I am deeply honored to have been invited by my lifetime guru, former Senate President Jovito R. Salonga to deliver this keynote address during the formal launching of his newest book titled “The Faith and Love of My Parents and Brothers.” Earlier, he has also asked me to write the Foreword of this outstanding biography. Though I feel thoroughly unworthy of his esteem, being only his former student and former law office assistant, I am constrained to accept for, to me, his invitation is really a command, a direct order from a superior.
Former Senate President Salonga has authored over a dozen books but this is the first time that he writes about his closest relatives: his wife, his parents, his brothers and his children. Having known the illustrious senator for over half a century now, I am fortunate to have met his immediate family, except his parents.
Although all of them helped in propelling his public career, his immediate relatives remained low profile. His four brothers were very supportive of his electoral plans, first as congressman of the second district of Rizal and then as senator of the Republic for three terms. Even when he run for the presidency in 1992, his close relatives were always with him.
And yet he made sure that they stayed behind the scene, that they did not profit from his public office and that they did not dispense favors or powers derived from their filial relations with him. Even his children were barred from any appointive or even elective posts as long as he held public office, lest suspicion be raised that he was unduly giving favors to them. In fact, he was passionately fighting political dynasties. He never believed in family members succeeding into the public office of the patriarch or matriarch of the clan. It is not surprising then that none of his immediate relatives, not his brothers or children; not even his comely and intelligent spouse, Mrs. Lydia Busuego-Salonga, are publicly known.
As I said earlier, I did not know Senator Salonga’s parents who both passed away before I met him. But I had the pleasure of meeting his four brothers. I remember his Kuya Isayas, his eldest brother, to be an old school politician – - patrician but kind and gentle. When I met him, he has already served his term as congressman and was encouraging his youngest brother Jovito to take up his old seat. His Diko Ben was high-minded, purposeful, caring and intelligent. I got the impression that his Sanko Serafin was quite close to him to the extent of being a confidant and chum. His Kuya David was outspoken, protective and brawny as if telling people, “No one crosses the path of my young brother, or he/she will answer to me.”
Of his children, I am familiar the most with his eldest, Esteban Fernando or Steve, who was born in the Philippines while the author was still at Yale and who – like him – took up law. Steve had to struggle his own way to law practice – to paddle his legal canoe, as it were – because his extra ethical father dissolved the prominent Salonga Ordonez Yap and Associates law firm when President Corazon Aquino named him chairman of the Presidential Commission on Good Government. And when I asked Steve why he never run for his father’s old congressional district, his half sad reply was, “Alam nyo naman si Tatay, ayaw ng dynasty.”Our First Meeting This book relates how he became dean of the Institute of Law of Far Eastern University. It was there that I first encountered Senator Salonga in 1956 when I was a freshman at the FEU Institute of Law. The school year 1956-57 was only a few weeks old when suddenly, the law students who were 1,500 strong at that time, declared a “strike” in protest to what they perceived was the precipitate and unjustified retirement of the well-loved and venerable dean of the law school, Francisco Lavides. As a new law student, I did not personally know our old dean but I went along with the strikers as they left their classrooms and filled the FEU auditorium with chants, slogans and anguished cries of “persecution.”
Then, a youngish 36-year old bespectacled professor, a Yale and Harvard graduate and bar topnotcher, walked to the center stage, approached the microphone, and single-handedly faced the hostile crowd. The new dean, Dr. Jovito R. Salonga, spoke with a forceful tremolo and held the rowdy and rambunctious crowd spellbound. In thirty minutes flat, the huge crowd of activist students trooped back to their classrooms, convinced of the error in their mass action; and of the wisdom, honesty, sincerity and good faith of their new dean.
Thus did I, along with many others, find the guru who would become my role model not only in my law career but more important, in my whole life. Thus, did I congratulate myself for enrolling at Far Eastern University, even if initially I wanted to enter the University of the Philippines. For, indeed, he has taught me not only UP-style education but also Harvard and Yale orientation.
Obviously, Senator Salonga’s initial baptism of fire as the new FEU law dean had also an indelible impression on him as he recounts the same story with greater detail in this new tome.
Salonga, the EducatorAt FEU, he explained the difference between the Harvard and the Yale “approach” in education, which I am glad he has now put to writing in this new book, which I quote in part:
“Compared to Yale, Harvard Law School was reputed to be inhospitable. When new students arrive, the faculty would tell them, ‘Look to the right of you and look to the left of you, because by Thanksgiving one of you won’t be here.’
“At Yale Law School, our classes were small and every effort was exerted to make us feel at home. If a lawyer wanted to argue a case before a court from the viewpoint of law and jurisprudence, Harvard was an excellent law school. But from the viewpoint of the policy-oriented approach of (Yale), a lawyer is not just an advocate who specializes in rules and doctrines for the sake of his clients – he should go beyond these and do what would best serve the interests of the nation and the world community.”
I was ignited by the Yale approach. So, after graduation and upon the recommendation of Dean Salonga, I secured a scholarship at that institution. However, the US Embassy turned down my application for travel assistance. Being very poor and without travel funds, I was not able to enroll at Yale. But looking back, I have no regrets because Dr. Salonga invited me to join his law firm.
