THE AUDACITY OF PRINCIPLED POLITICS
By Jovito R. Salonga

I

Definition of Terms
I suppose the title of the lecture assigned to me might have been inspired by the book of Barack Obama— The Audacity of Hope—which has become a consistent New York Times best seller for non-fiction since it came off the press in 2006—only a year ago. Many of those who bought the book might have been affected by a number of factors, apart from plain curiosity: (1) Barack Obama's phenomenal rise in American politics, from a relatively obscure black legislator in Illinois to a leading contender for the Democratic nomination for the presidency of the United States, competing with Mrs. Hillary Rodham Clinton, the well-known senator from New York; (2) Obama's record as a top scholar in Harvard Law School, where he became the first African-American president of the prestigious Harvard Law Review; (3) Obama's unique background—his father was from Kenya but his mother, who greatly influenced his life, is a white American from a small town in Kansas; (4) how he, as a senator finally became a Christian, a member of the Trinity United Church in Chicago, one who writes and speaks of his religious convictions in the turbulent field of politics. In his book, in the chapter of Faith, he says, many Americans want a sense of purpose, "an assurance that somebody cares about them, is listening to them—and that they are not just destined to travel down a long highway toward nothingness." (p. 202.)

Would it be proper to place the audacity of hope on the same level as principled politics? Is principled politics audacious'?

Yes, in the sense that audacity stands for boldness or daring, with confident disregard for conventional thinking.

How about "principled politics?" A politics without principle is a kind of politics without any ethical or moral sense. Moral sense is the sense of right and wrong. It is wrong to act based on lying, self-dealing, double cross, cheating, treachery or expediency. It is right for one in politics to speak the truth with boldness and work for a transparent, accountable system of government.

I would like to suggest that principled politics, which depends on a rational, high-level discussion of relevant issues, was the way politics was practiced during the time of Senator Claro M. Recto and former Justice Jose P. Laurel, long before martial law. They did not resort to money politics, in the sense of buying votes or buying off political leaders or the media. Having worked for Justice Laurel in the 1949 presidential elections and collaborated with Senator Recto in a number of important cases in the early 50s and worked for his reelection as senator a little later, I may be permitted to assert that both of them were men of principles. On the basis of personal knowledge, I ascribe their politics of principle to their strong faith in Divine Providence—the term they employed—when they drafted the 1935 Constitution which, in the view of many legal experts, remains unsurpassed up to this day.

II

A personal testimony—
my first two senatorial campaigns

In my first two senatorial campaigns before martial law—1965 and 1971—I did not have enough logistics, the euphemism for money politics, hence, I had no choice but discuss the issues in the belief that our people, whose native intelligence many other politicians tend to underestimate, would prefer to use their minds in choosing their candidates for high office.

I was proved right. According to the records of what used to be the reputable COMELEC, the constitutional agency with the power and duty to conduct and administer the elections, I topped the two senatorial elections—in November 1965 when Ferdinand Marcos defeated incumbent President Diosdado Macapagal in the 1965 presidential election and in the mid-term election of 1971. I was in my sick bed at the time because of the extensive injuries I suffered as a result of the Plaza Miranda bombing of August 21. 1971—with more than a hundred tiny pieces of shrapnel in my body; my left eye could no longer see, my right ear could no longer hear, I was then hovering between life and death. My 34 doctors who volunteered their services thought I had no more than a 5% chance to live. But against all odds, I survived.

How can one explain this miracle of survival? Chief Justice Reynato S. Puno, in reviewing my latest book, titled Not by Power or Wealth Alone, gives the following explanation:

"But what may not be captured by the public eye is the unseen sword of the Christian faith and the shield of his unyielding moral courage that many are known to have little regard for: the values of truth, integrity and selflessness...the Christian anchor of both his public service and private life. "

The Chief Justice, however, is a prominent layman of the United Methodist Church. Perhaps, one may say he could be biased, since I am also a layman of Cosmopolitan Church. UCCP.

Roman Catholic Bishop Socrates B. Villegas of the Diocese of Balanga, Bataan, says he was born and raised in the quaint town of Pateros, Rizal, and that his father admired Salonga, a politician from the neighboring town of Pasig. When he became the priest secretary of the late Jaime Cardinal L. Sin, his second father, he came to admire even more (Salonga), "the living martyr of the Plaza Miranda bombing," In his comment on my latest book, he tells us why:

"This politician was unique and different from the rest. His political career has a soul. His government service has a conscience. His life witnessing is edifying. From his intimate encounter with God in prayer, he entered politics. From his political engagement, he returned to his prayer corner and submitted all to Him who is Everything. He serves God as a politician, and God is glorified in his political service. "

Another devout Catholic, former Chief Justice Artemio V. Panganiban. who was a talented student in the Institute of Law of FEU, says in his Foreword to my latest book:

"Though we are of different faiths...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 concluding this Foreword, I now daresay that our good Lord had granted him a long and purposeful life, because he wanted him to be the conscience of the nation... "

(incidentally, the title of his subsequent column in the Inquirer on August 19, 2007).

The paradox is that my contemporaries in politics, led by Senators Lorenzo M. Tanada, Ninoy Aquino and Pepe Diokno, who were not victims of the Plaza Miranda bombing, passed away. A good number of doctors who saved my life are gone. A few have migrated to the United States.

