Filipinos in Chicago fondly recall their time with Sen. Salonga
ABOVE PHOTO: senate President-Emeritus Jovito R. Salonga (third from left) receivIng a plaque of appreciation in September 1997 for his lifetime exemplary service to the Filipino people during a tribute accorded him by the Chicago Filipino community. Pictured are then PACC President Rev. Leo M. Constantino, the Senator, then PH Am Ecumenical Church Pastor Marcelo Rivera and Mariano A. Santos, then in his capacity as the Chairman of the Fr. Carl Schmitz Memorial Award Committee. PINOY PHOTO
By Mariano "Anong" Santos
CHICAGO—Members of the Filipino American community reacted with grief to the news of the passing of former Philippine Senate President Jovito R. Salonga on March 10 at the age of 95 and expressed gratitude for the time he spent time with them many years ago.
The local Philippine Consulate in a statement sent to PINOY Newsmagazine stated in part, “The Officers and Staff members of the Consulate General, led by Consul General Generoso D.G. Calonge, condole with the Salonga family.
(ConGen Calonge went to UP College of Law with Esteban “Steve” Salonga, the late senator’s son who is running for Rizal governor as an Independent.-Ed.)
“He will be missed as a towering figure in Philippine society, one whose life will be a model for future generations of Filipinos.”
Champion of democracy
It was further noted that the late statesman was “a champion for Philippine democracy and a staunch opponent of the Marcos regime. Salonga defended political prisoners detained without charges after Martial Law was declared in 1972.
“After democracy was restored, Salonga headed the Philippine Commission on Good Government, which was tasked with the recovery of ill-gotten wealth from the regime and its cronies.
“He served as Senate President from 1987 to 1991, helping shepherd key legislation during the first years of the restored democracy under President Corazon Aquino. He headed the Senate during the historic vote on the US bases.”
Visit to Chicago
In September 1997, a coalition of Chicago community organizations that included the Philippine American College of Clergy of Chicago (PACC), the Filipino Masonic groups, Philippine Chamber of Commerce of the Midwest, and various Filipino community newspapers gave a stirring and well-attended luncheon-tribute to the then 77-year-old leader who said that he was officially retired from politics and that he was involved in a non-governmental group, “Kilosbayan.”
Speaking mostly in Pilipino, he proudly stated that he considered his leading the ending of the Philippine-US Treaty in 1991 as one of his outstanding achievements as a public servant.
Many political analysts saw this accomplishment as the reason that cost Salonga the Philippine presidency when he ran in 1992 when his fellow church member at Cosmopolitan Church, Gen. Fidel Ramos, was anointed by President Corazon Aquino and became her successor.
(In his memoir, Salonga wrote that the President personally went to the Senate in 1991 to plead with him in his capacity as the Senate President, asking him to end his opposition to the extension of the treaty. Salonga voted with his conscience and there was a bitter falling out between the two. Ironically, Salonga was one of the lawyers of Ninoy Aquino while he was Marcos’ prisoner. Ramos was Ninoy’s jailer.)
Salonga, who spent many days in Chicago during his U.S. exile from the Marcos regime, acted as a wise elder to often-fractious young activists who were working to restore democracy in the Philippines. He cautioned some of the increasingly impatient members of the movement about the use of violence.
Always knowledgeable in international law, he told them that they were inviting strict U.S. surveillance if they chose the violent path in which he was proved right on more than one occasion.
“Ultimately, it will be up to the Filipinos back home to take action to free themselves from Marcos,” this writer remembers him saying in one of the Bible studies he led at the house of then former National Press Club president, the late Eddie Monteclaro.
ESTEBAN "Steve" Salonga keeps vigil at the wake of his father at the Loyola Memorial Funeral Home March 13. Steve's siblings now live abroad, leaving the care of their ailing parent to him since 2013. The death of their mother Lydia in 2010 and the senator's close associate and friend Dr. Quentin Doromal in 2011 weakened Ka Jovy who edited the "Kilosbayan Magazine," until he was bedridden in late 2012. Ka Jovy passed on at the Philippine Heart Center in Q.C. Steve, a practicing corporate lawyer, is an independent candidate for Rizal Province governor in the May 8 elections. (PDI Photo)
Salonga was visibly touched by the 1997 tribute given by his Chicago supporters who raised a few thousand dollars during the event. “Your gift will be spent in putting out the “Kilosbayan Magazine” which will be sent monthly to Philippine elected and key public officials so the peoples’ voice will be heard in their policy making decisions,” he assured his listeners.
Organizers recalled Salonga’s request that he and his wife, Lydia, be lodged in inexpensive motels and would be booked economy class on their trip so more funds would go to his civic project.
He told this writer that we could have just saved the money for the plaque and the attaché case the organizers gave him as gift—and just added the money to the funds that were needed to put out the paper that he was editing.
“Lydia and I have no more space on our walls to hang this plaque and we don’t have that much money to keep in this case,” he teasingly said in Tagalog.
United Methodist pastor and former PACC president Leo M. Constantino, who was also active in the new-defunct Movement for Free Philippines (MFP), fondly remembered his fellow Protestant as one who lived his Christian faith by helping and serving the poor and victims of injustice and inequality even at the expense of his personal safety and convenience.
“'Well done, my faithful servant,’ will surely be the words of the Lord as he is greeted in heaven,” added Rev. Constantino.