Former Senate President Jovito R. Salonga, the country’s oldest living statesman and my guru and role model for more than half a century now, honors me too much. First, he asked me to write the Foreword to his illuminating, persuasive and life-changing masterpiece. Upon hearing his request, I froze and refused. I look up to him with admiration, respect and awe. He is such a tower of integrity, dignity, probity and sagacity that I shrink in his presence. I thought, how can little me pretend to write a Foreword to his Obra Maestra? But he was insistent and, like our many previous encounters, he prevailed.
Second, if that were not enough, he later asked me to come here at his favorite Lyceum of the Philippines to deliver this address to launch his book. Again I refused; but again, he was persistent. And again, he prevailed as usual. Consequently, though completely unworthy and with much nervousness and trepidations, I have come to this auditorium meekly to comply with his summons. But now, he has given me yet another tribute by personally introducing me before you. The revered guru introducing the unworthy pupil? Incredible!
Exemplary Public Servant
The book’s title, Not by Power or Wealth Alone, is its best summation. As an exemplary public servant and brilliant lawyer, he has had a generous share of power and access to wealth in this material world. But in characteristic humility, he declares them thoroughly inadequate to satisfy life and to reform society.
Dr. Salonga, a Protestant, has been invited to speak before many congregations – Catholic and Muslim included – especially at the Cosmopolitan Church in Manila. He was always eloquent, spoke with the tremolo of infectious conviction, and left his audience with thoughts and reflections that led to action. But that is not all. True, he preached powerfully; but equally true, he practised even more stringently what he preached.
Consider this. Believing that the Marcos dictatorship plundered not only the public treasury but also the people’s values, he sponsored – as a Senator of the Republic – the enactment of the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards Law (Republic Act 6713) and thereby set a high norm of behavior in public service. Remarkably, in his personal conduct, he went even beyond the requirements of this law or of any known code of ethics.
For instance, when he and his law partners, Sedfrey A. Ordonez (who became Solicitor General, Secretary of Justice, and Ambassador to the United Nations) and Pedro L. Yap (who was elevated to be Chief Justice of the Philippines), were recruited to public office by President Corazon C. Aquino in 1986, Dr. Salonga was not satisfied with taking a leave from his prestigious law firm as demanded by law and ethics; he went all the way and dissolved permanently the Salonga Ordonez Yap and Associates Law Office.
To be beyond suspicion in the delicate work of serving in a government swept to office by legendary people power, he chose to close his main means of livelihood during the previous 40 years. He opted to forego the luxuries that wealth could buy to be able to demonstrate the virtues that power and wealth alone could not bring, like integrity, honor and dignity. He chose to live simply so that others may simply live.
Teaching by Example
Not Just by Words
Indeed, he taught by example, not merely by words. He is a living model of his teachings. He is a dedicated husband, a caring father, a faithful friend and a devoted man of God. Never compromising his values and principles in exchange for friendship, kinship, relationship, power or wealth, he lives an almost ascetic life. He does not smoke, does not drink, and does not gamble. Money, worldly pleasures, titles and honors hold no fascination for him.
To say that Dr. Salonga is outstanding is to say something ordinary about him. He topped the bar examinations, topped his doctoral class in Yale University and topped the senatorial elections three times, a record unequaled in this nation’s history. Yet he remains humble and child-like, as our Lord Jesus Christ has counseled all His disciples to be.
His love for and dedication to the rule of law, as distinguished from the rule by law of Marcos, is exemplified by two other laws he sponsored; namely, the Anti-Plunder Law and the Anti-Coup D’Etat Law. While he is passionate about reforms, he is equally determined to pursue them only through legal methods. Other major legislations he authored include the Magna Carta for Public School Teachers and the State Scholarships Law for deserving students.
No wonder, he had been selected as one of the seven Ramon Magsaysay awardees this year, for “the exemplary integrity and substance of his long public career in service to democracy and good government in the Philippines.” This grand award, considered by many as the Asian Nobel Prize, is the latest in a long list of honors, citations and acclamations – too numerous to enumerate here – given him during the last 70 years by local and international institutions.
The media, both local and foreign, uniformly applauded his award. Typical of the comments was Dean Raul C. Pangalangan’s August 3, 2007 column; thus, “The trustees of the Ramon Magsaysay Foundation couldn’t have chosen a better time to honor his life and work. That by his career and his character he is worthy of the honor – that is self-evident.” Sen. Loren Legarda enthused that his “life’s work has inspired (her) to continue to serve the Filipino people with the integrity, intensity and fervor that (he has) shown.” Adds Sen. Mar Roxas, “the whole nation recognizes (his) contribution and applauds (him).”
However, for those who have known him during the last seventy or so years, the reaction was more teasing than jovial. For instance, one of his favorite nephews, Sen. Rene A. V. Saguisag (other favorite nephew is Justice Raoul V. Victorino) exclaimed “Why only now?” In the same vein, GMA7 Network Chairman, President and CEO Felipe L. Gozon, a long-time Salonga admirer, remarked, “I had long wondered why this organization had not considered you as an awardee earlier.” Sen. Aquilino “Nene” Pimentel was even more direct, “You give honor to the award more than it does to you.”
In any event, the Senate of the Philippines passed a Resolution unanimously “commending Senator Jovito Salonga for exemplifying the true spirit of good governance and for being bestowed with the 2007 Ramon Magsaysay Award for government service.”
As for me, I first met Dr. Salonga when I was his student at Far Eastern University in the late 1950’s and, little later, when I was his assistant at his famous law firm in 1960 to 1963. Even then, he had never been allured by possessions, positions or propositions. I had never known him discussing attorney’s fees with his clients, preferring to serve them brilliantly and leaving to them the worldly problem of how much to compensate him. He did not bill even his wealthiest clients like Don Eugenio Lopez Sr. Money had very little meaning for him then, and less so now. Thus, I am no longer surprised that he gets all kinds of awards and citations, many of which, indeed, honor the grantor more than the grantee.
