(Former senator and Senate president Jovito “Jovy” Salonga became part of the FEU Institute of Civil Law first as a professor in 1952 and Dean in 1956 to 1961. He passed away on Thursday, March 10. He was 95 years old. All photos from the Salonga family archives)
“The Treaty is defeated!,” Senate President Jovy Salonga intoned as he banged the gavel and cast the decisive 12th vote to end the US military presence on Philippine territory on 16 September 1991.
Solemn, vigorous and courageous, it is this image of Jovy Salonga that remains forever etched in my memory.
“Mustering the Courage and the Will”
In explaining his vote to the “resolution of non-concurrence” that Senator Bobby Tanada had sponsored on the floor of the Senate, Jovy Salonga declared: “September 16,1991 may well be the day when we in this Senate found the soul, the true spirit of this nation because we mustered the courage and the will to declare the end of foreign military presence in the Philippines.”
I remember Jovy Salonga as the senator who topped the national senatorial race thrice. I voted for him in 1965, 1971 and again in 1987. He was principled and practical, brilliant and articulate, and more than anything else courage personified. He came from humble beginnings, taught law and became dean at FEU’s Institute of Law from 1956-63, before he entered public service as legislator and fiscalizer.
Paying the Price for His Political Beliefs
Jovy Salonga nearly died as a bomb blast ripped apart the Plaza Miranda stage where nearly the entire Liberal Party slate for the Senate stood in 1971. It caused him injuries that he bore to his dying day.
Briefly detained in 1980 and then exiled, Jovy Salonga returned to the country in 1985. It was in the house of Ka Tanny, the legendary Senator Lorenzo Tanada, that I witnessed first hand how he stood firm and argued the best way to resist the dictator. There, in his meeting with both the late Senators Pepe Diokno and Tanada, he calmly expressed his thoughts on how the people can be mobilized and encouraged in their collective efforts to bring down the dictatorship.
He had defended political detainees when martial law was declared, he spoke out against the excesses of inept and corrupt conjugal rule and he was credible because he was willing to pay the price for his beliefs. In brief, he witnessed with his life and lived by the principles that he stood for.
Transforming the Principle of Power into the Power of Principles
Soon after the Senate’s rejection of the treaty that would have allowed the extension of US military installations in Subic and Clark, Jovy Salonga was to run for the presidency in the elections of 1992. He had asked me to be part of a small team of academics to help prepare briefs and talking points in the meetings and discussions he would conduct.
I had been part of the debates in the Constitutional Commission and supported the provisions dealing with declaring the country’s “freedom from nuclear weapons” as well as requiring a formal treaty in the question of foreign military bases. Subsequently, together with Prof Dodong Nemenzo, I had co-authored a book entitled, “A Sovereign Quest” dealing with the withdrawal of US military bases in the Philippines.
At his modest home in Pasig, we would discuss the alternative uses of the bases into productive communities wherein people had more dignified sources of employment. He had a probing mind, asking the difficult questions, humbly listening to alternative opinions even when expressed by younger people who, so to speak, “sat at his feet”.
Reflecting on the Relevance of Jovy Salonga in the 2016 Elections
It is perhaps no coincidence that Jovy Salonga at 95 now leaves us at this opportune moment when the nation goes to the polls to elect its leaders. When Jovy Salonga run for president in 1992, the first regular elections after the people’s power experience and the presidency of the beloved Cory Aquino, we have to recall that he finished sixth in a field of seven candidates.
He was bested then by both President Ramos and Miriam Santiago; he even received fewer votes than Danding Cojuanco and Imelda Marcos. He was nearly the last of seven candidates, but he knew how to lose with grace. He knew that his “No” vote on the US bases was to cost him dearly in the national elections, driving some well-meaning supporters from whitholding their backing. But Jovy Salonga was a man who believed in the power of principles which he put above the principle of power.
As we reach the homestretch of our campaign period, it is good to be reminded that we have a tradition of great leaders in our midst in the likes of Claro M Recto, Lorenzo Tanada, Jose Diokno, Ninoy Aquino, and Jovy Salonga; high standards indeed for people aspiring to lead our country in the years to come.
10 March 2016
(Ed Garcia was a member of the 1986 Constitutional Commission; worked with Amnesty International and International Alert based in London for over two decades; previously taught at the Ateneo de Manila University and the University of the Philippines; and currently serves as a consultant on formation with FEU-Diliman.)