Jovito R. Salonga, former Senate president and elder statesman, led the 2016 batch of 19 heroes and martyrs whose names were engraved on the Wall of Remembrance at the Bantayog ng mga Bayani in Quezon City last Nov. 30. He had been the moving spirit behind the Bantayog, established 30 years ago to recognize and honor those who had fought for freedom, justice and democracy against the Marcos martial-law dictatorship. Altogether the granite Wall now shows 287 honorees.
Witnessing the event, my mind rushed back to the late 1970s, when my acquaintance and friendship with Jovy Salonga began. I was then a political detainee at the Bicutan Rehabilitation Center at Camp Bagong Diwa in Taguig, It was there that I met him for the first time, when he visited a detained member of his Protestant church. We talked about the plight of those political detainees like me who were accused of rebellion, and whom Juan Ponce Enrile, then Marcos’ defense minister, had vowed never to release. Months later, Salonga managed to convince Enrile (his fraternity brother at the UP) to order the release of most of my co-accused.
In the ensuing months, Salonga began political discussions with me after I acceded to his request to give him a written detailed account of my arrest, detention and torture and an explanation of why I was arrested. He handed me a copy of his essay, “Our Vision of a Better Philippines,” which I read as a proposed alternative program to Marcos’ vaunted vision of a “New Society.” He asked me to discuss it with my colleagues in prison and provide him, in writing, our collective views.
In turn I gave him a copy of the draft 10-point program of the National Democratic Front (reissued with elaborations in 1977), because we found certain points in his paper that coincided with certain aspects in seven of the NDF’s 10-point program. Writing to him in January 1980, I suggested that he and I could “pursue discussions on the points of coincidence to arrive at a consensus… then explore the other points on which we somehow differ.”
Due to space limitation, I can’t fully dwell on the several points in Salonga’s paper that I commented on. Let me just share a few of them.
In the first part, subtitled “The Realities of Today,” Salonga portrayed quite aptly the national situation under seven years of martial law: the loss of basic human rights and liberties, the loss of the people’s right to participate in governance, the sluggish and regressive economy, and the growing impoverishment of the broad masses against the flourishing riches of a select few.
Salonga cited several causes of that abominable situation without clearly identifying what he thought to be the main ones. I focused on two of these points: 1) “foreign investors, mainly the multinational corporations, were induced to come in” with guarantees and advantages that “only martial law can provide”; 2) “like a number of client dictatorships around the world, the [Marcos] martial law regime has been the recipient of increasing US military and economic aid” and that the amended US-RP military bases agreement “confirms our state of dependency” on America.
These two factors, I said in my letter, “must be dealt with properly, for they constitute one of the basic problems of our society: foreign – specifically US imperialist – control.” I wholeheartedly agreed with his view that “as long as the Philippine economy is controlled by foreign interests, our people cannot claim to be independent.”
Salonga urged that we should make use of our natural resources and available skills to, first of all, serve the interest and requirements of the majority of the people – instead of serving the interests of the multinationals and their local affiliates. As regards foreign investments, he wasn’t against these but suggested that the “permissible activities of foreign corporations and enterprises should be carefully delineated and regulated, and their phaseout in certain lines essential to the national interest should be established.”
Juxtaposing his proposals against his own observation that the multinationals have practically been dictating government policies of their host countries, I wrote that asserting new rules and regulations would not suffice to basically alter the situation.
On a broader perspective, Salonga was emphatic that “we must devise our own social and economic structures to fit our own local conditions, on the basis of the needs of our own people, not on the basis of the requirements or needs of others.” Capitalism, “in the context of Philippine conditions, provides abundance to so few and pitifully little to so many,” he observed. He rejected identification with “any of the centers of power today – Washington, Moscow, Peking [Beijing], or Tokyo.”
He suggested, in general terms, a reorientation of the generally accepted view on property to imbue it with a social function. More radically, he called for “ dismantl[ing] illegal or undue concentration of wealth” and for “an alternative economic system based not on private profit but on cooperation and solidarity.”
In more specific terms, Salonga urged that “at the earliest opportunity, the government of a liberated Philippines classify and set apart the industries and services that are to be owned and operated by the State and those that may be left to private initiative.” He added that “key industries and public services essential to the national interest and common welfare should be owned by the State” and that certain fields of enterprises be Filipinized (retaining certain areas for foreign interests), and the establishment of a system of cooperatives both rural and urban-based.
These proposals converged to some degree with certain aspects of the NDF program.
After the ouster of the Marcos dictatorship, when Salonga became Senate president, he led the majority of his colleagues in rejecting the extension of the US-RP military bases agreement pushed by the Cory Aquino government. He thus made good on his commitment, during our face-to-face discussions in Bicutan, to heed the people’s call to “dismantle the US bases” in the country. Alongside progressive organizations and allies, he twice petitioned the Supreme Court (in vain) to declare the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) unconstitutional.
Salonga polished his above-cited proposals in a reinvigorated program for the Liberal Party which he then headed. But after he lost in his presidential bid in 1998 there has been no talk about this program again.
Published in The Philippine Star
Dec. 3, 2016