CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 16 February 2019

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A great statesman mourned

MANILA (UCAN): Community leaders, politicians and human rights advocates paid tribute to the former president of the Philippine Senate, Jovito Salonga, who died on March 10 at the age of 95, as an exemplar of principled politics anchored on Christian faith.

“His political career has a soul. His government service has a conscience. His life of witnessing is edifying,” Bishop Socrates Villegas, the president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of The Philippines, said.

Born in 1910 to a poor Presbyterian minister father and street vendor mother, Salonga became a close friend of Archbishop Villegas when he was an assistant to the late archbishop of Manila, Jaime Cardinal Sin, during the days running up to the People Power Movement of 1986, which saw an oppressive dictator, Ferdinand Marcos, removed from office.

Salonga was a leading opponent of the Marcos regime.

He also later defied Marcos’ successor as president and his good friend, Cory Aquino, to break a deadlocked in the Senate over extending or cutting off the leases on the biggest United States of America (US) military bases outside of US territory.

“I vote no, and if it were only possible, I would vote 203 million times, NO," Salonga thundered as the opponents of the huge military presence wept with joy.

Sacred Heart Father Benjamin Alforque commented that Salonga’s political passions could not tempt him to play fast and loose with the rules of the Senate, which he served as president from 1987 to 1992.

“A group of us Church people, from the Promotion of Church People’s Response and the Justice and Peace Commission of the Association of Major Religious Superiors in The Philippines were lobbying for the termination of the US bases,” Alforque recalled.

“We made a call on the Senate president. He welcomed us into his office. He said, ‘You know my position on the issue. But I am Senate president presiding over the hearings. You should not see me, but the senators. You must convince them. I must keep and protect the integrity of the office of the Senate president’.”

Father Alforque said, “There and then I understood the meaning of incorruptibility and integrity of a sacred political office, of Jovy’s strength of character, respect and faith in fair play.”

Salonga worked his way through college and law school by doing proof reading at a publishing company run by his older brother, but World War II delayed his entrance to the bar in 1944.

He was a classmate of another senator, José Diokno, and the two shared first place in the examination.

He was a prisoner of the Japanese during the war, but later won a scholarship to Harvard University in the US, where he took out a PhD.

 

In 2007, Salonga received the Ramon Magsaysay Award, often regarded as being the Nobel Prize for Asia.

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