Salonga's journey
November 19, 2002

His left eye is sunken, opaque and sightless and he wears a hearing aid in his left ear. But when Jovito Salonga speaks, his voice carries over the room. It is the voice of a former Senate President who served three presidents. At 82, his opinion carries the weight of experience and wisdom. He does not hesitate when he talks about issues close to his heart.

"Politicians today pretend they are champions of the masa. The biggest champion was (former president Joseph) Estrada, but actually iba naman yung ginagawa sa sinasabi," Salonga said.

Salonga is no cynic. He still works and supervises four organizations -- the Bantayog ng mga Bayani, which put up a memorial for contemporary heroes and martyrs, Kilosbayan, which raises political consciousness, Bantay Katarungan, a group dedicated to the pursuit of justice and protection of human rights, and the Salonga Foundation for Human Development, which promotes social and moral awareness.

He still loves to talk about politics. "Politics as such is okay but not political parties. In the Philippines there are no real political parties. The parties are merely masquerading. They are loose organizations without any clear direction and concept of party discipline," he said.

Salonga hates turncoats who he said practice "jeepney politics." He describes political parties in the country as "taxi parties."

"Everytime there is a presidential election, politicians transfer to the party in power. When that party is defeated, they transfer to another. We do not have a clear ideological differentiation of parties. They are all opportunists," he said.

"We have too many political turncoats beginning with former president Ramon Magsaysay Jr.," Salonga said. He said Magsaysay was a man of the masa, but he was a political turncoat. "He somersaulted from the Liberal Party to the Nacionalista Party," Salonga said.

"We are a nation of political somersaulters," he said.

Walking barefooted
Born on June 22, 1920 in Pasig, Salonga is the youngest of five siblings born to Esteban Salonga, a Presbyterian minister, and Bernardina Reyes, a public market vendor.

Salonga remembers that he used to walk barefoot to the Central elementary school in Pasig. He still keeps a picture of his sixth grade class where he was the only unshod pupil. "My parents could not afford to buy me a pair of shoes," he said.

Salonga excelled in his studies despite his circumstance. He was accelerated from fourth to fifth grade during his primary studies. He would continue to prove his mettle while studying law at the University of the Philippines.

In 1942, during the Japanese occupation, Salonga joined the resistance movement. He was captured, tortured and sentenced to 15 years of hard labor. When he was granted pardon, he continued his law studies. On August 1944, Salonga took the bar examinations and topped it with a grade of 95.3%.

He still remembers how he learned the result of the examinations on October 1944. He had to use an old bicycle and pedal from Pulo (now San Miguel) in Pasig to the house of former Chief Justice Jose Yulo in Penafrancia, Manila.

"The bicycle I was riding was not an ordinary bicycle. It had solid <i>calesa</i> tires. It took me quite a time before I reached Penafrancia. While passing through Makati, I thought I would be hit by a truck. After getting the bar results, I started pedaling back home. Then the American planes arrived and started bombing Manila," Salonga said.

Salonga's love affair with politics started when he was young. He said his family "had a very lively interest in political affairs," especially during the debates for the 1933 Hare-Hawes Cutting Act.

The young Salonga was inspired by former Speaker Manuel Roxas who was also a bar topnotcher. "He became my role model," Salonga said.

His initiation into politics came when his brother Isayas ran for congressman of the second district of Rizal. As Isayas's campaign manager, Salonga met a number of political leaders who would later help his own foray into politics.

After topping the bar in 1944, Salonga took his master's degree at Harvard Law School and a doctorate at Yale University. He turned down a teaching job in Yale because he wanted take part in post-war reconstruction in the Philippines.

Prof. Myres MacDougal, one of Salonga's Yale professors, would later write a letter to then president Elpidio Quirino. "It is our considered opinion that Mr. Salonga has the capacity to become a great man in the legal profession, and our personal regard for him is such that we hope very much that he will have the opportunity," MacDougal said.

Salonga's career flourished. He established himself as one of the most brilliant lawyers in the country. He taught law and became dean of the Institute of Law at Far Eastern University in 1961.

Salonga ran and topped the senatorial elections in 1965 under the banner of the Liberal Party. In the same year, Ferdinand Marcos would win the presidency over Diosdado Macapagal.

Salonga has been always critical of Marcos, who would later break his campaign promises like the assurance that the Philippines would not join the U.S. military campaign in Vietnam.

Salonga later played a pivotal role in the ascent of another young politician, Benigno "Ninoy" Aquino Jr.. He sided with Aquino, who was then 34 years old, when he ran in the 1967 senatorial elections. Salonga defended Aquino before the Supreme Court, arguing that Aquino would turn 35 during the oath-taking. Salonga won the case and Ninoy topped the elections.

In his autobiography A Journey Through Struggle and Hope, Salonga said Aquino approached him after the elections and offered him a car as a token of appreciation. Salonga told Aquino: "Do not cheapen the little we have done for you."

The 1971 Plaza Miranda bombing
Salonga used to write his name as "Jobito" because his parents told him that his name was based on the biblical character Job, an upright man who suffered a lot for his faith.

"I am sure, however, that my parents did not think about the implications of the name they had chosen for me," Salonga later wrote.

On August 21, 1971, Salonga and his partymates in the Liberal Party were hurt when a bomb exploded during a campaign rally at Plaza Miranda.

"Some of the people were shouting bomba! (bomb) before we started the rally. This was a popular outcry during campaign rallies especially when people like Ninoy [Aquino] would start one of his fiery tirades against the Marcoses. We had no idea that the bomba they were talking about was the real thing," Salonga wrote in his biography.

