Jovito R. Salonga

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Jovito Salonga in 2005

Jovito "Jovy" Salonga (22 June 1920 –10 March 2016) was a Filipino senator, statesman, and lawyer and a leading oppositionist to the Marcos regime from 1972, when Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law, until 1986, when Marcos was deposed as a result of a bloodless revolution (see 1986 EDSA Revolution).

Early Life and Education

Jovito Salonga was born poor in a remote barrio in Pasig City on June 22, 1920. His father was a Presbyterian pastor, his mother a market vendor. The youngest of five brothers, he worked his way through college and law school as a proofreader in the publishing firm of his eldest brother Isayas. During his senior year at the College of Law at the University of the Philippines (U.P.), he quit his job to prepare for the bar exam. However, because of the advent of World War II, he postponed taking the bar until 1944—which he topped with a grade point average of 95.3%, the 2nd highest score in Philippine Bar history (Florenz Regalado holds 1st place).

World War II Hero

A few months after the Japanese invasion in December 1941, Salonga went underground and engaged in anti-Japanese activities. In April 1942, he was captured and tortured by the Japanese Military Police in Pasig in the presence of his aging father. He was transferred to Fort Santiago and several other prisons where he was subjected to further persecution. On June 11, 1942, he was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor by the Japanese and incarcerated at the New Bilibid Prison in Muntinlupa, a place where he mingled with murderers and thieves. By a stroke of good fortune, he was pardoned on the Foundation Day of Japan (Kigen Setsu) in 1943.

American Education

After passing the bar, he went back to the UP College of Law where he earned an LL.B in 1946. He traveled to the U.S. when he won a scholarship to attend Harvard for his master's degree. Recommended by Harvard professor Manley Hudson to Yale Law School, he was awarded a fellowship at Yale University where he earned a doctorate (JSD) in 1949. He however turned down their offer of a faculty position because he felt he should participate in his country's post-war reconstruction. He was honored with the Ambrose Gherini prize for writing the best paper in international law. In February 1948, he married Lydia Busuego in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Salonga returned to the Philippines and engaged in the teaching and practice of law. He authored several books on corporate law and international law, and was appointed Dean of the College of Law, Far Eastern University (FEU) in 1956.

Political Career


In 1960, he was persuaded by Vice President Diosdado Macapagal, then president of the Liberal Party (LP), one of the two dominant political parties in the Philippines at the time, to run for Congress in the second district of Rizal, where two political dynasties dominated the bureaucracy. Salonga helped build the party from the grassroots, largely with the support of disgruntled and alienated youth who responded to the issues he raised, particularly the entrenchment of the political ruling class and their families in seats of governments, a major cause of disenchantment among the masses. In the November 1961 elections, he bested his two opponents by an overwhelming margin.

Shortly after his election, he tangled with one of the best debaters of the opposing party, the Nacionalista Party (NP), on the issue of proportional representation in various committees. He also composed a seminal article, published and editorialized in various papers, on the Philippines' territorial claim to North Borneo (Sabah). With the election of Cornelio Villareal (LP, Capiz) as Speaker of the House, Salonga was appointed to the chairmanship of the prestigious Committee on Good Government. In June 1962, President Macapagal filed the Philippine petition against Malaysia's alleged illegal expropriation of North Borneo. Salonga was appointed to head the delegation in the January 1963 London negotiations.


After one term, Salonga was chosen to run for senate under the LP banner in the 1965 elections. Despite limited financial resources and the victory of NP candidate Marcos as president, Salonga was elected senator, garnering the most number of votes. In 1967, he was Ninoy Aquino's chief lawyer in the underage lawsuit filed against the latter by President Marcos. Largely through Salonga's skills in jurisprudence, Aquino won his case before the Commission on Elections. Subsequently Marcos' appeals to the Supreme Court of the Philippines and Senate Electoral Tribunal were overturned, granting a final victory to Salonga and Aquino. For his well-documented exposés against the Marcos administration, Salonga was hailed as the "Nation's Fiscalizer" by the Philippines Free Press in 1968.

