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A man’s ambition, a nation’s hope: the story of a proud son of Pasig

Updated: Jul 6, 2020

Jared Carlo Echevarria, Publisher


Do you love your country?


This have always been a question with a readily boxed answer. This is quite understandable as questions answered simply by a “Yes “or a “No” would usually have the most profound meaning in our lives as it would take us a lifetime to answer.


Just recently, we celebrated the birth centenary of one of the country’s most esteemed statesmen, the late former Senate President Jovito R. Salonga.


Born to a simple family in Pasig on June 22, 1920, Salonga came to be a force in Philippine politics and was regarded by his townmates as the “proudest son” of Pasig. However, his other achievements have often been foreshadowed because he “walked hand in hand with the country’s history.” His life started small and just like everybody whose story is from rags-to-that-of-an-achiever, it all started with a simple dream to do well and do it greatly.


After topping the Bar (the first bar examinations after the Second World War) it occurred to Atty. Salonga to follow the steps of his law professors and his admired political leaders to continue legal studies abroad. Despite meager resources, his dream never faltered and by 1946, he sent his application to Harvard Law School and by the end of the year, received a letter from Thomas Reed Powell stating his eligibility for admission as a graduate student. As a simple gift, Senator Camilo Osias gave the young Salonga a gray overcoat, which he probably bought during his time as Philippine Resident Commissioner of the United States.


When he arrived at Harvard, he quickly went to the office of Prof. Powell to introduce himself. It was at that meeting that he learned that he was not yet a full-pledged graduate student and that he needed to prove himself in the upcoming spring term to qualify as a regular student. Powell who was a giant on American Constitutional Law remarked upon meeting a small framed Filipino, “You look like a high school kid. Passing the course may prove quite difficult for you.” This did not hinder him to work harder and even dared to enroll at Prof. Powell’s class while juggling a few more. There he met the likes of Prof. Paul Freund and Prof. John Maguire who taught varied subjects on law. True enough, he did well on his Spring Term and from then on, he was able to sustain his academic acumen that earned him a recommendation for a fellowship in Yale. He thought of going home after his stint at Harvard but such an opportunity to become a Yaleman is simply desirable and would enable him to earn a JSD with a minimal expense. From Cambridge he went to New Haven and Yale Law School welcomed him warmly with Prof. Myres McDougal taking him under his care to be taught the “Yale Approach”.


According to Sen. Salonga both schools offered an opportunity for students to grow and be more involved in their law studies. However, his time in Yale made him realize the importance of law as a tool to serve the larger interests of the nation and the world community. As a Yaleman, he appreciated the importance of social values and how it should be distributed squarely. This can only be attained through the examination of different laws and doctrines that affect social values. These ideas continued to affect the young Salonga and became his reference when he returned and served his country. As a student, he labored day and night for his Doctoral Thesis on Corporate Law Reform in the Philippines while working on a separate paper on Conflict of Laws. Both works were hailed as the best with the latter winning the coveted Ambrose Gherini Prize for the Best Paper on International Laws from 1948-1949.


After his stint in Harvard and Yale, he went home on February 28, 1949 ready to serve his country and face history head-on. A little later after his arrival in Manila, then President Quirino received a letter from Professor McDougal of Yale Law School,


“… it is the unanimous opinion of the all the professors which whom Mr. Salonga has worked that he is one of the very ablest graduate students, whether from the United States or elsewhere that we had in many years… I suggested our Dean that we should try to keep Salonga on our faculty, but upon inquiry we found out that his hopes and ambitions went back to the Philippines…”


In years following his return, he made a mark in the legal profession, being a law professor and Dean at FEU Law and finally a legislator: The Nation’s Fiscalizer. His time in the United States is perhaps the best in his life, as it was there that he met his future wife, Lydia Busuego and became friends with Karl Carstens his classmate that eventually became President of West Germany.


History might be different if Salonga decided to be a professor at Yale, but a higher calling was answered and it cost him his life, his hopes, his dreams. But in all these, there were no regrets after fighting a dictator, chasing billions of stolen wealth and eventually, leading a chamber to a controversial issue that caused him his presidential ambition. He remained an exemplar statesman; where honesty became an integral part of his humanity: of him being a Filipino. Just like any man he also answered the same question: Do you love your country?


He answered with his hopes and ambitions – The Philippines.


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