Some people may not know that I am Protestant- my father was a poor Presbyterian Minister, and my mother, a poor market vendor, was a woman of faith and spirituality. Because of the influence of my parents, my life in politics and outside politics has been anchored on the Christian faith, despite the fact that like all sinners, I have fallen short in more ways than one.

In truth, I had been assailed by many a doubt about my Christian faith (I sometimes considered myself a skeptic) when, after going underground to counteract the Japanese propaganda, I was captured and imprisoned by the Japanese kempeitai in Pasig during Holy Week of 1942. It was the infliction of torture by the kempeitai in the presence of my aging father, my stay in Fort Santiago, then in the Old Bilibid in Manila, and finally in the New Bilibid in Muntinglupa, that rekindled my broken faith. For almost a year, by common consent, I led in the evening prayers in my brigada where convicted criminals and political prisoners were together on bended knees.

III

After one term as a congressman and three terms as a senator, I retired from partisan politics in 1992—indeed I am no longer an active member of the Liberal Party, since my active involvement in civil society. I founded and organized Kilosbayan in 1993, mainly "to arouse public interest and participation in important questions of public policy, in light of the right of the people to their own governance and on the basis of civilized norms of morality, justice, truth and ethics." Its officers, trustees and members are Roman Catholics and Protestants. The President of Kilosbayan today, ex-Secretary Rafael M. Alunan III, who succeeded me, is a Roman Catholic; the Vice-President, Dr. Quintin S. Doromal, is a Protestant, the former President of Silliman University. In a deeper sense, we in Kilosbayan are involved in non-partisan politics, in the same manner as priests and nuns, the Protestant pastors and laymen like me, followed Cardinal Jaime Sin in February 1986. You recall the Cardinal called on the people, through Radio Veritas, to support Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile and PC Chief Fidel V. Ramos in mounting the EDSA I People Power Revolution against the Marcos regime.

On Recto Day, February 8, 2000, ex-Secretary of Justice and ex-Ambassador Sedfrey A. Ordonez and I founded and organized Bantay Katarungan, an NGO, to help improve and modernize our system of justice in the Philippines, with the help of young students of idealism and competence from the best law schools in Metro Manila—UP, Ateneo. San Beda. LIST. FEU and Lyceum. It was inaugurated by Chief Justice Hilario G. Davide. assisted by Associate Justice Artemio V. Panganiban, who succeeded Davide as Chief Justice. Our first Chairman was Amb. Sedfrey Ordonez, my law partner for 33 years, who, because of failing health, was replaced by former UP Law Dean Raul C. Pangalangan.

We reach out to young college students, our nation's hope for tomorrow, through the Kilosbayan Forum, which is being held from time to time. The last Forum was held last July 27, in Lyceum of the Philippines University in Intramuros, Manila. Guest Speakers were Senator Mar Roxas, who spoke on the SONA of President GMA, and Senate President Franklin M. Drilon who explained the Human Security Act, which is a misnomer, since it endangers every person's security. Composing the audience were hundreds of professors and students from Lyceum and from nearby universities and colleges. Why do we in Kilosbayan do this? We want to prepare the youth of the land so they will be well-informed and well-trained. At the proper time, they can take over the helm of leadership, hopefully based on the concept of principled politics.

On the lighter side. I am only 87 years old. compared to the other awardees of the Ramon Magsaysay Foundation. I say only 87 because life begins at 80. Let me now tell you about the life and work of Dr. Frank Laubach, the missionary educator who went to Lanao before World War II to live among the Muslims—the Maranaos in Lanao. Unlike other missionaries, he did not try to convince them to be Christians. What he did was to teach the Muslims how to read and write English in his own unique way of teaching. He was loved by the Muslims who did not want him to leave. But he was invited by Mahatma Gandhi to go to India and teach his people English in his unique method. Laubach went to India and taught them English. But he was invited to South America to do the same thing, which he did. When he reached 80, he returned to his home in Pennsylvania to retire. It was here where he composed his well-known essay—Life Begins at 80, which I shall read.

Life Begins at 80 By Dr. Frank Laubach

Once you reach 80, everyone wants to carry your baggage and help you up the steps. If you forget your name, or an appointment, or your own telephone number or can't remember how many grandchildren you have—you only need to explain that you are 80.

Being 80 is a lot better than being 70. At 70, people are mad at you for everything. At 80, you have a perfect excuse, no matter what you do. If you act foolishly, it's your second childhood.

Being 70 is no fun at all. At 70, they expect you to retire to a house in (Florida) Baguio and complain about your arthritis. And you ask everybody to stop mumbling because you can't understand them. Actually, your hearing is about 50% gone.


If you survive until you are 80, everybody is surprised that you are still alive. They treat you with respect just for having lived so long. Actually, they are surprised that you can walk and talk sensibly.

So, please, folks, try to make it to 80. It's the best time of life. If you ask me, life begins at 80*

6 comments:

Donna Salonga said...

Hello, my name is Donna Salonga.

I have recently found out, or more like finally confirmed that I am one of Jovito's granddaughters. I'm sorry to ask an ignorant question, but I wanted to know how is your relation to Jovito.

I currently live in San Francisco and am a college student just beginning to learn about my Filipino heritage.

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Anonymous said...

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Anonymous said...

@Donna -
In case nobody has answered your question:

Steve is the son of Former Sen. Jovito Salonga.

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Nicholas Dee
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