A COMMEMORATION OF FSM’S 25TH ANNIVERSARY

The following is the formal address of Federated States of Micronesia President Joseph Urusemal, delivered May 10, 2004 at Palikir, Pohnpei, on the country’s 25th anniversary.

My fellow citizens,

A President has no more important duty, nor greater honor, than to speak on behalf of the People of this Nation in commemorating and celebrating historic milestones. Today we celebrate a particularly important occasion, the twenty-fifth anniversary of our Constitution and of our Nation itself.

A quarter century may be only a heartbeat in the experience of man on this earth, but the birth of our new nation and its nourishment and development over the past twenty-five years is a truly remarkable story that deserves the recognition we express here today. It is a story of vision, determination and sacrifice. It is also a story without end, but we gather here now to express our thanks for the rewards and blessings that have flowed to us already. In doing so, we honor the legendary accomplishments of our founding fathers and of those who have led us in developing and sustaining our new nation during its formative period.

It is natural that many of my remarks today will focus on our constitution, an inspired document in which our respect for tradition makes common cause with a modern, representative system of government. But let us keep in mind that our celebration here is about much more than a document. It is about the cultures and societies of past generations of islanders. It is about the leaders who were inspired by those cultures to create this document. Finally, it is about the wisdom of those who have followed it along the path of unity and integrity in the face of odds that many saw as insurmountable.

But any celebration should have a purpose beyond honoring the past and the present. It should challenge us as celebrants to take up the torch of the future. And so, today I hope to leave you not just with pride in the past accomplishments of others, but even more importantly with a sense of your place in the ongoing saga of our nationhood. If we all leave here today inspired by the past to meet the challenges of the future with greater confidence and determination, then this celebration will have been a success.

We are honored by the presence here with us of many who will be remembered always as founding fathers of the nation. These have been leaders at all levels, both cultural and in the early political life of what would become our nation. We also recognize the presence of traditional leaders, past presidents, vice presidents, speakers, justices, governors and other leaders who, under our Constitution during the past twenty-five years, have led us wisely.

But sadly, there are many leaders now departed, who served alongside those I have just mentioned. Surely, they are with us in spirit on this day, and in their memory I would like to call for us all to rise for a moment of respectful silence. Our debt of gratitude for their courage, foresight and sense of destiny can never be repaid.

Nowhere do we find such eloquent exposition of the ideals, beliefs and values embraced by the framers of our Constitution than in the Preamble of that Constitution. In the opening paragraph of that Preamble, the first five words are, "We, the people of Micronesia," meaning that the constitution belongs to us all regardless of what state you are from, what religion you belong to, whether you are a male or female, or whether you are a youth or senior or disabled citizen. The framers of our constitution wrote, "With this constitution, we affirm our common wish to live together in peace and harmony, to preserve the heritage of the past, and to protect the promise of the future".

This speaks to the shared vision of our founding fathers that, despite the diversity of our people and the vast oceans that separate us, we can commit to live a peaceful and harmonious life by preserving our common heritage and sustaining and protecting our resources for future generations.

Indeed, the framers of our constitution were fully conscious of the challenges confronting a people of great diversity such as ours, but they also saw that through that very diversity we would find strength in unity. This is nowhere better said than when the framers wrote, "To make one nation of many islands, we respect the diversity of our cultures. Our differences enrich us. Our island nation enlarges us and make us stronger".

The framers of our Constitution also wrote in the last paragraphs of the Preamble of the humble beginnings of our people, the historical events which shaped our Nation and the consequent ideals we cherish as a people. They said, "Having known war, we hope for peace. Having been divided, we wish unity. Having been ruled, we seek freedom." They went on to say, "Micronesia began in the days when man explored seas in rafts and canoes. The Micronesian nation is born in an age when men voyage among stars; our world itself is an island. We extend to all nations what we seek from each: peace, friendship, cooperation and love in our common humanity."

As we know, our constitutional government embodies political philosophies and principles similar to those of the United States. it provides for national, state and local governments, with separate branches within the national government and a system of checks and balances between them. The framers further provided for the states to exercise all powers not expressly given to the national government. of course, each state government has its own democratic constitution, with the national constitution deemed to be the supreme law of the land.

But, while the framers of our constitution drew insight and inspiration from federalist philosophies and principles, they toiled hard to fashion a constitution that is uniquely our own, especially by giving recognition and respect to "traditional rights" in article v. our constitution also guarantees individual rights and freedoms as expressed in article IV, the declaration of rights.

Another important feature of our constitution speaks of the power to conduct foreign affairs. The government began to exercise this power in 1986, as soon as the trusteeship was terminated. We attained full membership in the United Nations in 1991 and since then we have sustained an impressive record of participation in bilateral and multilateral relations. This allows us direct access to a broad range of international assistance over and above that provided by the untied states. It also gives us our own voice in international debates on issues affecting the pacific region and the entire global community.

