Tell it to SunStar: Missing the Senate of yesteryears

THE Philippine Senate has traditionally been the training ground of public servants for national leadership. From its ranks rose seven Philippine presidents, namely, Manuel Luis Quezon, Jose P. Laurel, Manuel A. Roxas, Elpidio Quirino, Ferdinand E. Marcos, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, Joseph Estrada, and Benigno Simeon Aquino III.

There were senators who did not become president but had served the nation with honor and distinction with their principled intellectual brilliance, mastery of parliamentary rules, unquestionable patriotism and unsullied integrity. The nation fondly remembers the Senate titans like Benigno Aquino Jr., Jovito R. Salonga, Jose W. Diokno, and Lorenzo M. Tañada, among others.

Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr. is one of the foremost modern heroes who sacrificed his life in fighting the Marcos dictatorship. Detained by the dictator for seven years on fake charges, he went on exile to the US. On his return to the country on Aug. 21, 1983, he was murdered at the Manila International Airport reportedly by agents of the dictator. His death galvanized the people and nationwide protests erupted until February 1986, when People Power ousted the dictator.

Jovito R. Salonga, aside from his anti-dictatorship struggle, is best remembered for his sterling leadership of the Philippine Senate as Senate president, which rejected on Sept. 16, 1991, the Philippine US Treaty of Friendship to extend the US bases in the country, ending centuries of foreign military presence.

Jose W. Diokno who tied with Jovito R. Salonga in topping the 1943 bar examination with a rating of 95.3 percent, is best remembered for his defiance of the Marcos dictatorship.

After his detention for three years, he founded the Free Legal Assistance Group (Flag) in 1974. Hundreds of lawyers all over the country volunteered to render free legal assistance to detainees, the informal settlers, students and other sectors of society.

Despite his failing health, Pepe Diokno continued his fight against Mr. Marcos until the fall of the dictator in February 1986. He died at age 65.

Lorenzo M. Tañada served the longest in the Senate for 24 years. Before martial law, the Senate reverberated with the voice of Senator Tañada espousing nationalism and his opposition to the presence of US bases in the country.

It is tragic to note that these intellectual and moral titans are gone and replaced by intellectual lilliputians in the mold of Sen. Christopher Go who alternates between his duties as senator and as presidential “assistant,” Sen. Ronald de la Rosa who is ignorant of academic freedom by insisting that the police and the military can enter the University of the Philippines and all its campus; and Sen. Imee Marcos who hates the US and the UN for “interference” in our internal affairs but admires the Chinese for their occupation of our islands in the West Philippine sea.

When can the Filipino electorate restore the luster and glory of the Senate of yesteryears? (By Democrito C. Barcenas)


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