Ruling party pays tribute to LP great Jovito Salonga

Bea Cupin
Ruling party pays tribute to LP great Jovito Salonga
LP stalwarts, including party standard-bearer Mar Roxas, pay tribute to one of the country's most esteemed statesmen

MANILA, Philippines – Not just an end of an era, but the beginning of a new one.

Liberal Party (LP) stalwarts and officials on Tuesday, March 15, paid tribute to party stalwart and former Senate President Jovito Salonga, “Ka Jovy” to his mentees and colleagues in the ruling party. 

“As Eva Estrada-Kalaw passed me by, she whispered: Sonny, this is the end of an era. And I say: This will be the beginning of an era where we live by his presence, by what he has said,” said LP vice chairman and House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr, one of 4 speakers during the necrological services for the late Salonga.

Standard-bearer Manuel Roxas II, vice chairman and Senate President Franklin Drilon, and former party president and current budget chief Florencio Abad also spoke during the tribute for Salonga at the GSIS Theater.

President Benigno Aquino III, party chairman, was also present during the tribute to the former senator and chairman emeritus of the ruling party.

Salonga died on Thursday, March 10. He was 95.

Considered one of the country’s most esteemed statesmen, Salonga was among the key personalities who fought for democracy during the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos.

“You’ll hear more about what a great mentor he was to young and eager upstarts in government, many of whom continue to serve the country in and outside politics. I was one of those upstarts. And now, after decades in public service, few of us have yet to approach the level of excellence that Ka Jovy exemplified in his entire career as a stateman,” said Abad.

The budget chief, who once represented Batanes in Congress, said he first met the LP great when he was in high school.

Politicians from Manila and the north, said Abad, tried to seize control of the province, in hopes of turning it into a smuggling hub. Salonga represented Abad’s father, Jorge, in court. Jorge Abad was eventually declared the winner in the province.

Voice of dissent

Salonga entered politics in 1961, as representative of Rizal. He topped the senate race in 1965, repeating the feat twice over.

His political career ended in 1992 when he ran for president but placed 6th in a 7-person race. But his public service continued. Salonga established several people’s organizations, among them the Bantayog ng mga Bayani (Monument of Heroes) Foundation, organized to honor the nation’s martyrs during martial law.  

The former senate president was among those injured when a 1971 LP rally in Plaza Miranda was bombed. He lost part of his vision and hearing, and lost 3 fingers.

RULING PARTY. Transport chief and LP acting president Jun Abaya, former party president and budget chief Butch Abad, LP vice chairman Senate President Frank Drilon, LP vice chairman and House Speaker Sonny Belmonte, and LP standard-bearer Mar Roxas during the party's necrological service for Salonga. Photo by Franz Lopez/Rappler

Sa bawat yugto ng kasaysayan, may mga taong tumatayo para magsilbing tanglaw sa iba. Ang kanilang kadakilaan ang nagsisilbing inspirasyon sa iba pang disenteng tao para isulong ang makabuluhang pagbabago,” said Roxas, president-on-leave of the ruling party.

(In every chapter of history, there are people who rise to become leaders. Their greatness stands as inspiration to other decent people who champion meaningful change.)  

The mother of Roxas, Judy Araneta-Roxas, was among those injured during the blast. The Araneta-Roxas matriarch was at the necrological service, accompanied by daughter Ria Ojeda.

Salonga was among the LP members who were jailed during the Marcos era, because of suspicions he was behind bombings in Metro Manila.

The martial law years were among the darkest in the country.

LP stalwarts at that time include Salonga, Roxas’ father, the late senator Gerardo Roxas, and Aquino’s father, the late senator Benigno Aquino Jr.

“What we need today as leaders are leaders who put country before self and people before ambition. What we need today are true public servants– honest, competent, self-sacrificing and dedicated to the well being of the Filipino people. What we sorely need are good and right leaders – cool under fire and equal to any situation. Inspired by the life and example of the honorable Jovito Salonga, it is my fervent hope that our country’s present and future leaders will heed his words and wisdom,” said Belmonte.

But Salonga and the Aquinos weren’t always on the same side of issues. Drilon, who served as executive secretary of the late Corazon Aquino, recalled that in 1991, the late senator took a different position on the issue of US bases in the country.

President Benigno Aquino III, chairman of the ruling party, attends the necrological services for chairman emeritus Jovito Salonga. Photo by Franz Lopez/Rappler

The late Aquino, mother of the current president, was lobbying to keep US bases in the country. Salonga was among the senators who wanted an end to US military presence in the country.

Before the final vote in the Senate happened, Cory and Drilon led a rally to campaign for the US bases to stay. After the rally, they went to the Senate to meet with Salonga.

“In the presence of many senators, President Cory then pleaded her case for the ratification of the US bases treaty. Ka Jovy held his ground. He showed much respect to President Cory Aquino, but firmly and politely maintained his principle that the Senate and he cannot support the ratification of the RP-US bases treaty. The rest is history,” he said. 

“But even if he did not need to vote and break the tie, as he explained, his vote subsequently showed to the world where he stood in such a historic vote,” recalled Abad of Salonga.

LP and a referendum

The memory of Salonga comes at a crucial year for the ruling LP, whose 2016 campaign is hinged on the promise of continuing the reforms President Aquino started.

His passing also comes the same year the country commemorates 30 years since the EDSA revolution, which ended Marcos’ rule. Ironically, on the same day the LP paid tribute to Salonga, one of the LP’s most vocal personalities during martial law, vandals defaced the People Power Monument along EDSA. 

The dictator’s son and namesake, Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr, is among the lead contenders for the vice presidency.

“The truth is that our nation owes a great deal of gratitude to Jovy Salonga who sacrificed his body and spirit in service of our people and our country,” said Belmonte.

Roxas has never topped presidential preference polls, in an election the LP sees as a “referendum” on its good governance, transparency, and anti-corruption platform or “Daang Matuwid.”

Salonga himself vied for the presidency, but landed 6th in a 7-way race. LP members who spoke during the necrological service noted that Salonga made decisions not for the sake of political gain but because they aligned with his principles.

“Perhaps the best way to honor him would be to emulate his deeds and actions. And serve our country with the same zeal and dedication he displayed,” said Belmonte.

Added Roxas: “Sa tingin ko, pinakamagandang paraan ng pag-papasasalamat at pagtanaw ng utang ng loob natin kay Ka Jovy ay ang pagpapatuloy ng kanyang laban, laban natin itong lahat. Ka Jovy, maraming salamat at paalam.”

(I think the best way to thank him, to show our gratitude for Ka Jovy is to continue his fight, our fight. Ka Jovy, thank you and goodbye.)

'BAYAN KO.' Members of the audience, including sitting LP officials and members, raise their fists and flash the 'Laban' sign during necrological services for the late Jovito Salonga. Photo by Bea Cupin/Rappler

There were no tears shed as each LP leader went on stage to speak, but not a few flowed freely toward the end of the program, when the song “Bayan Ko” started playing. 

“Bayan Ko” is a popular nationalist anthem and figured prominently during the EDSA revolution.

Those in the audience, LP members included, raised their fists and flashed the “Laban” sign during the song.

“It is by no means an easy task. Admittedly, this was truly a tough act to follow. But to honor him properly, we can all at least try,” added Belmonte.

Salonga will be laid to rest on Wednesday, March 16, at the Pasig Municipal Cemetery. He is set to be buried next to his late wife, Lydia. – 

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Bea Cupin

Bea is a senior multimedia reporter who covers national politics. She's been a journalist since 2011 and has written about Congress, the national police, and the Liberal Party for Rappler.