JOVITO SALONGA (1920-2016)

with deepest thanks to his children
ricky, steve, patty, eddie, and rina (victoria :)
for sharing their dad with nation.

back in 1965 when the brilliant lawyer jovito salonga first ran for the senate, my parents campaigned for him like mad.  not only was jovy’s wife lydia the sister of salvador “badong” busuego, a very close friend of theirs since UST medical school in the ’30s (the same batch as eva macaraeg macapagal, who would speak only in spanish with my mother), but salonga had also impressed them as a nationalist and followed news of his stint as congressman of rizal province in 1961 when he chaired the committee on good government, holding inquiries on graft & corruption in aid of legislation, and trouncing dynasties to boot.  my parents were  always politically engaged and, in the time of marcos, were ardent supporters of salonga and the liberal party, and then also of ninoy (who first ran for the senate in ’67).

i wasn’t into politics yet, not even during my years in UP diliman when it was the hotbed of kabataang makabayan (KM) activism.  fresh from convent school, and forewarned about “communists,” i took a while to figure out, listening to rallies happening on the AS steps, what the “ibagsaks” were all about, and yes naman!  no to imperialism and feudalism, and no to US bases!  but meanwhile i had met and was barkada for a while with the salonga sibs steve and patty who weren’t into politics either  — our group used to hang around francis lumen’s VW van (hypo, we called it) under the trees across  (but far from) the AS steps, and i remember the music best of all, steve playing guitar and singing the protest songs of dylan and baez, peter paul and mary, with patty singing second voice, what a high.  and the times they were a-changing indeed, on so many fronts.

except that, as it turned out, the changes shaping up were for the worse.  fast forward to the first quarter storm of jan 1970 by which time marcos had been re-elected amidst cheating allegations and youth org KM had morphed into a new communist party led by joma sison that was increasingly radical, bent on destabilizing, and toppling, the fascist and corrupt marcos government.  came plaza miranda, the bombing, in august 1971, that killed nine and injured more than a hundred, among them the leading lights of the liberal party, including senator salonga who was the most gravely hit but who, against all odds, lived to continue the fight and with ninoy kept the opposition alive here at home and in america all through martial law, AND when freedom was won, investigated and became convinced that it was joma sison who ordered the plaza miranda bombing that played right into marcos’s hand, gave him grounds to suspend the writ of habeas corpus, crack down on the radical left, and eventually declare martial law.

during that dark reign of greed and terror, every time senator salonga’s name would come up in the news in connection with anti-marcos events and/or elements, my parents would remind each other about packing a bag just in case they were picked up by the military; they were certain they were on a list of staunch jovy salonga and ninoy aquino supporters.  and like many others in the opposition, they started breathing easy again only after the glorious, if fleeting, triumph that was EDSA.

for a while there, things were looking up for nation and for salonga.  after a year as chair of the pcgg, laying the legal groundwork for the recovery of ill-gotten wealth, salonga ran again for the senate and, as in ’65 and ’71, topped the race.  as expected, he was elected senate president — no one deserved the distinction more.  and a lesser mortal would have been inadequate to the heroic task of presiding over a split senate, withstanding intense pressure from cory and america, and casting the deciding vote that spelled the end of US bases – another fleeting triumph — never mind that it doomed, too, his run for the presidency.  read randy david’s Salonga and the Senate that said no.

Salonga’s acute sense of history kept him focused on what he felt he needed to do. He set aside all personal considerations—something that, in our culture, was hard to do without appearing rude and arrogant. But, the closing of the American bases in the Philippines took precedence over everything. It was to him a necessary condition for our emergence as a fully sovereign nation—something we needed to do for the sake of future generations, even if it meant displeasing an important and powerful ally.

He was painfully aware that his active opposition to the treaty would adversely affect his political plans. The presidential election of 1992 was just around the corner. Many influential leaders and businessmen who had supported him in his long political career and wished to see him succeed Cory, warned him against playing an assertive role on the issue.  But Salonga would not be deterred. For him, the time had come to close this colonial chapter of our history, and it fell on him to lead the Senate to that final moment.

papa didn’t live to see the bases kicked out.  when senator salonga ran for president in 1992, mama and i rooted for him, even getting into arguments with family and friends who agreed with anti-salonga propaganda that he was too old, even disabled, or that harked back to allegations of questionable deals with marcos cronies when he led the pcgg.  i had a sinking feeling that america, along with our very own amboys, had drawn a line, anyone but salonga.  but maybe that’s just me.  read randy david’s Jovito Salonga, the scholar-politician.

… in the 1992 presidential election, President Cory was torn between two loyal allies who both wanted to be president—Speaker Ramon Mitra Jr. and Defense Secretary Fidel V. Ramos. Endorsing Jovy Salonga was out of the question. The Americans could not forgive him for the humiliation he had dealt them on the bases question. Big business did not like him for the uncompromising stance he had taken against US interests. Like Diokno, he was the best president we could not have.

I had the privilege of moderating the 1992 presidential debate for the Commission on Elections and television station Channel 5. Blind in one eye, his right hand a deformed mass of skin and bones, the 72-year-old statesman beamed like a professor conducting a graduate class. He was the most erudite and most accomplished person in that pack. Speaking in a measured tone in fluent Filipino and English, he never switched from one code to the other to complete a thought.

