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10 Statesmen We Wish Were Still Living Today

They are the ones we need; sadly, we will never have them again
by Ed Ramos | Apr 28, 2016
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"A politician thinks about the next election. The statesman thinks about the next generation.”
—James Freeman Clarke (19th century author and abolitionist)

Statesmen are a big cut above politicians, who seek office for power or opportunity. While no one is perfect, a statesman rises above circumstance and his objectives are often bigger than himself. What matters to him are his accomplishments, not platitudes. His principles will not allow him to put himself first and above the public. They seek truth and are steadfast in their stand. They are the ones we need; sadly, we will never have them again.



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Being poor is no excuse to let life beat you. If it did, Jovito Salonga would not have amounted to anything, being born to a market vendor mother and a Presbyterian pastor father. Still, supporting himself through school, he took up Law in the University of the Philippines (UP), his studies disrupted only when World War II broke out.

Now, a war with the Japanese may be a big deterrent, especially if, like Salonga, one was captured, tortured, and sentenced to hard labor. Still, he was so brilliant that, post-war, he topped the bar exams, along with fellow statesman Jose Diokno; both earned a grade of 95.3 percent. Salonga later earned law degrees from Harvard and Yale Law School.

Putting his country before himself, Salonga declined an offer to teach at Yale and came home to serve the country as congressman then senator until Martial Law was declared in 1972.

Salonga's life was eventually put in danger when he exposed corruption under the Marcos administration. Hailed as the "Nation's Fiscalizer," he was among those seriously injured at the Plaza Miranda bombing in 1971. Surviving the attack was one thing, losing an eye and several fingers was another. But there's more: bloodied and near-dead, a bomb shrapnel was lodged millimeters away from his aorta. A miracle survivor with shades of Tony Stark. Minus the Arc Reactor, of course.

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He continued opposing martial rule, and was arrested and detained without any warrant of arrest or charges. "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," he once said.

After the Marcos ouster in 1986, he headed the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG), which ran after ill-gotten wealth accumulated by the former president and his cronies. As Senate President, Salonga gave the tiebreaking vote in rejecting a new treaty that would extend the stay of the US naval base in Subic. This proved an unpopular decision to the business community, which withdrew their support for his failed presidential bid.

Still, in service of the people, he authored Republic Act 7080 or the Anti-Plunder Law in 1991. This paved the way for cases to be filed against former presidents Joseph Estrada and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, three incumbent senators, and the seeming best friend-to-the-crooks, Janet Napoles.

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Salonga died just last March 10 due to cardiac arrest. His dedication to serving the country and its people is his lasting legacy and, to us, what we'd really like to see in the future leaders of our nation.


"Our land is beautiful and rich. We have all the resources we need. But yet most of my people are poor and suffered hardship and oppression." —Jose W. Diokno

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Back in '70s Philippines, opposing Martial Law was likely to get one jailed, or even killed. So why did people do it? It simply had to be done.

Born in Manila on February 26, 1922, Jose Diokno's anti-Martial Law stand landed him at a Fort Bonifacio jail for two years without any charges or court trial.

If Diokno can be detained in this manner, imagine what was being done to, as he said in a documentary, "those who have absolutely no political ideology to speak of but who were simply fighting for their human rights—farmers, squatters, students, workers..." Apparently they were being treated the same way. He vowed that if he ever does get out of prison, he would try to do something about it.

"No cause is more worthy than the cause of human rights... they are what makes a man human," he stated. "Deny them and you deny man's humanity."

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A son of a former senator and Justice of the Supreme Court, he graduated summa cum laude with a commerce degree from the De La Salle University at only 17 years old. He had to secure special dispensation before being allowed to take the CPA board exams, which he eventually topped.

Honoring his father's wishes, he then took up law at the University of Santo Tomas (UST). After the war, he took the bar exams in 1944, under special dispensation by the Supreme Court because he didn't have a law degree. He topped the exams again.

The days of Martial Law are the darkest in our nation's history, marked with so much violence. Despite the atmosphere of fear, Diokno instilled in people the courage to fight. Far from vigilante justice popular in comic books, he did not believe in violence but only in what is just and right, so he fought against Marcos until the EDSA revolt of 1986 toppled the dictatorship.

