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Eulogy for Senator Jovito Salonga

March 15, 2016

Senator Loren Legarda
Eulogy for Senator Jovito Salonga
March 15, 2016 | Senate Session Hall

Today, we pay tribute to a man whose towering greatness shaped much of the politics and public affairs of the 20th century, untied the umbilical cord with the US and shepherded the passage of landmark, life-changing legislation.

Former Senator Jovito Salonga was, for me, a dear friend–his eldest son, Steve is the godfather of my eldest son, Lanz.

He was also an outstanding public servant, a statesman of the highest order, a pillar of democracy, an indefatigable fighter for truth and justice whose brilliance and integrity were unparalleled.

Like many of the great men of his day and age, Jovito Salonga was born under the humblest of circumstances. His father was Esteban, a Methodist pastor, while his mother, Bernardita, had to sell wares at the public market to augment the limited income from missionary work.

With a superb intellect, despite his life’s circumstance, he was a star student at UP Law, and was one of the few Filipinos in the 40s to attend Harvard and Yale University. He topped the bar with a grade of 95.3, an amazing feat from a man who, a year before, was tortured by the Japanese Military Police because of engagement in anti-Japanese activities and was sentenced to prison for 15 years of hard labor, only to be pardoned a year after.

His devotion to our nation’s freedom has allowed each one us to stand here today to argue and agree, to debate and collaborate, to help run the nation. He vigorously opposed the dictatorship in 1972 and defended cases that both involved well-known political prisoners and obscure detainees.

One of the most iconic and proudest moments of the Philippine Senate in contemporary times was the day Senate President Salonga broke the 11-11 tie in the stalemated vote on RP-US Bases Treaty in 1991. As he banged the gavel to announce the Senate’s decision to scrap the Treaty and effectively end an era, he snapped the seemingly unbreakable cord with the United States of America. Seldom does a chamber get the chance to help rewrite the history of the nation, which Salonga and his Magnificent 11 precisely did in 1991.

It was in this circumstance that I was able to closely work with Senator Salonga, when I consulted with him about the contentious provisions of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) between the Philippines and the United States in 1999.

Senator Salonga was also at the helm of several groups, such as the Kilosbayan (People Action), a forum for raising political consciousness and citizens’ participation in governance.

I would join him in Kilosbayan forums and speak about the environment at the Shalom Center. At these forums, Senator Salonga helped me spread my advocacies for the environment, helped me transition from a mere believer in environmental causes to an aggressive public advocate.

Senator Salonga lived long enough to see the outcome of his fight for freedom. We, today’s political leaders, should struggle mightily and hard to be true keepers, ardent torch bearers, of his work and legacy.

I will end this tribute to a great patriot with his own words: “Freedom is the bedrock of human dignity, the one value we should never compromise or surrender. Freedom is the catalyst in all our efforts toward national development; it is the precondition and the objective of our collective endeavor. For a nation of sheep can never be great.”

Thank you.