As a teenager, I find myself through an awkward age. When I am neither a woman nor a child, when my voice cascades down from high C to B flat minor and every pimple assumes the proportion of Taal Volcano. I am prone to anxiety, fear frequent changes of mood, sensitive to criticism. I spend sleepless nights worrying about bad breath, homework, and exquisite agonies of unrequited love. It is the age when I feel the first stirrings of a woman’s primordial urge… to be free!

To be free to pursue the pleasures of youth, to watch TV and use the telephone for hours without an end, free to settle arguments with my brothers and sisters with a kick in the pants. “Mama, I want to be free to do what I wish! ” My mother’s answer is short and devastating: “As long as I provide you with the roof over your head, you are not free my daughter. To be free is to be responsible for one’s self. Even as I stand before you, our country stands before the rest of the world as the first democratic country in all of Asia- still in its awkward age, a nation not quite yet a nation; trying to be politically independent while economically insecure and every bit as prone to anxiety, fear, frequent change of mood, and sensitive to criticism as I ever am in my own awkward age. Here, democracy first dawned over the high tide of western colonialism at the end of the last century.

Yet in 1989, we Filipinos dared to rise against the tide of history and to declare ourselves free, the first in all of Asia to break the shackles of Western Colonialism. Even in 1946 when we regained our independence from the colonial powers. As the oldest democracy in Asia, we watch other people in our part of the world painfully following our footsteps, fighting and dying for the same dream. Elsewhere in Asia, a Buddhist monk douses himself with gasoline, lights a match and burns with a glow of a lost cause.

An Indonesian student waves his placard over the street barricades to the vision of a distant dream, in the teeth of machine gun bullets. A Chinese peasant makes a daring dash for freedom to the border, is shot and lies dying in a ditch, and his eyes search those of the people just across, so near they see him and take pity on him. The Buddhist monk, the Indonesian student, the Chinese peasant and millions of Asians look to the Philippines for lesson learned in the struggle of Democratic freedom and wonder, after all, whether the lessons we learned are worth earning at all. We have learned one thing: that the death of tyranny does not automatically mean the birth of democracy. Democracy has a mind of its own, and does not necessarily follow a successful revolution against despotic rule. What was started on a bleak December morn when Rizal was lead to martyrdom in Bagumbayan is still by far unfinished. You can destroy a tyranny quickly, you must build freedom slowly.

Freedom must be renewed like soil after yielding good crops, must be rewound like a faithful clock, exercised like a healthy muscle. Vigilance is the pride of liberty- a little civil thinking every day, shouting your mouth off against crime and corruption, voting in season, and demanding from your representative that he be representative. Another lesson we learned is this: Democracy in its turn does not automatically mean prosperity. For prosperity also has a mind of its own, and does not follow democracy around like a faithful dog.

Prosperity too must be earned, by land reform and industrialization; by postponing consumption to build up savings and investments, passing up the temporal joys of English leather for an extra clink into the piggy bank; by patronizing our local industries; and most of all, by a policy of protectionism that promotes economic development and national self-reliance. To be free is to be responsible for one’s self. To put our lessons hard to work is the greatest need of all. For today, communism is coming up like thunder, dedicated to the proposition that prosperity and greatness can only be attained at the price of freedom.

We owe it to ourselves and to the rest of Asia, to prove otherwise: that freedom and democracy can lead to economic prosperity and national greatness. To remain free, we have no choice. For the price of failure is great. Take the case of that boy in a hovel in Intramuros who was asked to take care of a baby sister who cried all day and all night because she was hungry. The parents were out: the father looking for a job, always looking and never finding one; the mother, searching the garbage cans for scraps and rotten bananas.

The baby cried so much that it twisted the mind of the brother who watched over her. He reached out with his hands on the baby’s neck… and killed her. My friends, when you come home at night from your office or factory, and lay your head on your pillow to claim the rest you earned at the end of a long day, between the closing of your eyes and the coming of sleep, in that twilight zone of gratefulness where thoughts, plans, and prayers dwell… Think, Plan, And Pray. Pray that our nation shall under God prosper in freedom, and survive to greatness through its awkward, awkward stage.