Faith That Unites
Though we are of different faiths, he, a staunch Protestant and me, a fledgling Catholic, we never talked of what divided us but only of what brought us together. One thought that always united us was, and still is, the role of faith in our lives. In his book, he wrote that worship and life could not be separated. On page 98, he explained that our worship could not be limited to one hour a week – on Sunday. After that, we “cannot disappear into the jostling crowd – nameless, faceless and faithless.”
On page 117, he elaborated, “the man who seeks to be a Christian when he is at prayer or attending worship must be equally Christian when he is out in the world – in the field of relations between individuals, groups or nations. For if a man truly loves God, that love must bear fruit in just feelings with others.”
These words echo the total integral development doctrine espoused by the Second Vatican Council and by the Second Plenary Council of the Catholic Church in the Philippines. I believe in and write so often about this unifying theology. Thus, in my March 18, 2007 column, I said:
“Total integral development requires the faithful to use Gospel values wherever they are and whatever they do. They should be Christians not only while praying in the churches or serving in charitable causes but also in undertaking mundane activities like studying in school, working in offices or enjoying their leisure.
“Christianity does not merely save for the next life; it also liberates humans from the oppressions of the present life to enable them to develop multi-dimentionally; that is, spiritually, economically, culturally and politically. Thus, aside from teaching the sacraments, the Church is also pro-life, pro-poor, pro-environment, pro-human rights and pro-principles.”
Many of the essays, homilies and speeches included in the book had been written over thirty-five years ago, after his life was almost snuffed out by that bombing in Plaza Miranda, Manila on August 21, 1971. In it are chronicled his pains, struggles and hopes. But like our Lord Jesus Christ, his faith grew stronger as his physical self felt weaker.
And so he declared in the book’s Introduction, “Although the occasions and events described in this book may be dated, the principles I stood for, based on the Scriptures, remain even more relevant and cogent today than when they were first delivered. In light of the massive poverty of our people, the endemic corruption that afflicts our society, and the continuing decline in moral and ethical standards, the youth of the land are right in demanding that those who lead the nation uphold, less in speeches than in actual deeds, their adherence to the idea that a public office is a public trust, and that they must be held accountable to the people at all times. Leaders must be public servants, first and above all.”
Let me give you some more direct quotes from the book:
· “I know how it feels to be bed-ridden, wheel chair-bound, and unable to do things I used to do, but the greater tragedy is to be spiritually and morally disabled. Our bones may be shattered, our body may be covered with ugly scars, but as long as we are with Him, what difference does it make where we really are?” (p. 18)
· “God has a plan in every man’s life; our task is to find out His will, amidst all the absurdities, the difficulties and the tragedies of the human condition.” (p. 31)
· “The Great Teacher tell us that man does not live by bread alone, thereby implying that man lives by bread also.” (p.71)
· “We were born without our knowledge, but we can be saved only with our consent.” (p. 72)
· “Free but responsible, critical judgment is important in any society. Since we are human – finite, limited and imperfect – we can never be sure that we are right.” (p. 75)
· “When our religion and our prayers have nothing to do with the needs and sufferings of our fellowmen, we can be sure that God has nothing to do with our religion.” (p. 78)
· “The statesman belongs to the State, the politician thinks that the State belongs to him.” (p.86)
· “One reason why there is so much evil in the world is that those who consider themselves good get sick and tired of being good before those whom they consider bad get sick and tired of being bad.” (p. 109)
· “Telling the truth is a liberating experience; there will be no more prolonged silence in the face of grave accusations by enemies and critics; and when the silence is broken, there will be no need for somersaults and no zigzags.” (p. 189)
· “Now I asked my love – Mahal, are we too old to dream? And she said, “No dear, you’ll keep on dreaming up to the very end.” (p. 277)
Each of these bits of wisdom can be developed into a provocative essay. To have more of these gems of a life worth living, grab a copy of the book now, go to a quiet little corner, and enjoy!Epilogue On June 22, 2007, Dr. Salonga celebrated his 87th birthday. Yet, despite his advanced age and despite the many tiny pieces of shrapnel that are still imbedded in his frail body as a result of that grenade blast in Plaza Miranda, he is still sprightly. More important, his intellect and his interest in public welfare are still as sharp as when he was 40. Let me give just two recent proofs of this assertion:
1) Peeved at the Commission on Election’s refusal to reveal the names of the party-list nominees in the last elections, he sued the poll body for violating the people’s constitutional right to public information; the result: a unanimous Supreme Court decision (in Loreta Ann Rosales vs Comelec) promptly promulgated on May 4, 2007 commanding the Comelec to follow his demand; and
2) Alarmed that President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo violated the Constitution in appointing to the Supreme Court someone who was not a natural-born citizen, he again sued; the result: again, a unanimous Supreme Court decision (in Kilosbayan vs Ermita) promptly issued on July 3, 2007 enjoining Gregory Ong from accepting his SC appointment, precisely because of his lack of natural-born citizenship.
Many times during his prayers and moments of solitude, he has asked our Lord why his life had been spared, and why he had been gifted with longevity when he was one of the most injured during that deadly Plaza Miranda blast. In concluding this little address to launch his Spirit-inspired book, may I dare say that our Good Lord had granted him a long and purposeful life, because He wanted him to be the conscience of the nation; to be its fearless anchor during stormy seas of political upheavals; and to be the indefatigable teacher and model of the young and not-so-young who aspire to lead this country.
Maraming salamat po.