But, beside the most prominent pre-martial law politicians, there were other stars in that room that had captured the imagination of a fickle public. One of them was the feisty and outspoken Miriam Defensor Santiago, a former judge, Cabinet member, and immigration commissioner. The other was businessman Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco, who had fled the country with the Marcos family in 1986. The broad support that this soft-spoken Marcos crony was getting during the campaign, just six years after the overthrow of the dictatorship, showed that the political winds were ominously shifting.

senator salonga ranked 6th in a race of 7, bested by fvr, miriam, danding, mitra, and imelda, and besting only doy laurel.   yes, danding and imelda, back so soon to reclaim their ill-gotten wealth, got more votes than salonga.  it was the saddest thing.

fast forward to 2016.  it’s even more toxic now.  the marcos son bongbong is running for VP under the banner of the nacionalista party that saw his dad elected president twice.  the salonga son steve is running for governor of rizal but, no, not under the banner of the liberal party that saw his dad topping three senatorial races, rather, he is running for governor as an independent candidate because the liberal party cares more about compromising with local dynasties and trapos, what a shame.  read Jovito Salonga’s son laments LP snub, steve’s story just before his first run for the same seat in 2013.

“Tuwid na daan may be true in the elective posts on the national level, but not on the local level,” he said.

Salonga was quick to say that he did not think President Aquino was aware of the compromises on the ground, but insisted that this was a reality he had to contend with in next month’s elections.

The “disturbing and aggressive alliances” with dynasties, warlords and traditional politicians began during the 2010 elections, he said.

Salonga said at that time, his father questioned such deals but got nowhere. He said that his father’s letters and phone calls were ignored.  “He was very disappointed,” said the son.

when senator salonga lost the race for the presidency in ’92, i felt like i did when they killed ninoy in ’83.  what a loss for nation.  six years of a salonga presidency certainly would have taken the nation to a place vastly different from, and more desirable than, where we are now.

it’s great that he was also a prolific author — there should be a university course on good government using his books and journals as bibles — who also wrote his own speeches.  this, from a speech he gave in UP in 1962 when he was rizal congressman and chairman of the committee on good government, resonates to this day, regardless of matuwid-na-daan.  to this EDSA freak, it even seems like he already saw glimmers of people power at play.

DEMOCRACY, as one writer puts it, cannot be saved either by slander or by silence.

And in the Philippines, the word “silence” can never be over-emphasized for here, particularly in places where the high and the mighty have the run of things, the poor and the lowly are so afraid to give their evidence. Entire communities are terrorized into silence and prospective witnesses are rendered mute by the forces of physical violence. Hence, it is true to say we cannot clean up the mess in the world of crime and vice unless we are also willing to clean up the civic and political life of the community in which we live. And who is going to do that? Only we, the people. It is not merely the public officials. For as Bernard Shaw puts it very aptly— “Democracy is a device that insures we shall be governed no better than we deserve.”

We can’t have a good government and at the same time have a double standard of law observance. We can’t validly complain of corruption, if we are only too prepared and willing to bribe our way through to get what we want.

And so, if you ask me: how do we attain a higher standard of ethics in government? I answer:

When we refrain from exerting pressure on our public officials for selfish, narrow ends; when we give positive applause and encouragement to the guy who is playing it straight even though we may not agree with him; when the public official gets the help he needs from people who don’t want anything from him except to be good; and when we, the people, organize and give real, solid backing to those who lead the attack on mass dishonesty and graft.


  1. Batang-Genyo, Alah Eh

    Like SEn. Jose Diokno and Sen. Lorenzo Tanada, Sen. Jovy Salonga was one of the truly genuine nationalist Senators during their time. His uncomprising stand on anti-US bases was a proof that he could not prostitute his principles for political expediency and cost this nation the loss of one of the best presidents we direly need to have.

    To me, such kind of leader is fading in our amidst and I can not see from the new political leaders rise to the mold that truly serve the best interests of the majority of our people.

  2. Such a great person rarely comes along. I once heard him speak and this was what I can never forget, in the sense of: “Bakit kailangan kong makialam? Because this is my Father’s world.” This was then when I understood why passivity is bad, and why despite past retirement age the senator was still very active in going about societal issues. I will always dearly remember Senator Salonga.

  3. SALONGA’S ALTERNATIVE VISION TO MARCOS TYRANNY by Satur Ocampo … “Salonga was emphatic that “we must devise our own social and economic structures to fit our own local conditions, on the basis of the needs of our own people, not on the basis of the requirements or needs of others.” Capitalism, “in the context of Philippine conditions, provides abundance to so few and pitifully little to so many,” he observed. He rejected identification with “any of the centers of power today – Washington, Moscow, Peking [Beijing], or Tokyo.”

    He suggested, in general terms, a reorientation of the generally accepted view on property to imbue it with a social function. More radically, he called for “ dismantl[ing] illegal or undue concentration of wealth” and for “an alternative economic system based not on private profit but on cooperation and solidarity.”

    In more specific terms, Salonga urged that “at the earliest opportunity, the government of a liberated Philippines classify and set apart the industries and services that are to be owned and operated by the State and those that may be left to private initiative.” He added that “key industries and public services essential to the national interest and common welfare should be owned by the State” and that certain fields of enterprises be Filipinized (retaining certain areas for foreign interests), and the establishment of a system of cooperatives both rural and urban-based.