‘Be at the forefront of bearing witness, telling the truth, and pursuing social justice’



(FULL TEXT: Message of Thanks by Rhen Dave Rafael, UST Faculty of Arts and Letters batch 2022 valedictorian, during the Solemn Investiture on June 11, 2022)

Post-truth. Adjective. A 2016-Oxford Word of the Year “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.”

It is said that we live in a post-truth world. While this claim is open for debate, one thing is clear: we face an uphill battle against the systemic distortion of the truth.

Seeing how lying becomes normative in our social spaces, it is perhaps easy for us to question the ways of the truth. Yes, it is really frustrating to see how reputable sources of knowledge lose credibility to Tiktok and how the youth fall prey to fake news and alternative facts. But let us turn our frustrations into social action. The truth will not prevail if we do not wield its power.

How do we, then, participate in this struggle for the truth? I think that the answer is simple but extremely difficult: we have to bear witness and tell the truth.

Bearing witness is about narratives. Narratives that are based on the perspective of the narrated! When we tell the story of the people on the margins, we reclaim the power that has been taken away from them. We restore their dignity.

Growing up, I had the chance to live with my grandfathers. They were both farmers, owned some hectares of land, and experienced the horrors of the Second World War. But the fate of my maternal grandfather was more horrific, more painful. He lost his land to the construction of a dam that never benefitted his family. Without financial reparations, he struggled to make ends meet. Fortunately, because of provincial scholarships, my mother and her siblings earned their respective degrees and somehow escaped the cycle of poverty. I am a witness to something traumatic, and maybe you are as well. If we could be witnesses to ourselves and others, we could break the intergenerational trauma that holds us back.

Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel once said: “We may use words to break the prison, to break the walls around the prison.” From this standpoint, we need to acknowledge that something happened and write it down to keep the memory alive. I believe that we have the power to turn something terrifying into riveting, to use the pain of the distant past for us to heal. We just need to sharpen our pens.

Nowadays, telling the truth tends to be selective and vilified. People in power use a lot of euphemisms and/or legalisms to dehumanize the victims and evade agency to perpetrators. It is our sacred task to do otherwise. Do not be afraid to call a spade a spade. After all, the truth is not meant to comfort us.

However, bearing witness and telling the truth may fall short of meaning without love. Now, more than ever, we are called to live by the University’s motto: veritas in caritate (truth in charity). Bearing witness and telling the truth may be daunting. But if we allow fear to silence us and force us to forget, we find ourselves complicit in silencing marginal voices. We maintain a system that blatantly distorts the truth to fit the narrative of a select few.

Over the past four years, I have seen how the Artlet community stood its ground in the most critical and tipping points in our society. Each of you braved the threats of being labeled as communists, among others. Because of your firm stances and informed opinions, regrettably, you lost some friends, even relatives along the way. Isang mahigpit na yakap, Artlets. Ikinararangal at ikinalulugod ko kayo. Thank you for holding the line, for not paying lip service to the causes you resonate with and aim to champion.

To the Faculty of Arts and Letters, it was within your walls and virtual spaces where we experienced the transformative beauty of the arts and humanities and the humanizing truth of the social sciences. On behalf of the Artlet community, I wish to thank the administrative officials and staff of the faculty for creating a safe space for us. To our professors, we greatly appreciate all your efforts in striving to provide us with a humanistic education. Rethinking learning in the new normal was challenging, but you still delivered. Very well! I would also like to take this opportunity to thank the English Department headed by Prof. Rachelle Lintao for helping us to soar to greater heights and transcend beyond labels. Most significantly, I thank my prolific and progressive thesis adviser, Assoc. Prof. Veronico Tarrayo, for always believing in my capabilities. This ceremony, our dear professors, is about you as much as it is about us.

To the Pontifical, Royal, and Catholic University of Santo Tomas, thank you for being a harbinger of truth and wisdom and the cradle of our dreams. Thank you for constantly reminding us to work for the good of the church, the home, and the nation. To the executive authorities and top administrative officials of the University, my family and I are very grateful for your generosity. The academic scholarship you have provided me within the last four years has dignified my family.

Our family and friends have played a massive part in this important milestone, and they deserve every ounce of respect and admiration from us. The road to Quadricentennial Pavilion was difficult, more so with our current circumstances. But with the unwavering support of our friends, we emerged as survivors and achievers. We were once nothing and now we are something. But everything that happened in-between was you, our dear friends. Thank you very much. To my ELSSOC family, thank you for using language to break stereotypes and challenge oppressive ideologies. To my friends—Steph, Meg, Red, Mica, and Kasy—thank you for holding me accountable for my shortcomings and for pushing me to go the extra mile.

To our parents and guardians who are with us today, those who are with us in spirit because of their line of work, and those who have gone before us, please receive our hard-earned medals and diplomas as a testament to our love for you. Thank you for believing in the liberating power of liberal arts education. Nanay, Tatay, Charles, this humble achievement is yours as always. Maraming salamat sa tiwala at pagmamahal.

This success would not have been achieved without the divine providence of our Heavenly Father. May we pause for a while to thank Him for His unending grace and mercy. We pray that He continues to grant us the courage and strength to always stand up for what is true and what is right.

I refuse to believe that we have long defected from a post-truth regime and that its repercussions are now irreversible. The ravages of state-sponsored trolling and disinformation may have dramatically unfolded before our eyes, and it momentarily snatched our newfound hope. But, today is a triumphant celebration of the truth. The truth wins today, for a new legion of Thomasian-
Artlets shall endure the definitive task of preserving our social memories and countering social depravities with the truth.

Artlets, it is our collective responsibility to be at the forefront of bearing witness, telling the truth, and pursuing social justice. Our Thomasian identity demands us to speak a love-filled truth and practice a truth-filled love. So let us go down the hills. Immerse. Interact. Tell the story of the masses, the human rights victims, and the human rights defenders. Remember their names and their faces. Memorialize their collective struggles in different forms of art.

Sinubok man tayo ng maraming unos, ngunit hindi tayo nagpatinag at nanahimik na lamang. We have not only pioneered the first cohort of K-12 graduates, but we have also pioneered a movement. We have remained steadfast in our convictions and asserted our role in shaping the future of this nation. May we persevere in building an empire of truth-loving Filipinos so committed to speaking the truth and so willing to defend it whatever the odds.

Warmest congratulations, Artlets! Mabuhay tayong lahat!

Transcribed by Maureen Curitana

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