Salonga was one of the worst hit in the bombing. A doctor described Salonga as "a frog on the dissecting table" because of his injuries. Doctors had to perform three major operations in the first twelve hours after the bombing to save the senator's life.

Salonga still bears the scars of that incident. "I have more than 100 pieces of tiny shrapnel all over my body. One eye is out, I cannot see. One ear cannot hear. But that is very good because there are many things I should not hear and many things I should not see," he said.

He has not forgotten the debt he owes his physicians. He still invites his doctors to his rest house in Pansol, Laguna, every year, on or before August 21.

Salonga does not believe Marcos was behind the bombing. In his autobiography, Salonga wrote it was Jose Ma. Sison, Communist Party of the Philippines founder, and a small cabal of CPP leaders who ordered the bombing of the rally.

Salonga reached this conclusion after reading the book The Red Revolution by Washington Post correspondent Gregg Jones.

Ariel Almendral, Victor Corpus and an unidentified engineering student from Cosmopolitan Church, who were all New People's Army (NPA) guerillas in 1971, corroborated the story.

Corpus, a former Philippine Military Academy (PMA) instructor, said Sison ordered the bombing to "intensify the conflict between the Nacionalista Party (of President Marcos) and the Liberal Party, the two factions of the ruling class." Apparently, Sison's plan was to let Marcos take the blame for the bombing, which would instigate other moderates to join the communist movement, which only numbered 91 during that time.

Salonga hesitated to point an accusing finger on Marcos like what his colleagues did after the bombing.

"I wrote a book on evidence. I do not just accuse without proof. So even when I was in the hospital, I hesitated to point to anyone. Many of my partymates pointed to Marcos even when they did not have the evidence. So I was ready to forgive those who had something to do about the bombing. It was only when I was in exile that I was contacted by [Almendral]. Later, Corpus corroborated this evidence," Salonga said.

Salonga said he has forgiven Sison. "I have forgiven him a long time ago. In fact, I was the chairman of the ad hoc Committee on Political Detainees. I allowed him to leave along with Bernabe "Ka Dante" Buscayno, cofounder of the NPA. Still, forgiving them or not does not mean that you should hide the truth. I exposed the truth that he was the one who engineered the 1971 Plaza Miranda bombing," Salonga said.

Martial law and beyond
Salonga became one of martial law's most outspoken opponents when it was declared in 1972. He later defended political prisoners who challenged the Marcos regime.

In October 1980, after the bombing of the Asian Society of Travel Agents’ conference at PICC, Salonga was arrested and was detained without charges.Public outcry against the arrest, however, helped pave the way for his release. He was later offered a scholarship at Yale, where he revised his book on International Law.

Salonga returned to the Philippines on Jan. 21, 1985. When Corazon Aquino became president, Salonga was named chairman of the Presidential Commission on Good Government, which was tasked to look for the alleged ill-gotten wealth of the Marcoses.

In 1987, Salonga ran and topped the senatorial elections. He later became Senate president. It was under his presidency that the Philippine Senate rejected the extension of the stay of U.S. bases in the country.

The return of U.S. forces
After running and losing in the 1992 presidential elections, Salonga retired from partisan politics, but not from his convictions.

Earlier this year, Salonga criticized the Arroyo administration for allowing American troops to conduct joint military exercises with Philippine troops in Mindanao.

Salonga said American troops should have left after the American hostages of the bandit Abu Sayyaf Group were rescued. He said the continued stay of American troops "only emboldened the Americans to bring in more troops with the consent and encouragement of President Arroyo."

Salonga said "terrorism" has been used as an excuse by the Arroyo administration to bring in more U.S. troops to the Philippines. "We are using the term 'terrorism' to take advantage of American support," he said.

"Everything now is terrorism even when it is not. The United Nations has not even agreed on the proper definition of international terrorism. Here in the country, we haven’t even passed the anti-terrorism bill. So we are using terms that haven’t been legalized yet," Salonga said.

He also warned that confusing terrorism with Islam may breed even more extremists in the country.

"The great majority of Muslims in the Philippines are law-abiding. The great majority are moderate. I have many Muslim students in Mindanao and they are very good. But if we go on confusing the Abu Sayyaf with other Muslims and making it appear that Muslims in general are not to be trusted, you have a problem. You will alienate the Muslims, alienate the Muslims abroad. And, our [overseas Filipino workers] will be fair game," he said.

Remembering our past
In the twilight of his years, Salonga shows no sign of slowing down. He is hard at work on a new book that will include his speeches and writings from the time he was a congressman.

He follows a strict daily regimen, waking at an early hour for prayers and spiritual reading.

"I wake up at five to five-thirty every morning. Then I do some reading, spiritual reading not necessarily the Bible. The last book I read was The Quest For An Invisible God by Philip Yancey. Then I pray with my wife. Then we take breakfast around six to six-thirty. When the papers arrive, I go over them. I read all the major dailies, not the tabloids," he said.

It is important that Filipinos remember history not to repeat the mistakes committed, Salonga said.

"We have a poor sense of history. But we cherish personal hatreds. Many people now have forgotten the abuses and the excesses of the Marcoses. Many people now do not even care to know about Bonifacio and Mabini. They honor Rizal but they do not know him. We have a very poor sense of history that is why we are apt to repeat our past mistakes," Salonga said.

There are many titles attributed to Salonga -- hero, patriot, martyr, the grand old man of Philippine politics and the nation's fiscalizer -- but only history will tell how his journey, his struggles and hopes for the country will be remembered by the Filipino people.

Please send your comments or feedback to