Jovito Salonga's long life began only twenty-two years after the onset of American rule in the Philippines. His youth was a time of national hope and longing for independence. These things shaped him, alongside his family's deep Christian convictions and the hardships of their daily life. When he was twelve, a speech by the independence-champion Manuel Roxas in his hometown stirred him to dream of a life in law and in public life.
Seizing on this ambition, he rose through public schools to the College of Law at the University of the Philippines. When war overtook his studies, Salonga quickly ran afoul of the new Japanese authorities. He was tortured and jailed and released after nearly a year. Amid dearth and uncertainty, he crammed for the bar examinations and, in 1944, earned the highest score.
At war's end, Salonga embraced Philippine independence but denounced "parity rights" and other compromising ties to the United States. He topped off his legal education with graduate degrees from Harvard and Yale universities and then plunged headlong into the life of his new nation.
Salonga established himself as a sought-after lawyer and an influential legal scholar and educator. In 1961, the Liberal Party tapped him for a successful run for Congress in his home province of Rizal. Four years later, he outpolled all other candidates for the Senate-a feat he repeated twice. He built his reputation as a crusader for clean government and public education. As a staunch nationalist, he opposed Philippine complicity in the Vietnam War and other acts of "puppetry." And he so persistently exposed the troubling anomalies of President Ferdinand Marcos that the Philippines Free Press named him the "Nation's Fiscalizer."
The bomb that crippled him at a political rally in 1971, Salonga says, led him to a second, "borrowed life." He opposed martial law from the start, defending opponents of the Marcos dictatorship and working tirelessly for the succor and release of political prisoners and for the democratic opposition. In 1980, he himself was jailed without charges and then released. Four years in exile followed.
Yet he never lost hope. In 1985, Salonga returned home to revitalize his political party and confront the dictatorship. Putting aside personal ambition, he withdrew his candidacy for vice president in the snap elections of February 1986 and threw himself heart-and-soul into Corazon Aquino's presidential campaign and the People Power Revolution.
Afterwards, Salonga initiated the new government's legal efforts to reclaim wealth stolen by the Marcoses. In 1987, voters returned him to the Senate. There, he authored new laws protecting the state from plunder, military coups, and corrupt officials and, in 1991 as Senate president, triumphantly led his colleagues in ejecting American military bases from the Philippines.
Salonga returned to private life the following year, having made a hotly contested but disappointing bid for the presidency. But through his NGOs, Bantay Katarungan (Sentinel of Justice) and Kilosbayan (People's Action), he has sustained his principled interventions in the affairs of the nation up till now.
Salonga relishes the point-and-counterpoint of democratic politics. But 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.
To be sure, these are the familiar mantras of Philippine politics. But to Salonga they are a creed. His rare moral authority stems from a simple fact: he practices what he preaches.
Today, at eighty-seven, Salonga urges young people to seek happiness in service. More important in life than wealth is meaning. We will find it, he says, if we live "by what we know to be true and good."
In electing Jovito Salonga to receive the 2007 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Government Service, the board of trustees recognizes the exemplary integrity and substance of his long public career in service to democracy and good government in the Philippines.