What I've Learned

"A nation of sheep can never be great."—Sen. Jovito R. Salonga

The late statesman is hailed by many as the greatest President we never had.
IMAGE Steve Salonga via The Presidential Museum and Library on Flickr


1920-2016, former Senate President, statesman, and lawyer


Freedom is the bedrock of human dignity, the one value we should never compromise or surrender. Freedom is the catalyst in all our efforts toward national development; it is the precondition and the objective of our collective endeavor. For a nation of sheep can never be great.

Independence, like freedom, is never granted. It is always asserted and affirmed. Its defense is an everyday endeavor—sometimes in the field of battle, oftentimes in the contest of conflicting wills and ideas. It is a daily struggle that may never end—for as long as we live.

We cannot and do not deserve freedom unless we are prepared to fight for it, to suffer for it and, if necessary, to die for it.

In our history as a nation, our best years were when we took our destiny in our own hands and faced the uncertain future with boldness and hope and faith.

Yes, we are prepared to forgive and reconcile—but only after truth is recognized and justice is served. 

What they really want is for us to forget the ugly past instead of facing it and doing something about it—they want us to forget the torture, the salvaging, the disappearances, the executions and assassinations, on top of the plunder of the nation’s wealth, the extortions, the larcenies, and the acts of corruption. Ngunit hindi tayo maaring makalimot.

The question may be asked: Are we not willing to forgive and reconcile with those who caused us so much grief and misery? Yes, we are prepared to forgive and reconcile—but only after truth is recognized and justice is served. Truth and justice first, then forgiveness and reconciliation later for the sake of national unity. For forgiveness without truth is an empty ritual, and reconciliation without justice is meaningless, and worse, and invitation to more abuses in the future.


Kung ang tawag diyan sa Libingan [ng Mga Bayan] ay ‘Libingan ng Mga Sundalo’, hindi kami lalaban. Sapagkat naging sundalo din, naging guerilla si [Ferdinand] Marcos. Pero para sabihin mong “Libingan ng Mga Bayani”, mayroong kasinungalingan diyan. Hindi naman bayani si Marcos.

Without justice, freedom is illusory. On the other hand, there can be no peace—real lasting peace—without justice. And as our collective experience teaches us, without freedom, public order is no more than tyranny.

Honesty is a basic ethical and moral virtue. Government cannot function at all if the people no longer believe the statements of their high public officials. If public officials are perceived to be dishonest, citizens cannot be expected to be honest in their dealings with the Government and with one another.

Laws are made by men, interpreted by men, and administered by men. And as long as this is so, justice cannot be blind.

To think that there is ethics in politics, a field where self-interest, treachery, double-dealing, trickery and lack of candor are the prevailing trademarks—iyan ay para lamang sa mga natalong kandidato na katulad ni Salonga.

All human structures should be open to the corrective influence of inquiry, criticism, and constant appraisal. But such a process is available only where all the members of the community have adequate access to facts regarding the matters of public interest. The right to know the truth is basic in an open society.

The temptations of power are such that power corrodes and corrupts and blinds even the best of men; and it is to the health and to the good of the country that the party in power, with all the patronage and public wealth at its command, be put in constant check of a critical opposition.

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To my mind, the people have a legitimate right to complain whenever there is betrayal of public trust, for it is the duty of public men, particularly in positions of great responsibility to lead in upholding high standards of official behavior. [...] This indignation shows that we have not lost our sense of values.

The preservation of a minimal standard of order is basic in any organized society; without order, one cannot enjoy the essentials of life with some kind of assurance that someone will not deprive him by force of it. But too much stress on order may mean the dissipation of freedom—the freedom to pursue our respective occupations, the freedom to trade and engage in business, the freedom to inquire and to know, the freedom to seek truth according to our best lights, the freedom to speak and to worship and to believe. Law, then, in a free society of free men is system of reconciliation—the reconciliation of order with liberty.

Far more important than the making of a living, is a living of life—a good life, a meaningful life, an abundant life.

It is often said that in a democracy, the government is one of laws and not of men. The meaning is that the mighty and the weak should be under the law, with equal rights and with equal protection. Justice is blind, without regard to whether one is poor or lowly. This is all fine and good, except for the fact that laws are made by men, interpreted by men, and administered by men. And as long as this is so, justice cannot be blind.

One of the most unfortunate things in this country is that so much is read by so many who do not know what to read.


It is precisely because the problems of this our world and time are so critical and the tasks so demanding that it becomes your peculiar, unavoidable responsibility to get into the stream of things and relate your assets and resources to the needs of the nation.

Far more important than the making of a living, is a living of life—a good life, a meaningful life, an abundant life.

One becomes a great scientist, an able lawyer, or a noted writer, only because he is first—and preeminently—a good man.



These quotations were taken from various writings, speeches, and interviews with the late Senator Jovito R. Salonga, including The Task of Building a Better Nation and The Educated Man.

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