With Due Respect

Unleashing entrepreneurial ingenuity (1)

The Asean Law Association (ALA) held its 12th general assembly at the Makati Shangri-la hotel on Feb. 26-28. May I share my speech during the opening luncheon on Feb. 26:

Limitless truths. Let me begin with a famous quotation of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.: “If a man does not have a job or an income, he has neither life nor liberty nor the possibility for the pursuit of happiness.”


It may seem ironic that in beginning my speech before the judicial and legal greats of our Asean region, I should be citing an American civil rights icon, a foreigner in our 10 member countries. But I quoted him not because of his nationality, color, gender or religion. I quoted him because of the truth he said so simply but so profoundly.

I cited him because precisely of my belief that truth is eternal and limitless; that truth is not bound by sovereignty, or territory, or ideology, or legality. And that truth is this: Humans need both justice and jobs; freedom and food; ethics and economics; peace and development; liberty and prosperity; these twin beacons must always go together; one is useless without the other.


I have always espoused “Liberty and Prosperity” as the twin anchors of my being as a lawyer and as a jurist. Many of you attended my valedictory activity as chief justice of my country when on Oct. 18-20, 2006, I convened a “Global Forum on Liberty and Prosperity” here also at the Makati Shangri-la hotel.

Now, even in retirement, I still continue my advocacy for these twin beacons. Thus in 2011, when I celebrated my 75th birthday, I organized the Foundation for Liberty and Prosperity, which is now honored to cosponsor this general assembly, together with the Philippine Supreme Court and the Philippine ALA Chapter.

Yes, certain truths transcend sovereignties, territories, ideologies and legalities. And one of these truths is this: The best way to conquer poverty, to create wealth and to share prosperity is to unleash the entrepreneurial genius of people by granting them the freedom and the tools to help themselves and society.

Saving the fisherman. Let me prove my thesis by quoting a popular adage from Confucius: “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach him to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” Indeed, to save a fisherman from destitution, we must help him learn how to fish more effectively, educate him in the skills needed to catch fish more efficiently, assist him in acquiring a boat, allow him the freedom to sail the vast oceans, and teach him how to market his catch.

Sometimes, some of us fear that the fisherman may get lost and die in the storms that batter the seas; or that he may become selfish and would want to own the entire ocean and its vast resources; or that he may become too rich and powerful and metamorphose into a rival, an enemy, or worse, a master.

Such fears of possible misjudgments may indeed happen some of the time. Human arrogance, greed and avarice lurk in all undertakings. But they are the exceptions rather than the rule. We must never stop dreaming for fear that reality may shatter our dreams. That is part of the interesting reality of being human.

On the other hand, I respectfully believe that the goal of governance and of law is to provide guarantees and incentives to help the fisherman prosper, to create the institutions to support him, and to promulgate minimal regulations to prevent him from appropriating all the fishing grounds, from keeping all the earnings to himself and from forgetting his obligation to pay reasonable taxes to the government. Indeed, government must inspire him to share his consequential wealth with the rest of society.


Validating the truth. Let me take you briefly around the world to validate this simple truth. The United States, the most powerful country in the world and the great promoter of liberal democracy, attained affluence because of the pioneers who defied monarchical tyrannies and started a new nation that unleashed the inventive, innovative and entrepreneurial spirit of people like Thomas Edison, Nikola Tesla, Cornelius Vanderbilt, John Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, Henry Ford and J.P. Morgan, and of great government leaders like Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Dwight Eisenhower who provided them with the encouragement to attain their dreams and the good governance to contain their greed and share their wealth.

Then, let us go to China, the second most powerful economy in the world and the prime promoter of the communist system. True, Mao Zedong led the masses in a revolt that dislodged the corrupt and inefficient government born of an outdated monarchy. But it was Deng Xiaoping who led this nation to unparalleled economic prosperity by unleashing the entrepreneurial ingenuity of the Chinese under his “One-Country-Two-Systems” philosophy.

Finally, let me bring you to Korea. As a result of World War II, this country was divided into North and South, which unfortunately could not accept their division and engaged in a terrible war that ruined their economies. Rising from the ruins, South Korea relied on the entrepreneurial spirit of the Koreans, built on their private initiative, creativity, freedom and hard work, and thereby ushered prosperity.

In contrast, North Korea—despite its technological and military bravado—wallows in abject poverty as a result of its tight grip on creativity and on its inordinate fear of the entrepreneurship, education and freedom of its people.

(Concluded next Sunday)

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TAGS: China, Confucius, Foundation for Liberty and Prosperity, Mao Zedong, north korea, Truths
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