(Remarks at a virtual rally organized by the Universal Peace Federation with the theme “One Million People Praying for the Healing of the Nation and the World”)
May I congratulate the Universal Peace Federation (UPF) led by our co-founder and tireless peace advocate Dr.HakJa Han Moon and international president Dr. Thomas Walsh for organizing this virtual worldwide rally for peace, solidarity and healing in this period of enormous challenges and uncertainties.
Indeed 2020 was a year of massive disturbance not just in our country but around the world.
We in the Philippines were battered by the Taal Volcano eruption, successive typhoons and floods, and, of course, the COVID-19 pandemic which claimed some ten thousand lives, infected more than half a million, and put some 10 million of our countrymen out of jobs and livelihoods.
It also shattered our hard-won economic gains, causing economic contraction by 16.9 percent.
Worldwide, the COVID-19 cases have reached more than 96 million, with more than two million deaths, and the numbers continue to rise.
The World Bank reported that the pandemic would push between 119 and 124 million people into extreme poverty (those who live on less than $1.90 or less than P100 per day) around the world. It earlier projected that many of these new extremely poor would be in South Asia.
2020 was a devastating year but in every crisis, there is a lesson to be learned and an opportunity to move our country, and the world, forward.
Last December 8, 2020, a 90-year-old British grandmother Margaret Keenan became the first person in the world to receive the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. It was a historic moment for the whole world, particularly the Philippines as the injection was administered by a Filipino nurse May Parsons.
The availability of the vaccines in our country early next month and the subsequent inoculation nationwide appear to be the light at the end of the dark and virulent coronavirus tunnel that we have been going through since March last year.
We urge the government to assuage our people’s fears and reduce their feeling of uncertainty by intensifying its information dissemination on the safety and efficacy of the vaccines and the necessity of immunization.
We also appeal to some people who may be spreading misinformation on the vaccines to stop causing anxiety and sowing confusion among our countrymen.
And in the midst of the countries’ seeming competition to secure COVID-19 vaccines for their peoples, we support the call of UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres to make the vaccines “accessible and affordable to everyone, everywhere.”
Climate Change: A clear and present danger
Although, rightfully, our attention and efforts are focused on stamping out the raging coronavirus pandemic, let us not negate other threats of nature that have been besetting our country and the world for many years now and for which we have been warned about.
One of these climate change which, sadly, most of us have been taking for granted, if not completely ignore. Climate change is a clear and present danger to our planet and the human race. It is a threat multiplier which may push millions of people into poverty and devastate economies.
We commend the new American President Joe Biden for rejoining the US into the historic Paris Climate Agreement, a global pact forged five years ago among some 200 countries to combat climate change.
The global climate change threat is becoming more and more serious that the World Economic Forum in January, 2020, launched a program to “grow, restore, and conserve one trillion trees around the world and in a bid to restore biodiversity and help fight climate change.”
We were elated by this initiative by the World Economic Forum as we have been advocating a “Trillion Trees Program” in our country and the international community since our earlier years as speaker of the House of Representatives and as founding chairman of the International Conference of Asian Political Parties (ICAPP) as well as in the various international organizations which we are privileged to serve, including our Universal Peace Federation (UPF) and the International Association of Parliamentarians for Peace (IAPP).
We proposed these programs can be organized through what we may call trillions of trees foundations managed by civil-society organizations in partnership with governments, parliaments, and the political parties, or perhaps, even better, carried out by governments themselves and managed by the private sector.
Massive tree planting can become a virtuous cycle – of planting, cultivating, harvesting, processing timber, and replanting – that can generate millions of jobs worldwide, apart from addressing food shortage and expanding agriculture, and contributing in a most significant way in the battle against climate change.
We also urge the conduct of more Interfaith Dialogues as a way of helping resolve politico-religious conflicts, strengthening the religious moderates, and isolating those who advocate terrorism and violent extremism in the name of religion. The Interfaith Dialogue upholds a global culture of peace and mutual understanding.
In January, 2006, as then speaker of the House, we organized a Global Interfaith Dialogue here in Manila, where leaders of various religions and faith-based organizations in the Asia-Pacific region and Europe participated. Several incumbent and former heads of governments and parliaments addressed the conference.
A Philippine-led initiative, the Interfaith Dialogue was approved by the UN General Assembly in December, 2005. It was a major victory for the Philippines in international diplomacy and our country’s enshrined contribution in advancing the cause of global peace. A “focal point” on Interfaith Dialogue was also created in the office of the UN Secretary General.
One human family under God
Every aspect of our ordinary life is being challenged – our security by extremist terrorism, conventional economics by the unintended consequences of globalization, accustomed politics by a great wave of populist rebellion, familiar environment by climate change, and our health and well-being by a deadly global plague.
In the face of these threats which transcend national, regional, and even hemispheric boundaries, there is a greater need for organizations like ours to promote peace, solidarity, and cooperation.
And we must take to heart the simple truth that we all belong to “one human family under God.”