MANILA, Philippines—President Benigno Aquino III said that now was the time to unite and that the Philippines won’t shirk away from the challenge of defending its sovereignty as he called for unity amid sea disputes with China and other Asian neighbors.
“Now is the time to unite our hearts, unite our minds and our voices,” Aquino said in Filipino during the celebration of the 115th anniversary of Philippine Independence Wednesday.
“Now is the time for us to move as one nation for the fulfillment of our collective aspirations for the motherland,” he said in his speech after quoting a passage from hero Andres Bonifacio about how it took Filipinos three hundred years before they finally united against the Spanish colonizers.
“I know we can do this because we are a race of heroes,” he added.
Aquino took a jab at the recent incursions of several foreign shipping vessels, mostly from China, in Philippine waters saying that the country has always respected the territory of others.
“We have no other reason but to protect what is truly ours. We aren’t stepping on the rights of others, we don’t own or encroach on territory that clearly belongs to others,” he said.
“We’re not asking for anything else except respect for our territory, human rights in the same way that we respect the territory, rights and humanity of other races,” Aquino said.
He also said that the Philippines has never made it a policy to take advantage of other countries so as to maintain the stability of the Asian region.
“It isn’t in our history to hurt or make any move that will earn the ire of other countries,” he said.
“It was never the Philippines’ policy to put one over another country,” Aquino said.
The increased budget for the modernization of the Armed Forces of the Philippines was also highlighted by Aquino, saying that the outlay will increase the military’s capabilities and raise the soldiers’ dignity and morale.
He said P75 billion ($1.74 billion) will be spent in the next five years to modernize the armed forces.
Aquino said “aggression does not run in our veins, but neither will we back down from any challenge.”
Aquino led the flag raising ceremony at the Philippine Post Office building in Lawton and laid a wreath at the statue of Bonifacio.
Dr Maria Serena Diokno, head of the National Historical Commission, accompanied Aquino in both events and gave the introduction speech while Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim gave the opening remarks.
Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin, Foreign Affairs secretary Alberto Del Rosario, and Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas II joined the commemoration.
Also in attendance were Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief General Emmanuel Bautista, Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) Chairman Francis Tolentino and United States Ambassador to the Philippines Harry Thomas Jr. With a report from Associated Press