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salonga3Reputed as “ The Nation’s Fiscalizer “, Jovito Salonga’s distinguished record as Congressman for the 2nd District of Rizal later won for him the overwhelming mandate of the Filipino electorate as he consistently topped three Senatorial elections despite lack of material means and at against all odds – a record without precedent in Philippine political history, in addition to the remarkable fact that he was elected under three different administrations (that of Macapagal, Marcos and Aquino). Salonga was chosen as one of the most outstanding Senators with his significant legislations, some of which inspired public interest: the State Scholarship Law, the Disclosure of Interest Act, the Magna Carta for Public School Teachers, and the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees, and the Act Defining and Penalizing the Crime of Plunder.

Early Life and Education

The son of a Presbyterian minister from Rizal province, Salonga was the youngest of five brothers. He worked his way through college and law school, as a proofreader in the publishing firm of his eldest brother Isayas. He has been fighting corruption and dictatorship since his youth. He joined the resistance movement during the Japanese occupation, was captured, tortured and sentenced by a military court to years of hard labor.

Released in 1943, he topped the bar examinations the following year with a grade point average of 95.3%. He traveled to the U.S. when he won a scholarship to attend Harvard for his master’s degree. Recommended by Harvard professor Manley Hudson to Yale Law School, he was awarded a fellowship to Yale University where he earned a doctorate (JSD) in 1949. He however turned down their offer of a faculty position there because he felt he should take part in post-war reconstruction in the Philippines. He was honored with the Ambrose Gherini prize for writing the best paper in international law. In February, 1948, he married Lydia Busuego in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Upon his return, he embarked on a career that quickly established him as one of the most brilliant lawyers in the country. He taught law at leading universities in Manila, and authored several books on corporate law and international law. He was also appointed Dean of the College of Law, Far Eastern University in 1956.

Political Career

In 1960, he was persuaded by Vice President Diosdado Macapagal, then president of the Liberal Party (LP), one of the two dominant political parties in the Philippines at the time, to run for Congress in the second district of Rizal, where two political dynasties dominated the bureaucracy. Salonga helped build the party from the grassroots, largely with the support of disgruntled and alienated youth who responded to the issues he raised, particularly the entrenchment of the political rulingProposed Salonga Law Center Building class and their families in seats of governments, a major cause of disenchantment among the masses. In the November 1961 elections, Jovy bested his two opponents by an overwhelming margin.

Shortly after his election, he tangled with one of the best debaters of the opposing salonga1party, the Nationalista Party (NP),  on the issue of proportional representation in various committees. He also composed a seminal article, published and editorialized in various papers, on the Philippines’ territorial claim to North Borneo (Sabah). With the election of Cornelio Villareal (LP, Capiz) as Speaker of the House, Salonga was appointed to the chairmanship of the prestigious Committee on Good Government. In June 1962, President Macapagal filed the Philippine claim to North Borneo and Salonga was appointed to chair the committee in the January 1963 London negotiations.

After one term, Salonga was chosen to run for senate under the LP banner in the 1965 elections. Despite limited financial resources and the victory of NP candidate Marcos as president, Salonga was elected senator, garnering the most number of votes. In 1967, Salonga was Ninoy Aquino’s chief lawyer in the underage lawsuit filed against the latter by President Marcos. Largely through Salonga’s skills in jurisprudence, Aquino won his case before the Commission on Elections. Subsequently Marcos’ appeals to the Supreme Court and Senate Electoral Tribunal were overturned, granting victory to Aquino and Salonga. For his well-documented exposés against the Marcos administration, Salonga was hailed as the “Nation’s Fiscalizer” by the Philippines Free Press in 1968.

He ran for re-election in 1971. Along with some members of the Liberal Party, Salonga was critically injured on the August 21 bombing of his party’s proclamation rally at Plaza Miranda. His doctors’ prognoses were grim — he was not expected to live. He survived however, with impaired eyesight and hearing, and more than a hundred tiny pieces of shrapnel in his body. Despite his inability to campaign, he topped the senatorial race for the second time.

He returned to the political arena and embarked on a successful law career. He protested martial law and was unjustly arrested. After his release from military custody, he was offered a visiting scholarship at Yale, where he engaged in the revision of his book on international law. He completed his book on the Marcos years, which included a program for a new democratic Philippines.