Thus, did I continue my education and hands on training. Through him, I had the best of four educational worlds – FEU, UP, Harvard and Yale. From him, I learned that law is not a mere abstract syllogism that is separate from the social milieu. Indeed, “experience, not logic, has been the life of the law.” It should be used as a brick in building the social structure and as a means of fulfilling the deepest aspiration of the people.
His Marriage and Early Career In this book, Senator Salonga talks about meeting Ms Lydia Busuego on board the SS Marine Lynx on his way to study at Harvard. According to him, traveling by ship was the “safest and surest way…to go to the United States” at the time, in January 1947. And though he “was not a good sailor… and was seasick most of the time,” he still managed to win the heart of his ladylove. They married a year later, on February 14, 1948, Valentine’s Day, after he “has been assured that (he) could graduate from Harvard Law School with an LL.M. degree.”
Marriage became him. He was able to secure a scholarship and to finish his doctoral degree (J.S.D.) at Yale with his thesis in corporation law being given the “highest grade possible” and his dissertation on private international law being awarded the “Ambrose Gherini prize” for being the best paper in international law in that Ivy League institution. Later, he converted these two papers to the most read textbooks on corporation law and private international law in the Philippines.
After graduation, he was offered to join the Yale Law faculty but as one of favorite professors, Myers McDougal – a former Rhodes scholar – wrote then President Elpidio Quirino, “Salonga’s hopes and ambitions went back to the Philippines.” And by his own admission, he had already convinced his young wife that he “was inclined to enter politics” in our country. Parenthetically, may I say that he was more persuasive than me. I also tried to persuade my own wife Leni – who, like Mrs. Salonga, is an alumnus of St. Scholastica’s College – of my wish to run for Congress in the third district of Manila but I failed to do so. My wife said, “You can be anything but a politician.”
Dr. Salonga’s law practice flourished immediately. One of his major clients was Don Eugenio Lopez Sr, the head of the so-called sugar bloc, the most powerful business group in the country at the time. Don Iñing, as his friends called him, purchased the Manila Electric Company from its American owner, the General Public Utilities Corporation. As an associate at the Salonga law office, I was tasked in 1961 to draft the Articles of Incorporation of the Meralco Securities Corporation, which was formed to buy the shares of stock of the Manila Electric Company from its American owners. Purchasing Meralco was the biggest and most daring corporate take-over in the history of our country up to that time. Later, Meralco Securities Corporation was renamed First Philippine Holdings Corporation, which ventured into additional businesses like power generation, electrical manufacturing, real estate and infrastructures.
After I retired from the Supreme Court, I was invited by the Messrs. Oscar M. Lopez, Manuel M. Lopez and Eugenio Lopez III, the heirs of Don Eñing, to join the First Philippine Holdings Corporation as an independent director, without their knowing that I had a small part in the formation of the company. When I told them of this little fact, they were of course pleasantly surprised. And pleased. I consider my entry into the Lopez flagship firm as a sort of homecoming. As a struggling neophyte in the profession of law, I could not have dreamt of becoming a director of the biggest business venture to be undertaken by any Filipino group at that time. A year later in 2008, I was also elected as an independent director in Meralco itself.
My Valedictory as Chief Justice
During my valedictory as Chief Justice on December 6, 2006, I paid tribute to all the good people to whom I owed my career. Here is what I said about Senate President Salonga:
“But the one person – outside of my immediate family – who has had the longest and perhaps the deepest influence in my life, career and faith (even if he is not a Catholic) is Dr. Jovito R. Salonga. I met him some 50 years ago when he was my professor and dean at FEU. Since then up to the present, he has remained my lifetime guru and model of how to live a life worth living. He has taught me – both by word and example – not only the rudiments of the legal profession but, even more important, the purpose and value of life.
“I can write volumes about him and speak endlessly of my gratitude, but for now, let me just sum up in one sentence his foremost teaching: while it is desirable to have some of the necessities that money can buy – like adequate food on the table, sufficient clothing, sports and recreation for the body, and even a car and a house for the family – we should never ever forget that it is far more important to aspire even more ardently for the things that money cannot buy, like honor, dignity, ethics, character and excellence.
“Over the years, he has demonstrated that there are timeless values and ideals one must cling to. Our lives on earth are finite and passing. Many times we may be distracted by the passions of the moment, the gallery’s cheers, and media’s adulation. But in the end, what truly satisfies is not the glare of television cameras or the applause of admirers. It is the realization that we have done our duty with honor and self-respect, followed our conscience faithfully, and made a difference in the lives and fortunes of others less privileged than we are; and, ultimately, that we have made a contribution to our collective dream of nationhood and individual personhood.”
I thought then that I would not have any more occasions to speak or write about my guru, since both of us may fade into retirement and old age. But I was wrong. At almost 90 years of age, Senate President Salonga may be a little frail physically but he still walks without any cane for support. He is healthier than most fifty year olds; can eat anything whether fish, fowl or meat; does not smoke, drink or carouse, and most of all, has a robust mind and spirit that is fiercely dedicated to God and country. I think he will be around to celebrate his 100th birthday healthier, more vibrant and more life loving than many of his younger friends. My prayer is that I would still be around when he celebrates his centenary in 2020.