- As a staunch nationalist, he opposed Philippine complicity in the Vietnam War and other acts of “puppetry”, and he persistently exposed the troubling anomalies of President
- Ferdinand Marcos that the Philippines Free Press named him the “Nation’s Fiscalizer.”
- He opposed martial law from the start, defending opponents of the Marcos dictatorship and working tirelessly for the succor and release of political prisoners and for the democratic opposition
- As a Senator, he authored new laws protecting the state from plunder, military coups, and corrupt officials and, in 1991 as Senate president, triumphantly led his colleagues in ejecting American military bases from the Philippines.
- The RMAF board of trustees recognizes “the exemplary integrity and substance of his long public career in service to democracy and good government in the Philippines.”
Jovito Salonga’s long life began only twenty-two years after the onset of American rule in the Philippines. His youth was a time of national hope and longing for independence. These things shaped him, alongside his family’s deep Christian convictions and the hardships of their daily life. When he was twelve, a speech by the independence-champion Manuel Roxas in his hometown stirred him to dream of a life in law and in public life.
Seizing on this ambition, he rose through public schools to the College of Law at the University of the Philippines. When war overtook his studies, Salonga quickly ran afoul of the new Japanese authorities. He was tortured and jailed and released after nearly a year. Amid dearth and uncertainty, he crammed for the bar examinations and, in 1944, earned the highest score.
At war’s end, Salonga embraced Philippine independence but denounced “parity rights” and other compromising ties to the United States. He topped off his legal education with graduate degrees from Harvard and Yale universities and then plunged headlong into the life of his new nation.
Salonga established himself as a sought-after lawyer and an influential legal scholar and educator. In 1961, the Liberal Party tapped him for a successful run for Congress in his home province of Rizal. Four years later, he outpolled all other candidates for the Senate-a feat he repeated twice. He built his reputation as a crusader for clean government and public education. As a staunch nationalist, he opposed Philippine complicity in the Vietnam War and other acts of “puppetry.” And he so persistently exposed the troubling anomalies of President Ferdinand Marcos that the Philippines Free Press named him the “Nation’s Fiscalizer.”
The bomb that crippled him at a political rally in 1971, Salonga says, led him to a second, “borrowed life.” He opposed martial law from the start, defending opponents of the Marcos dictatorship and working tirelessly for the succor and release of political prisoners and for the democratic opposition. In 1980, he himself was jailed without charges and then released. Four years in exile followed.
Yet he never lost hope. In 1985, Salonga returned home to revitalize his political party and confront the dictatorship. Putting aside personal ambition, he withdrew his candidacy for vice president in the snap elections of February 1986 and threw himself heart-and-soul into Corazon Aquino’s presidential campaign and the People Power Revolution.
Afterwards, Salonga initiated the new government’s legal efforts to reclaim wealth stolen by the Marcoses. In 1987, voters returned him to the Senate. There, he authored new laws protecting the state from plunder, military coups, and corrupt officials and, in 1991 as Senate president, triumphantly led his colleagues in ejecting American military bases from the Philippines.
Salonga returned to private life the following year, having made a hotly contested but disappointing bid for the presidency. But through his NGOs, Bantay Katarungan (Sentinel of Justice) and Kilosbayan (People’s Action), he has sustained his principled interventions in the affairs of the nation up till now.
Salonga relishes the point-and-counterpoint of democratic politics. But to Salonga politics is not a game. There is a right and a wrong. Democracy is right. Social justice is right. The rule of law, honest and competent government, compassion for the poor, pride in country-all are right.
To be sure, these are the familiar mantras of Philippine politics. But to Salonga they are a creed. His rare moral authority stems from a simple fact: he practices what he preaches.
Today, at eighty-seven, Salonga urges young people to seek happiness in service. More important in life than wealth is meaning. We will find it, he says, if we live “by what we know to be true and good.”
In electing Jovito Salonga to receive the 2007 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Government Service, the board of trustees recognizes the exemplary integrity and substance of his long public career in service to democracy and good government in the Philippines.
Madam President, Members of the Board of Magsaysay Award Foundation, My Fellow Awardees, Distinguished Guest:
I was cited by the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation for “the exemplary integrity and substance of (my) long public career in service to democracy and good government in the Philippines.” I am humbled by the award and I accept it, with humility and gratitude.
But what separates me from other political leaders is not known to many people here in the Philippines. It is the fact that I do not separate my religion from my political beliefs and from public service. As Mahatma Gandhi, the great teacher of peace and non-violence in a non-Christian nation, said many years ago: “Those who say that politics and religion do not mix do not know the meaning of religion.”
In my own case, because of my own religious upbringing-my father was a Presbyterian pastor and my mother was a woman of faith and spirituality-it was inevitable that my Christian beliefs and values should motivate and influence my thinking and my acts every day and every hour.
I would be less than truthful if I assert I was not attracted by the cash award of $50,000.00. But I have decided not to claim it for my own benefit.
I plan to give the cash award to three entities-the first two are the foundations that I founded and organized to serve the interest of our poor, marginalized people. Both of them are independent, non-profit and non-partisan-Kilosbayan (People’s Action), a people’s organization and Bantay Katarungan (Sentinel of Justice), an NGO which harnesses the talents and idealism of qualified law students in the best law schools in Metro Manila, who monitor the performance of our Supreme Court, the Court of Appeals and the Anti-Graft Court and important quasi judicial tribunals. These two foundations, especially Bantay Katarungan, are dependent on donations, which are dwindling. Kilosbayan Foundation which is well-known for its many activities nationwide, is in a similar financial predicament, despite the fact that since the beginning, the trustees of these two foundations, including myself, do not get any salary or allowance-we serve gratis et amore.
The third is an educational institution in Dumaguete City-Silliman University-where my elder brother Benjamin Salonga, now deceased, finished in BS in Chemistry. He passed the Civil Service Examination and was employed in the Bureau of Science. I had been a self-supporting student during my years of basic law studies in the University of the Philippines, but my brother Ben supported me so I could devote more time to reach my senior year in law school and ultimately serve our weak, marginalized people who needed legal help.
Thank you for the Magsaysay Award Foundation and for the privilege of serving our poor, forgotten people. Salamat po.