Former Senate President Jovito R. Salonga was a towering figure of the 20th century. The lasting image of Mr. Salonga banging the gavel to announce the Senate vote against the continued stay of the US bases here on Sept. 16, 1991 was truly an epic moment in our country’s history. Those who thought that the umbilical cord would never snap did snap after a tense session at the Senate, a vote influenced by Salonga’s expressed views on the issue.
The Ivy League-trained Salonga, who never was anti-American, viewed foreign bases as an affront to the country’s true independence, a simple constitutional construct. He believed that the economic issues raised by the “Extend” senators were valid up to a point – but not when the economic issues clashed with the fundamental issue of sovereignty. His iron-clad, unbending definition of true freedom carried the day and the “Basexit” won the vote.
Was there a Senate vote as historic and life-changing as that one?
Any abridge, any assault, any affront on the laws and freedoms was anathema to Mr. Salonga and Mr. Marcos’ authoritarian bent, not personal animus, was at the root of Mr. Salonga’s defiance of Mr. Marcos and his martial law regime. Like many of the key figures opposed to Marcos, he was arrested, re-arrested, then charged with subversion. And went through the lonely exile years.
The defiant Salonga, blind in one eye and deaf in one ear (and with 100 shrapnel wounds that scarred his frail body), was one of the most awe-inspiring figures of the anti-Marcos struggle.
Lourdes “Chit” Estella-Simbulan covered the most interesting beat after the restoration of the democratic institutions in 1987, the Philippine Senate under the presidency of Mr. Salonga. I covered the same beat for another paper. She was diligent and thorough, her reportage a challenge to a group of male reporters cum lazy bones. Her reportage became more illuminating and informative as the issues tackled by the Senate became more sensitive, such as the US bases issue and the country’s $26 billion external debt.
Her distinctive grasp of the bases and debt issue was clear in her reportage. On an ordinary day, she would beat the rest of us on depth and substance.
(I must confess to this. She became exasperated on how a lazy bone like me got all the exclusives [scoops]on the executive sessions held by the Senate to discuss the bases issue. She knew the reason. One of the senators would meet me in the hallway after such executive sessions, then recount to me in three minutes flat the discussions during those sensitive sessions. Chit told me that the “salarin” or leaker would leak to no one but to me and that leaker did not even bother to interact with the women journalists. The other complainant was former Senator Shahani, who publicly berated me at the Senate press room for reporting on the executive sessions. To these, I said “pass.” I respect women so much.)
Chit would later edit other papers and teach journalism at UP, her alma mater. Whatever she did, it was all principled work, deeply committed to democratic and civic virtues and opposed to all strains and types of authoritarianism.
Senator Salonga and Chit Simbulan were among the 19 names newly engraved at the Wall of Remembrance of the Bantayog ng Mga Bayani in Quezon City. On Nov. 29, the papers reported on the new names and the individual contribution to the anti-Marcos struggle. The day after, the papers that reported on the 19 heroic lives became fish wrappers. Though many of us wish it were different, and that the 19 names would remain in our hearts and consciousness forever, we know the realities in our country. No one cares about heroes.
Even the AP lessons, the supposed fount of our core beliefs on nationalism and civic virtues, do not distinguish between heroes and heels.
In the nation’s tortured consciousness, who are we remembering? I have a thesis.
On that same day the new names engraved on the Wall of Remembrance were made public, there was another recognition rite reported by media. The “Bossing Awards Night” sponsored by the billionaires gave awards to those named “2016’s Most Accomplished Entrepreneurs.” The grant of awards was an overkill. The names – both sponsors and awardees – are all too familiar.
How would the names “Salonga” and “Simbulan” compete for a place in the hallowed realm of the national consciousness with the name of the fast-food chain on the dominant telco? Are you kidding? Daily, millions of Filipinos pay tribute to the fast-food chain and the telco giant via their unwavering patronage. And the stuff hawked by the awardees, that practically clog the sidewalks, especially in the QC area.
What Salonga and Simbulan contributed were principles, a sense of country, the defiance of despots and tyrants. All intangibles that do not even count in the temporal life.
The sponsors and the awardees of the “Bossing Night,” meanwhile, are identified with personal satisfaction and pleasure, which is more important to the current generation of Filipinos than names that evoke sacrifice and virtue.
No one cares about heroes and selflessness and sacrifice for the sake of the Motherland. Those things cannot be captured by our most popular preoccupation – taking “selfies.”