Good evening. Magandang gabi po sa inyo. (1)
When Bless Salonga asked me if I can speak in this memorial service, I did not think twice. I consider it an honour to speak about a person who stands out as one of the greatest statesmen and nationalists the Philippines has ever produced in modern times.
I must confess though that it is not easy to speak about such a great man considering the enormity, the relevance and the impact he had left as his legacy to the Filipino people.
In the mid-1960s, I first heard of this man when I was a student at the State University — through a friend from Rizal Province (On a personal note: As destiny had it, that friend became my father-in-law.)
My “future father in law” spoke about how much he admired this man, a Congressman from Pasig – a man who, he said, belonged to the people, of the people and for the people.
My friend believed this man would one day become one of the Philippines’ top leaders.
Whether it was a “prophetic statement”, or just a simple wish for the man he so admired, my friend was right.
The man he spoke about became one of the Philippines’ top leaders. Not a self-anointed leader because of traditional name recognition but of the people recognising him as their leader because of his good deeds, his dedication and services to this country.
The man is former Senate President Jovito Salonga.
With his academic achievements and the academic honours bestowed on him, his law degree from the University of the Philippines, a co-topnotcher in the Philippine Bar Examination in 1944 with an average of 95.3%, his Masters degree from Harvard, and his Doctorate degree in Jurisprudence at Yale University in 1949, I would like to address him as Dr Salonga.
And let me give you a brief summary of his life in government service as available online and in a number of publications.
Dr Salonga’s life in government service started in 1960, when he was persuaded by Vice President Diosdado Macapagal, then president of the Liberal Party , to run for Congress in the second district of Rizal. During that period, the electoral district of Rizal was dominated by two political dynasties.
In the November 1961 elections, he won over his two opponents by an overwhelming margin.
Shortly after his election, he tangled with one of the best debaters of the opposing party, the Nationalista Party, on the issue of proportional representation in various committees.
He also composed a seminal article, published and editorialized in various papers, on the Philippines’ territorial claim to North Borneo (Sabah).
In the House of Representatives, Dr Salonga was appointed to the chairmanship of the prestigious Committee on Good Government which he led in conducting inquires in aid of legislation about the prevailing graft and corruption in the government. His Committee recommended filing of charges against some government officials and employees.
In June 1962, President Macapagal filed the Philippine petition against Malaysia’s alleged illegal expropriation of North Borneo. Dr Salonga was appointed to head the delegation in the January 1963 London negotiations.
After one term, he was chosen to run for Senate under the Liberal Party banner in the 1965 elections.
Despite limited financial resources – and the victory of the opposing party’s candidate Ferdinand Marcos as president, he was elected senator, garnering the most number of votes.
In 1967, he was Benigno Aquino, Jr.’s chief lawyer in the underage lawsuit filed by President Marcos against Ninoy Aquino.
Largely through Dr Salonga’s skills in jurisprudence, Ninoy Aquino won his case before the Commission on Elections, which was later confirmed by the Supreme Court and the Senate Electoral Tribunal that both overturned President Marcos appeals.
He ran for re-election in 1971. Along with some members of the Liberal Party, he was critically injured on the August 21 bombing of his party’s proclamation rally at Plaza Miranda.
His doctors’ prognoses were grim — he was not expected to live. He survived, however, with impaired eyesight and hearing, and more than a hundred tiny pieces of shrapnel in his body.
He topped the senatorial race for the second time.
When martial law was declared in 1972, he protested martial law, defending many cases of political prisoners, most of them on a pro-bono basis, and he was arrested.
After his release from military custody, he was offered a visiting scholarship at Yale, where he engaged in the revision of his book on international law. He completed his book on the Marcos years, which included a program for a new democratic Philippines.
In October 1980, following the bombing of the Philippine International Convention Center, President Marcos again ordered Dr Salonga’s arrest; this time he was detained at Fort Bonifacio without any formal charges and investigation.
He was allowed to leave the country with his wife for the U.S. in March 1981, to attend several international conferences and undergo medical procedures.
Right after their departure, subversion charges were filed against him.
