Looking For A Great Statesman

MANILA: "Paalam, Ka Jovy," said Teodore Te, on learning of the death of Jovito Salonga (10 March 2016, news.abs-cbn.com). "Mabuhay ka!"

He was a Statesman. On Thursday, 10 March 2016, he died at the Philippine Heart Center (Amita Legaspi, 10 March 2016, "Jovito Salonga, former Senate President and champion of democracy, passes away," gmanetwork.com). He would have been exactly 96 on 22 June 2016.

He earned his Bachelor of Laws from the University of the Philippines in 1946, but before that, during the war, he joined the guerrilla movement, was captured and tortured by the Japanese, and released in 1943. The next year he took the bar exam and topped it, along with Jose W Diokno. He then took a master's degree in law from Harvard Law School in 1948 and a doctorate in jurisprudence from Yale Law School in 1949.

He was offered a faculty position at Yale, but he turned it down because "he felt he should take part in the post-war reconstruction in the Philippines." In similar situations, too many Filipinos had chosen to stay, the lure of green as strong as the lure of gold. Patriotism is the beginning of statesmanship.

Salonga was Congressman once and topped the record as the "Nation's Fiscalizer" (so honored by the crusader Philippines Free Press) during the Marcos regime. Anointed by the Free Press, and because of his popular pursuit of the law, Salonga won "the overwhelming mandate of the Filipino electorate as he consistently topped three senatorial elections (1965, 1971, and 1987) despite lack of material means and against all odds – a record without precedent in Philippine political history." Also: "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 Martial Law, Salonga headed the Philippine Commission on Good Government, which was "tasked with the recovery of ill-gotten wealth from the dictator and his cronies." He was a good Senate President from 1987 to 1991. In 2007, he received the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Government Service "for his exemplary integrity and substance of his long public career in service to democracy and good government in the Philippines."

His Ramon Magsaysay Award reads in part:

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.

For all intents and purposes, he was Mr Good Government. No doubt, Jovito Salonga was by any definition a Statesman, and he stayed so for so many years.

But I'm looking for Great.

A Great Statesman would be someone who made a huge paradigm shift even if nobody else was looking. I am thinking of Senator Claro M Recto who battled the Roman Catholic Church in the country and successfully pushed the passage of the Rizal Law, RA 1425, which mandated the teaching of the life, works and writings of the national hero, "particularly his novels Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo." Everybody knew that the Noli was anti-Catholic. The law was passed on 12 June 1956.

The abiding reason for the Rizal Law was this, stated as a Whereas of RA 1425:

Whereas, the life, works and writing of Jose Rizal, particularly his novels Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo, are a constant and inspiring source of patriotism with which the minds of the youth, especially during their formative and decisive years in school, should be suffused.

That made Recto a Statesman to me. I would have considered him Great were it not for the fact that he was gravely wrong about the thinking of Jose Rizal. How do I know? Years after Recto, I myself wrote a book about Rizal's thoughts, published in 2005 in a limited edition: indios bravos! Jose Rizal as Messiah of the Redemption (see my essay, "Jose Rizal is My American Hero. Is Andres Bonifacio yours?" 19 June 2014, A Magazine Called Love, blogspot.in). After my own years-long study, in that book I said Rizal was not a nationalist (patriot); he was an internationalist. If you adopt that perspective, which is the right one, then you will understand fully the motivations of Jose Rizal. Contrary to the claims of Recto, the Noli and the Fili did not represent the best thoughts of the author. The Noli & Fili were the best of Rizal debating with the best of Rizal. Nationalism has boundaries; internationalism has none. Nationalism limits you to your country; internationalism opens you to the world. Rizal is a hero we don't know.

No, Jose Rizal was not a nationalist. People think that the poem he wrote when he was only 8 years old, "Sa Aking Mga Kabata," showed he was already a nationalist at that early age, that the poem was about love of one's language – Tagalog. That is a wrong view, as I showed last year during the death anniversary of this Philippine hero (see my essay, "Jose Rizal Bashers Lack The K," 30 December 2015, A Magazine Called Love, blogspot.in). The whole poem, "Sa Aking Mga Kabata" (To The Kids Of My Own Time) is truly about love of freedom. The boy Rizal's mother Teodora taught him well; love of language was a decoy, the obvious reference to hide the deeper reference to love of freedom.

Claro Recto used Jose Rizal to rage against what he thought were wrong Roman Catholic Church's teachings or abuses, or both. You cannot be a Great Statesman if you are mostly driven by rage.

I remember the other statesmen of yesteryears, among them Jose W Diokno, Wigberto Tañada, Blas Ople, OD Corpuz, Carlos P Romulo, Narciso Ramos, Leticia Ramos-Shahani – they were not afraid to be wrong, to be contrarian. All admirable, all Statesmen, none of them Great.

What about Manuel Luis Quezon? He would have been a Great Statesman but he played too much politics for his patriotism. It was he who said, "I would rather have a country run like hell by Filipinos than a country run like heaven by the Americans." His wish was his command. Look at what we have now!

What about Jesse Robredo and JPE and FVR? They were Statesmen at a time they were needed. But not Great.

What about Ninoy Aquino? Another certified Statesman. Not Great. He was only fighting Marcos, against Martial Law, for himself.

At last! I found the one and only Great Statesman of these islands. A Great Statesman would be someone who would cause a giant paradigm shift among his people – it is none other than Senator Aquilino Q Pimentel Jr, Father of the Local Government Code (1991). Empowering the local government units (LGUs) is, no matter which side of politics you look from, The Great Political Leveler. In revolutionizing the LGUs despite themselves, Pimentel sought social gain, not personal.

And Senator Pimentel is not finished. He has also proposed a Federal Philippines. That doubles his value as a Great Statesman. Mabuhay ka, Nene Pimentel!

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