Living Legend

Earworms: Erian’s Mystical Rhymes by Rhapsody of Fire
-REX Phase II: 66% complete. Almost done with classes. All I have to take care of are the “spells” and “feats.”
The Kitchen God’s Wife by Amy Tan. Reading assignment for my Asian lit students.
Nightwatch by Sergei Lukyanenko. Arghs is probably going to kill me for taking so long.

This morning, the boss excused me from having classes in favor of something out of the ordinary.

The annual debate we hold in school is named the Jovito Salonga Interlevel Debate. Since many of our students are too young to know the illustrious senator for whom our debates were named, the boss decided it would be a good idea to bring the students to actually meet this living legend.

Former Senator Jovito Salonga was one of the most influential politicians in the Philippines during the latter half of the last century. He’s been through a lot: the Plaza Miranda Bombing in 1972, which put out one of his eyes and permanently destroyed one of his ears, martial law under Marcos, and the removal of the US military bases. He ran for president in the early 90s but lost for two major reasons: Many people believed he was too old and would die soon, and he was rather unpopular for kicking out the Americans (whom many Filipinos wanted to stay).

We left school a little after 7 am, and promptly got stuck in the daily hell of traffic along EDSA. We arrived at the Senator’s subdivision at around 8, but the boss’s ride took a wrong turn and ended up in another phase of the development. To our shame, we had arrived rather late for our appointment–so late that the old Senator thought we wouldn’t be showing up.

He quickly warmed up to us, however, and offered the rather large contingent of students seats in his living room. (Rather difficult to fit 15 students and three teachers into the living room, large as it was.)
August and Senator Salongaimg_0004.jpg
Senator Salonga, at 87 years old, looks his age. He walks very slowly, has a slight stoop, and still bears the scars of the bombing: a ruined eye, a mangled left index finger, large lacerations on his forearm. Still, the sharpness of his mind is evident despite his lack of hearing in one ear. What struck me the most, however, was his humility.

(Boss): I thought it would be a good idea for our students to meet the great man for whom our debates are named. Perhaps you would like to give them a few inspiring words?
Sen. Salonga: How can I inspire them? I am covered with scars.

Most of what Senator Salonga talked about was how much a good education matters in raising one’s quality of life. He spoke about how he was born into a very poor family, so much so that he would have to walk to his elementary school barefoot. With much effort he had managed to get into the University of the Philippines, although his education there was put on hold by the outbreak of World War II. He spoke about how he was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor by the Japanese junta after he was caught as a member of the resistance movement, and how a lucky break set him free: during the Japanese foundation day, his name was the first to be drawn during a prisoner release lottery. Immediately after his release, he rejoined the guerrilla movement.

Eventually he was able to complete his education and pass (read: top) the Bar, and he continued his education in Harvard Law School, after which he was offered a fellowship in Yale. He then returned to the Philippines to serve his country. His point in sharing this was that none of his achievements would have been possible without his education, and that education would solve many of our country’s problems.

We asked him about the subject of debate: What comes first, being a good lawmaker or a good debater? He replied that one can be a good debater without being a lawmaker, although being a good debater would help a lot in being a lawmaker. And what makes a good debater? Knowledge of the subject matter and solid logic, he replied. During this conversation, he uttered one of the most memorable things he said:

People can decide, even the little forgotten people. They have minds. But now there are those in politics who do not use their minds but their money. It is this money politics that makes our government so disreputable.

He went on to say that if everyone had the opportunity for good education, people would learn to be self-sufficient and would not need to fall prey to this insidious money politics, and such politicians would fall out of favor. If wealth was distributed properly, money politics would lose its strength and corruption would die a natural death. Education is one good way to ensure wealth is distributed properly.

Our president says that we have control over our economy due to the GNP. But most of this GNP goes to the wealthy, and not to the little people.

He encouraged the students to make the most of their education and the opportunities it affords to help the country become a better place. I felt that after meeting such a man, the students would remember his words.

The boss went on to ask the Senator if he would run for president once more.

*chuckles* I already ran for president once, and lost!

One would think there isn’t much to be learned from an old man who is no longer fit to be in politics. But as V said, ideas are bulletproof, and I would like to believe, are age-proof as well, as long as they prove to be immortal. The old Senator may not remain much longer on this Earth, but I believe that the ideas that he inspired in the eighteen of us who visited him this morning will burn brighter and live longer than our physical forms–ideas that remain powerful despite their cloak of humility, despite their mantle of honor.

As we bade the Senator a good day, the boss thanked him.

(Boss): It has been an honor, sir, to be in the company of greatness.
Sen. Salonga: *chuckles* I am only pretending.
(Boss): You truly are the best president we never had.
Sen. Salonga: *chuckles* I am merely a pretender.

That a Living Legend May Never Be Forgotten,
Your Black Lion

PS: I apologize for the lousy picture resolution. My camera was very low on power when I took these, and it gave up the ghost right after I took the last image. I can post better pics soon, c/o Simon.


~ by J. R. R. Flores on September 6, 2007.

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