The imposition of martial law in September 1972 was the catalyst that radicalized hundreds of oppositionists and the pretext to arrest and imprison many of them, including moderate ones. Salonga openly and vigorously opposed it, and he and his law partners-—Sedfrey Ordoñez and Pedro L. Yap—-defended many cases of well-known political prisoners as well as obscure detainees, most of them pro bono.

In October 1980, following the bombing of the Philippine International Convention Center, Marcos again ordered Salonga’s arrest–this time he was detained at Fort Bonifacio without any formal charges and investigation. To a great extent, loud protests here and abroad paved his eventual release from jail. He was allowed to leave with his wife for the U.S. in March 1981, to attend several international conferences and undergo medical procedures. Right after their departure, subversion charges–a well-known Marcos tactic to scare off his enemies from ever returning–were filed against him. Salonga and his wifelived in self-exile in Hawaii, then moved to Encino, California, where he was visited by many opposition leaders, including Ninoy Aquino. It was here where, at the request of LP President Gerry Roxas, Salonga wrote the party’s Vision and Program of Government. After the demise of Roxas in New York in April 1982, Salonga was elected acting president of the Liberal Party.

salonga2The assassination of Ninoy Aquino in August 1983 prompted Salonga to return to the Philippines in January 21, 1985 to help resuscitate his party and unite democratic opposition. A month later, the Supreme Court unanimously dismissed subversion charges against him. He was elected president of the Liberal Party. Shortly after the EDSA Revolution, President Cory Aquino appointed Salonga Chair of the Presidential Proposed Salonga Law Center BuildingCommission on Good Government (PCGG), which was tasked with investigating and recovering the ill-gotten wealth of Marcos and cronies. After his one-year stint with PCGG, he was drafted to run for the senate in the 1987 elections. For the third time, he won the number one spot in the senatorial race. Chosen senate president by his peers, Salonga authored three major legislative measures: the “Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees (R.A. 6713)”, the “Anti-Coup d’etat Act (R.A. 6968)”, and the “Anti-Plunder Law (R.A. 7080)”. In April 1990, he was conferred a Doctor of Laws degree, honoris causa, by the University of the Philippines “for his brilliant career as an eminent political figure… for his unwavering, courageous stand against injustice, oppression, and dictatorship… and for his sterling personal qualities of decency, humility, industry and moderation.”

In September 1991, Salonga led a group of 12 Senators in rejecting the R.P.-U.S. salonga4Bases Treaty, thus ending 470 years of foreign military presence in the Philippines. He echoed the sentiments of other Philippine nationalists, notably Lorenzo Tanada, Raul Manglapus, and Jose Diokno, who felt that their country, for almost 5 centuries, had been nothing but a colonial periphery of Spain and the U.S. However he had to pay a heavy price for his unpopular decision—-his financial backers in the business community withdrew their support for his presidential campaign. In DecemberProposed Salonga Law Center Building of that same year, Salonga was ousted from his position as President of the Senate, though a later agreement hammered out by the senators permitted him to keep his post until the end of December. Salonga lost the 1992 presidential election (finishing sixth in a seven-person race in the official tally), despite the resounding support of students from various colleges and universities. After his retirement from government service, he continued his servitude to the filipino people through Kilosbayan (People Action), the Bantayog ng mga Bayani Foundation (Banner of Heroes), which honors the nation’s martyrs and heroes for their sacrifices during martial law, and Bantay Katarungan (Sentinel of Justice), which seeks to improve the administration of justice in the Philippines, through the systematic monitoring of courts and quasi-judicial agencies by selected students from leading law schools. The Chair of Bantay Katarungan is former Secretary of Justice Sedfrey Ordoñez, who had been Jovy’s law partner for 33 years. Salonga is its founder and adviser.

Since ending his political career in 1992, Jovy has been delivering lectures intermittently in various educational institutions, including the U.P., Ateneo, U.S.T., De la Salle and F.E.U. He teaches regularly at the Lyceum of the Philippines where he holds the Jose P. Laurel Chair on Law, Government and Public Policy.

Due to the serious crisis confronting secondary education in the Philippines today, Dr. Salonga, in early June 2005, launched a fortnightly paper, “Living News and Good Education”, for use by high school teachers and students in public schools. Its goal is to help instill in high school students “Better English , Better Values and Better Learning in Math and Science.”

Salonga has been awarded honorary degrees by various universities in the Philippines and abroad. With his selfless dedication to duty and his significant contributions to the country, Jovito Salonga continues to serve as brilliant inspiration to all Filipinos.

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