Engaging moments with Jovito R. Salonga


At the Senate tribute to Jovito R. Salonga, who passed away last week at age 95, Senate President Franklin Drilon recalled how in 1991 Salonga, then the chamber’s head, had firmly but politely refused President Cory Aquino’s plea that the Senate ratify the extension of the RP-US military bases treaty.

“Ka Jovy held his ground, he maintained his principle,” Drilon said. Quoting from the movie about Gen. Antonio Luna, he added: “’Bayan muna bago ang sarili!’ That sums up the way Jovy Salonga lived his life.”

Reading this in the news, my thoughts rushed back to 1978 when, as a political detainee at the Bicutan Rehabilitation Center, I first met Senator Salonga. On that day he was visiting a detained member of his church. I approached him and introduced myself. That initial meeting led to more exchanges between us. He asked me to write a full account of my torture and detention experience and why I was arrested.

Later (in 1980) he gave me a copy of his paper, “Our Vision of a Better Philippines,” and asked for my comments in writing. My comments, in a seven-page letter to him, may be discussed in another column piece.

Since I had a lot of time on my hands, my letters to Senator Salonga were quite long. Let me share with you this portion of my Oct. 19, 1978 letter, which I believe helped seal the mutual trust and respect that marked my relationship with him later:

“… I [had been] vehemently against martial law and made no effort to hide my views in writing against the pervasive foreign control of the Philippine economy and the government, and against all the social evils that such a condition spawned. I therefore made the best of what I could do while in hiding, to help our people realize the implications of the loss of their freedoms, to understand the basic reason behind the imposition of martial law which is to preserve and promote the interests of foreign capital and its local cohorts. I wrote articles of exposition on certain issues and news analyses and passed them on to whatever group was willing and could get them into print and disseminated.

“At that time the only potent group not thrown in disarray by the imposition of martial law was the national democratic movement with its already well-laid-out underground network. It was to this movement that I gravitated. Besides its being the only group apparently able to go on resisting martial law on a big scale, I also shared, as I still do, the principles and goals of national democracy – a people’s democracy. Thus, I was invited and I joined the National Democratic Front’s preparatory committee. At that time I was not a member of the Communist Party of the Philippines, although subsequently I did accept and perform tasks assigned by friends identified with the party’s leadership. In the underground struggle I came to realize that many tasks become meshed together since the general of all efforts should be only one.

“The CPP was and still is, to my reckoning, the only political party that has consistently pursued a program for the ultimate liberation of our people from poverty, exploitation, and all manner of oppression. [….] It is the only party that has successfully mobilized men and women all over the country in a highly self-sacrificing struggle that has given new meaning to their lives, although it has meant the death of so many young martyrs.

“My heart goes all out for such selflessness, a human value imbued in me by my Christian upbringing at home and in school. There being no other group or political party embodying this value and giving it political direction, against the corrupt life and murky values that the established government has engendered, where would I turn to?”

I then confided to him that among the poor people who had sheltered me and my comrades I had “discovered peace of mind and an ennobling of spirit amidst their struggle for economic, political, and social justice.”

“This is rather a rare unburdening to one I haven’t known personally long enough. But from your public life, Mr. Senator, and from the aura of sincerity and trust that I perceive in the few times that we have met, I feel that I cannot be mistaken. At certain times a man would seek solace by himself to collect his thoughts and to project into the future; at other times he would seek to communicate to someone who he feels would understand and appreciate the sincere feelings flowing forth. As I said in my first letter to you, I have decided to open up to you as a friend and, hopefully, as a sympathizer.

“What you may make out of this self-exposition I leave entirely in your hands. I appreciate your repeated offer to work for my release. I hesitated to accept your offer not for lack of trust but out of a realistic appraisal that the military intelligence, or even Minister Enrile or someone else above him, are not inclined to give me back my freedom at these particular times. I leave it entirely to your discretion to do what you ought to do.”

The following year, Senator Salonga succeeded in convincing Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile (his UP fraternity brother) to order the release of a considerable number of political detainees. But not me. Six years later, however, given a day-long furlough, I did manage to free myself after participating in the National Press Club convention-election on May 5,1985.

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Email: satur.ocampo@gmail.com

Published in the Philippine Star
March 19, 2016

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