Second lease on life, first arrest

He ran for reelection in 1971. Along with some members of the Liberal Party, he was critically injured on the August 21 bombing of his party's proclamation rally at Plaza Miranda. His doctors' prognosis were grim—he was not expected to live. He survived, however, with impaired eyesight and hearing, and more than a hundred tiny pieces of shrapnel in his body. Despite his inability to campaign, he topped the senatorial race for the second time.

He returned to the political arena and embarked on a successful law career. He protested martial law and was unjustly arrested. After his release from military custody, he was offered a visiting scholarship at Yale, where he engaged in the revision of his book on international law. He completed his book on the Marcos years, which included a program for a new democratic Philippines.

Second arrest, exile

The imposition of martial law in September 1972 was the catalyst that radicalized hundreds of oppositionists and the pretext to arrest and imprison many of them, including moderate ones. Salonga openly and vigorously opposed it, and he and his law partners, Sedfrey Ordoñez and Pedro L. Yap, defended many cases of well-known political prisoners as well as obscure detainees, most of them pro bono. In October 1980, following the bombing of the Philippine International Convention Center, Marcos again ordered Salonga's arrest—this time he was detained at Fort Bonifacio without any formal charges and investigation. To a great extent, loud protests here and abroad paved his eventual release from jail. He was allowed to leave with his wife for the U.S. in March 1981, to attend several international conferences and undergo medical procedures. Right after their departure, subversion charges—supposedly a well-known Marcos tactic to scare off his enemies from ever returning—were filed against him. Jovy and Lydia lived in self-exile in Hawaii, then moved to Encino, California, where he was visited by many opposition leaders, including Ninoy Aquino. It was here where, at the request of LP President Gerry Roxas, Salonga wrote the party's Vision and Program of Government. After the demise of Roxas in New York in April 1982, Salonga was elected acting president of the Liberal Party.

Post-martial Law Era

The assassination of Ninoy Aquino in August 1983 prompted Salonga to return to the Philippines in January 21, 1985 to help resuscitate his party and unite democratic opposition. A month later, the Supreme Court unanimously dismissed subversion charges against him. He was elected president of the Liberal Party. Shortly after the EDSA Revolution, President Corazon Aquino appointed him Chair of the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG), which was tasked with investigating and recovering the alleged ill-gotten wealth of Marcos and cronies. After his one-year stint with PCGG, he was drafted to run for the senate in the 1987 elections. For the third time, he won the number one spot in the senatorial race. Chosen senate president by his peers, Salonga authored three major legislative measures: the "Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees (R.A. 6713)", the "Anti-Coup d'etat Act (R.A. 6968)", and the "Anti-Plunder Law (R.A. 7080)". In April 1990, he was conferred a Doctor of Laws degree, honoris causa, by the University of the Philippines “for his brilliant career as an eminent political figure… for his unwavering, courageous stand against injustice, oppression, and dictatorship… and for his sterling personal qualities of decency, humility, industry and moderation.”


'Unblemished' record

Salonga had five decades of unblemished record in public service. Despite limited means, he consistently won three senatorial elections, garnering the largest number of votes under three different administrations: that of Diosdado Macapagal, Ferdinand Marcos and Corazon Aquino. He has successfully legislated the State Scholarship Law, the Disclosure of Interest Act, the Magna Carta for Public School Teachers, the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees, and the Act Defining and Penalizing the Crime of Plunder.

In September 1991, Salonga led a group of 12 Senators in rejecting the R.P.-U.S. Bases Treaty, effectively ending 470 years of foreign military presence in the Philippines. He echoed the sentiments of the fathers of nationalism—Jose Rizal, Manuel Quezon, and Claro M. Recto—and the nationalist sons of his generation, notably Lorenzo Tañada, Jose Diokno, and Renato Constantino who felt that their country, for almost 5 centuries, had been nothing but a colonial periphery of Spain and the U.S. However, he had to pay a heavy price for his unpopular decision—his financial backers in the business community withdrew their support for his presidential campaign. In December of that same year, Salonga was ousted from his position as President of the Senate, though a later agreement hammered out by the senators permitted him to keep his post until the end of December. Salonga lost the 1992 presidential election (finishing sixth in a seven-person race in the official tally), despite the resounding support of students from various colleges and universities.

