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Hidden Heroes: Jovito Salonga

Jovito Salonga via alchetron.com

Jovito “Jovy” Salonga was the youngest of five brothers born into poverty in the Philippine Islands. His father was a Presbyterian minister, and his mother was a street vendor. In spite of living in poverty, Jovy and his brothers were encouraged to get an education.

Jovy was in his final year of law school when World War II began. He dropped out of law school to work with the resistance movement against the Japanese.  He was captured and tortured by the Japanese military police.

When World War II ended, Jovy decided to take the bar exam and received a record high score. While he was licensed to practice law in the Philippines, he decided to further his education in America. He earned his Master’s degree at Harvard and a doctorate at Yale. He could have stayed in America to teach law, but decided to return home to help with the Philippine post-war reconstruction.

After a short time in academia, Jovy decided to run for the Philippine Congress as a member of the Liberal Party. His campaign was based upon lifting up those who were living in poverty. His campaign was a huge success, and he won the election. When his term expired, he ran and won a seat in the Senate.

In the Senate, Jovy fought against the corruption of the Marcos regime. When he was speaking at a rally of Liberal Party followers, two hand grenades were thrown on the stage. Nine spectators were killed. Jovy was gravely injured and was given a 5% chance of survival. He did survive, but lost sight in one eye and hearing in one ear. He was arrested while recovering and jailed for a year.

Jovy and his wife fled to the US when he got out of jail. In the US he developed a plan for ousting the Marcos administration and restoring democracy to the Philippines. The plan was successful and Marcos was driven from power.

In the years that followed, Jovy became the Senate President and spearheaded important legislation for ensuring the reforms became permanent. His political career came to an end in 1991 when he fought against, and defeated the renewal of a treaty that gave the US control of vital Philippine assets, the renewal of which was heavily supported by then President Aquino and the Philippine business community..

With his political career at an end, Jovy continued his work for democracy into his 90s. He never personally benefitted from his positions. He passed away at the age of 95.

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“Some people make history, others write it.  But there is a rare handful who, in writing – and in speaking – make history.  These are the ones who illuminate the issues, and in so doing move men to answer them with noble actions.” Philippine Senator Joker P. Arroyo, speaking in honor of Jovito Salonga