Our national constitution is the visible expression of underlying sovereignty that for the first time defined our national identity. Before 1979, we had been a sovereign people for centuries, even throughout the so-called, "colonial times." No one, not Spain, not Germany, not Japan and not the United States, ever held our sovereignty. Unlike former colonies, we have never been a part of another nation.

That is why the celebration of this day is of such special significance. it is, in every sense, our national day. When we adopted our constitution in 1979 our age-old sovereignty that had sometimes been held in reserve, found expression as full national identity. That, my fellow citizens, is something that cannot be taken from us, and which we must be faithful never to give away.

It is only proper that we give so much attention to our relationship of free association with the United States, and to the Compact that expresses the terms of that free association. It is good that we celebrate on November 3 of each year the beginning of that compact and the end of United Nations Trusteeship. We are proud of our common bonds with the United States and see no reason why they would ever cease.

But, important as the compact and trusteeship termination events were, they did not make us Micronesians. We have always been Micronesians. On May 10, 1979, with a monumental step, we evolved politically to become for the first time citizens of a brand new nation of our own choosing and design. That country was then and remains today the democratic, constitutional "Federated States of Micronesia."

The constitution is ours alone. We did not negotiate it with another country, nor did we seek anyone else’s approval of its terms. We did not choose to live by principles of freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law because some other nation or international body required us to.

For that reason this day is both a celebration of a sacred document, our constitution, and also a celebration of our own, unique way of life as embodied in that constitution. For that reason our hearts should swell with pride when we hear and sing our national anthem. Whether you are a farmer, a fisherman, a businessman, a traditional leader, a government official, a student or a housewife, you can be proud of what you are, be thankful for what you are able to do, and be appreciative of the opportunities you have to enjoy your life and to improve on it for yourself and others.

Sometimes we become frustrated and impatient with the pace of our economic development or with other problems that arise in our society. But contrary to the situation in many other developing countries with longer track records than we have, our democracy remains strong. Our nation is united and peaceful. Time and again our constitution has proven its continuing relevance in our lives. In twenty-five years, there have been no major constitutional crises affecting our nation. Repeatedly, we have looked at proposals to improve upon our constitution, and rejected most of them. For all these things, we should see ourselves as very fortunate.

But saying that we are a fortunate people is not to say that we can rest on our accomplishments. Those of you who participated in the recent economic summit here in Pohnpei, and those of you who have read about it, know that much work lies ahead.

There are challenges and there are opportunities as well. We have been grateful for the assistance provided by our international friends and partners such as the United States, Japan, China, Australia and others, who assist us in addressing the challenges that stem from our natural limitations and vulnerabilities.

The development of our nation will remain a central preoccupation. It is a people-centered development. Every one of our citizens has the potential to make a contribution. But, you must be empowered to be able to do so, especially those most vulnerable such as women, youth, the elderly and the disabled. This means that the rights and freedoms of all must be assured. No one must be discriminated against. All must be able to go to school, have access to health care and have an equal opportunity to enjoy a meaningful life.

Constitution day is more than just a time for reflection on the past and making commitments for the future. It is a day created also for the purpose of perpetuating our constitution in terms of educating the pubic as well as each succeeding generation, to know the document that guarantees their freedom. It is a day for all to become more aware of the genius of the framers of our constitution, to appreciate the history of our young nation and to instill pride and patriotism for our great democracy.

In this connection, I note with appreciation that our national judiciary has seen fit to honor our constitution day by sponsoring constitution debates between some of the schools in our federation. Of course, some of our schools teach Micronesian studies which include learning about our constitution. While I encourage these, I would also suggest that every one of our citizens take some time, perhaps once a year, to read our constitution. That simple act will go a long way to inform our public debates as we proceed with the life of our nation.

My fellow citizens,

Before I conclude my remarks, I would be remiss on this constitution day if I fail to recognize the service of our citizens in the United States military forces. They are willing to make even the ultimate sacrifice in defense of our freedom. I want to thank them for their service and all their sacrifices made to assure peace, freedom and liberty not only in our country but also throughout the world.

In closing, I thank you all for joining in our celebration today, and express thanks to those who made it possible. On behalf of all of us, allow me to say that on this silver anniversary of our nation, we rededicate ourselves to the ideals enshrined in our constitution, keeping in mind that much is required of each citizen in order to uphold those ideals.

We have come a long way as a nation in twenty-five years. As we cross the threshold of our future, the next twenty-five years hold out possibilities for advancement that even our founding fathers could not have envisioned. Those advancements can be achieved, but only if we continue to work together in the same positive spirit that we have inherited from our illustrious forebears.

The constitution of the Federated States of Micronesia commemorates our proud heritage, and it provides a shining beacon to all our future generations. Let us be worthy of it.

God bless you all, and God bless our great nation.

May 21, 2004

Rate this article: 
No votes yet

Add new comment