Dr Salonga and his wife lived in self-exile in Hawaii, then moved to California, where he was visited by many opposition leaders, including Ninoy Aquino.
The assassination of Ninoy Aquino in August 1983 prompted Dr Salonga to return to the Philippines on January 21, 1985, to help resuscitate his party and unite democratic opposition.
A month later, the Supreme Court unanimously dismissed subversion charges against him.
He was also elected president of the Liberal Party.
Shortly after the EDSA Revolution, President Corazon Aquino, Ninoy Aquino’s widow, appointed Dr Salonga as Chair of the Presidential Commission on Good Government, which was tasked with investigating and recovering the alleged ill-gotten wealth of Marcos and cronies.
In 2000, the Swiss Federal Court, after 14 years of litigation, decided to forfeit the Marcos funds received by the Swiss Credit bank in Zurich, and delivered to the Philippine government more than US$680,000,000.
After his one-year stint with Commission on Good Government, he was drafted to run for the Senate in the 1987 elections.
For the third time, he won the number one spot in the senatorial race. He was subsequently elected as Senate President.
Despite his limited resources, Dr Salonga won three senatorial elections, garnering the largest number of votes under three different administrations: that of Diosdado Macapagal, Ferdinand Marcos and Corazon Aquino.
He has successfully legislated the State Scholarship Law, the Disclosure of Interest Act, the Magna Carta for Public School Teachers, the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees, and the Act Defining and Penalizing the Crime of Plunder.
In September 1991, Salonga led a group of 12 Senators in rejecting the R.P.-U.S. Bases Treaty. He paid a heavy price for this decision as his financial backers in the business community withdrew their support for his presidential campaign.
In December 1991 he was succeeded by Senator Neptali A. Gonzales, Sr. as Senate President.
In 1992, Dr Salonga ran in the presidential election, but lost despite the resounding support of students from various colleges and universities.
Although retired from government service, Dr Salonga remained active in public affairs.
On August 31, 2007, Dr Salonga received the Ramon Magsaysay Award for government service. He was one of the 7 Asian awardees, from China, India, South Korea, Nepal and the Philippines.
Dr Jovito Salonga, a Statesman
No doubt, Dr Salonga is one of the Philippines finest examples of the ideal national leader.
Dr Salonga is a statesman, not a politician.
Why statesman? Why not politician?
In doing a research on the life and works of Dr Salonga, I found this great piece of literature that he wrote. It was his message delivered on 9 September 1987 as his memorial tribute to former President Sergio Osmena – a Philippine statesman and a great Filipino.
Let me share with you part of that message.
In his message, Dr Salonga asked: “What is the difference between a statesman and a politician?”
His answer: “Always, I would go back to the oft-quoted answer of a high school student: ‘A statesman is a man who belongs to the state; a politician is a man who thinks that the state belongs to him.’ ”
With that, let us now reflect on the statesmanship of Dr Salonga.
I cannot think of a better, and more appropriate, way of paying tribute to his statesmanship but offer to him the same words he used to describe former President Osmena.
“We are now in the midst of a crisis… part of the solution to our many problems may be found in the unselfishness, humility, generosity of spirit, and the readiness to sacrifice in the national interest – qualities we need so badly these days on the part of our key leaders…
“… Always, he was the perfect, incorruptible gentleman — genial, self-effacing, serene, untouched by the lust for wealth and power — the man of self-denial, the compleat public official and statesman.
“What we need today is a real national renewal. We need selfless leaders to nurture our fledgling democracy and protect it from divisive and destabilizing threats of the extreme left and extreme right, which continue to undermine our efforts to re-establish democratic institutions and processes. What we need today are leaders who put country before self and people before ambition. What we need today are true public servants — honest, competent, self-sacrificing, and dedicated to the well-being of the Filipino people…”
I am certain you all agree with me that the Philippines today still badly needs wise and good leaders.
And you will all agree that we need leaders like Dr Jovito Salonga.
Dr Jovito Salonga is a national leader and a statesman that the Philippines and Filipinos will remember with pride and honour.
(1) Message delivered on Sunday, 20 March 2016, at the memorial service for the former Senate President Jovito Salonga at the FCF Life Centre, Minchinbury NSW.