking of our Mission, we have it in our collective zeal the pursuit of an independent foreign policy that is anchored upon the preservation and protection of our national interest in every area of cooperation and collaboration, even in times of dispute.

At the onset of our leadership watch, the West Philippine Sea was already in the news. And then the stories have become headline banners when the Philippines won almost all legal points in the Arbitral Tribunal ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague. This added an important jurisprudence to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Our response to this clear legal victory was subdued, and we didn’t show any hint of gloating in such a moment of triumph.

We decided on publicly acknowledging our victory in a restrained and well-measured way. It was a carefully calculated response to assert our maritime entitlements within our exclusive economic zone, but welcoming the prospects of pursuing the much bigger portion of our bilateral relations with China to capitalize on mutual benefits. We also declared our firm adherence to a rules based order in resorting to the legal and diplomatic processes under international law for the peaceful settlement of disputes in the South China Sea.

Taking into account the current geopolitical realities and swings in the region, we refuse to be drawn into the conflict of other states with China, bearing in mind our constitutional directive to promote friendship with all nations. We also believe that engaging in provocative actions, including joint military or naval exercises or patrols with our allies and traditional partners that only serve to heighten tensions in the region or further complicate the peaceful settlement of our divergence, is not in our paramount national interest.     

In September last year, we went through the proverbial crucible – when we resolutely delivered our consistent stand that our war on illicit drugs is being waged with due regard for justice, commitment to due process and the realities and compelling needs of the country.  We had declared this on two major occasions – in Washington DC and at the august hall of the United Nations General Assembly in New York.  

We believe that we have turned the tide of public opinion with regard to communicating the imperatives of eliminating the drug menace in our country.

We affirmed in no uncertain terms our well-established respect for human rights, and proclaim that extra-judicial killings have no place in our society.  

We also declared that we cannot be the little brown brothers of anyone forever. Our national goal is to be able to be self-reliant and yet interdependent with the community of nations under an environment of mutual respect as a sovereign equal. 

This year 2017, the Philippines will play its central role to the hilt as Chairman of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. This is our golden opportunity to demonstrate our leadership ability as a country presiding over the directions of the entire ASEAN.

It is propitious that this is happening during the watch of the Duterte Administration – because they know that we have the ability, the determination and the energy to perform our task well.

A series of activities throughout the year will be happening in many places of the Philippines, and we want all Filipinos to be part of showcasing the best, the finest, and the brightest in our country and about our people.

With this kind of enthusiasm and dedication, with the deep pool of support from all ASEAN member states that will take center stage in partnering for change and engaging the world, and with the keen readiness of every sector of our society to break new ground, to try new things in the midst of great challenges and opportunities, success becomes inevitable.

In closing let me share with you two key experiences that have added to my motivation and pride in serving our country and people under President Duterte. I hope this will also serve as your encouragement in pledging individual loyalty as part of continuing efforts for liberating change and good governance.

The first was during my official trip to China where I had the privilege of visiting the famed Great Wall.

As I rushed towards the gate entrance and beheld in awe the massive structure that wound itself for miles across tall and rugged mountains as far as the eye can see, my tourist guide reminded me of an old Chinese proverb saying that, “do not attempt to scale the Great Wall unless you are prepared to reach the top”.

A sudden and deeper insight of what the adage meant as it applied to the problems that confront us, struck me like a blast of wind hitting my face. I immediately understood the truth and wisdom of being tough, staunch and unwavering the way President Duterte is, in pursuing the national interest of the country and in addressing the urgent needs and priorities of our people. In an instant I saw that indeed he knows how costly failures would be in terms of wasted time and resources, not to mention the resulting frustrated hopes of our people, which in turn triggers the loss of trust and confidence in government, when we embark on something important and critical that we fail to finish because we are not strong minded enough and only half prepared, or even scared of the intimidating challenges and possibilities that we would face.

The other experience I went through happened in Cairo only a couple of weeks ago when, after visiting the pyramids in Giza, I saw how immensely proud and inspired the Egyptians feel   that their ancient forebears more than 5000 years ago had built this great wonder of the world by sheer determination and strength of purpose without any technological tools.  The curator of this priceless national heritage acting as my tourist guide, after explaining the magnificent design and excellent workmanship of this man-made monument that has withstood the test of time, declared with undisguised passion that “if we can build the pyramids, we can do anything.”

This powerful watchword certainly applies to all Filipinos who are mighty proud of their culture, history and destiny, which leads me to my final point.

We are blessed with rich natural resources, a broad talent of people with admirable values and traditions, noble heroes and martyrs, and a simple and unpretentious decisive President who, in leading us to our Promised Land, is not afraid to confront modern day giants and monsters represented by barbaric kidnappers, coldblooded illicit drug dealers, terrorist, and corrupt public servants whom he has pledged to eliminate to protect our common folk whose human rights they have mercilessly trampled upon.  

And so, for these reasons, let me declare with the same unbridled confidence and fervour like my guide through the ancient pyramids, that together as Filipinos WE CAN DO ANYTHING! ***