As chairman of the Commission on Good Government, he "filed and perfected" the government's claim to the Marcos Swiss deposits. His unwavering pursuit of the Marcos ill-gotten wealth was, in one senator's words, the "moral equivalent of a war." His efforts were rewarded when the government sequestered Eduardo Cojuangco Jr.'s firms including 93% shares of the United Coconut Planters Bank and 27% shares of the San Miguel Corporation. In 2005 a Swiss bank, convinced of the legality of the Philippines' claim to the Marcos millions, delivered to the nation's government more than U.S.$680 million. The commission also petitioned to expropriate several real estate properties and several of the nation's largest corporations that the Philippine government claims were bought through blackmail or money the Marcoses allegedly plundered from public treasury.

Retirement from public office

After his retirement from government service, he continued work in public service through Kilosbayan (People Action), a forum for raising political consciousness and citizens' participation in governance; the Bantayog ng mga Bayani Foundation (Heroes' Memorial), a private entity that honors the nation's martyrs and heroes for their sacrifices during martial law; and Bantay Katarungan (Sentinel of Justice), an organization that seeks to improve the administration of justice in the Philippines through the systematic monitoring of courts and quasi-judicial agencies by selected students from leading law schools. The Chair of Bantay Katarungan is former Secretary of Justice Sedfrey Ordoñez, who had been his law partner for 33 years. Salonga is its founder and adviser.

He remained active as a speaker, denouncing what he claims are the moral and social ills in Philippine society. Since ending his political career in 1992, Salonga had delivered lectures intermittently in various educational institutions, including the University of the Philippines, Ateneo de Manila University, University of Santo Tomas, De La Salle University, and Far Eastern University. He taught at the Lyceum of the Philippines where he held the Jose P. Laurel Chair on Law, Government and Public Policy.

Dr. Salonga acted as the president of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP) during its constitutional convention which took place September, 1993 at Ellinwood-Malate Church in Manila. Always the nationalist, he persuaded the delegates to agree that the Filipino Language Text had equal weight to the English Text. During the caucus, he was a calming influence and ran the assembly with a firm and fair hand.

Due to the serious crisis confronting secondary education in the Philippines at that time, Dr. Salonga, in early June 2005, launched a fortnightly paper, "Living News and Good Education", for use by high school teachers and students in public schools. Its stated goal is to help instill in high school students “Better English, better values and better learning in Math and Science.” Jovito Salonga has been awarded honorary degrees by various universities in the Philippines and abroad.

A 'national treasure'

A writer once referred to Senator Salonga as a "national treasure". 1

Senator Joker P. Arroyo paid him the highest tribute when he said:

Some people make history, others write it. But there is a rare handful who, in writing—and in speaking—make history. These are the ones who illuminate the issues, and in so doing move men to answer them with noble actions… In our country there was Claro M. Recto. But if you consider the wealth of historical events surrounding a particular personality who shaped and even generated these events by his words, Jovito Salonga stands virtually alone. 2

In his twilight years, Salonga summed up one's purpose in life in his speech before the national convention of Philippine Association of Retired Persons on May 27, 2005, with the following words:

What frightens many the dread of insignificance, the notion that we will be born, live and one day none of it will matter. A good many people don't want to live forever—it is like reading a good book or watching a good movie that never ends. Many people understand that the story of our lives must have a beginning, a middle, and an end; but what they desperately want is to live long enough to get it right, to feel that they have done something worthwhile with their lives. 3


At the age of 95, Salonga, who had been battling with Alzheimer's disease, died at the Philippine Heart Center on March 10, 2016.

References “Jovito R. Salonga”. Senate of the Philippines. July 14, 2020 "Ex-senator Jovito Salonga dies". ABS-CBN News. December 14, 2020


1920 births

Filipino lawyers

Paramilitary Filipinos

Presidents of the Senate of the Philippines