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In 1984, Diokno had been diagnosed with terminal lung cancer due to prolonged smoking. He died on February 27, 1987, a day after his 65th birthday.

He may be long gone but he will forever be known as a defender of the oppressed. Now, don't you just hate it when people just show up at your house? Not Diokno, who helped human rights victims that knocked on his door seeking help. Even when he fell ill, he insisted on personally handling their cases. So your headache is a lame excuse for not showing up to work. Unlike traditional politicians who were only good in rhetorics and broken promises, Diokno is a man of action. Do you know of anyone today who comes close?



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Mention the word labor and kids today would most likely think #LaBoracay. For overseas Filipino workers, they think of one man: Blas Ople. In fact, his name is widely synonymous to his service to laborers that the POEA building along Ortigas, EDSA is named after him.

Born on February 3, 1927 in Hagonoy, Bulacan, Ople—popularly known as Ka Blas—was the son of a poor boat craftsman and a simple housewife. He, too, went through the hardships of war. He said in an interview, "The war tested my character, and I was happy this happened. It would color my views of public service for the rest of my life."

He didn't finish college, but he did not bum around. He became a Daily Mirror columnist, then a technical assistant on labor and agrarian reforms during the time of President Ramon Magsaysay. Later, he became labor secretary under Pres. Ferdinand Marcos, and the first Filipino president of the International Labor Organization.

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So you dream of that cushy job abroad when you graduate? A lot of Filipinos also do, but more for survival. And this has gone on for a long time. During Ople's tenure, one of his greatest achievements was authoring the Labor Code of the Philippines, which, to this day, continues to protect the rights of Filipino workers. He spearheaded the Overseas Employment Program, which helped millions; and the National Manpower and Youth Council, now TESDA, which offers programs for training skilled workers.

Despite working under Marcos for 17 years, his name was not tainted with allegations of corruption. Under Marcos rule, that's pretty unusual as most government officials then were perceived corrupt. This proves he is a man of principle, and worth emulating. Post-Marcos, he was appointed in the drafting of 1986 Constitutional Commission, and later became Senate President.

Like some of our OCWs who die while working abroad, Ople met his own death when he, too, was in one of his official foreign trips. On the way to Bahrain, it was believed that he had heart attack. He died at 79 in a hospital in Taiwan.

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We consider OCWs as our nation's new heroes; with what he's done for them, Ka Blas ought to be called the hero of Filipino laborers.



He was considered as one of the most brilliant and courageous human rights lawyer in the Marcos era. It was also during that time—up until 1986—that he handled more human rights cases than any other lawyer. In an in-your-face show of badassery, he used his great skills to defend anti-Marcos political detainees such as Ninoy Aquino, Jose Ma. Sison, Salonga, and Nene Pimentel, to name a few. Along with other human rights lawyers, he formed FLAG, the Free Legal Assistance Group.

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Born on January 5, 1927 in Naga, Camarines Sur, Joker Arroyo got his nickname because of his father's fondness for playing cards. But his political career is not a game of chance; and no one is laughing at this Joker's name, either.

A graduate of UP College of Law in 1952, he was the first one to file a petition against the proclamation of Martial Law in court. A pretty gutsy move that must have been a real thorn on Marcos' side.

When he became the Executive Secretary under Pres. Cory Aquino's administration, he was dubbed the "Little President," proof of his stature in Malacañan. After a year and a half, he served as Congressman for three terms (nine years) with a perfect attendance record—a feat not even Manny Pacquiao could beat.

It was during his last term as Congressman that he rose in prominence anew as the lead prosecutor at the impeachment trial of Pres. Estrada in 2001 for charges of perjury and plunder. "We cannot have a country run by a thief like him," he said at the time.

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The trial furthered his reputation and earned him a seat in the Senate, which he kept for 12 years.

A true statesman in every way, he remained without any political affiliations. He was consistently voted by media as the Outstanding Congressman of the Year. He was said to never have traveled abroad using government funds; and based on his SALN report, his earnings as a public official remained the same from the time he entered public office in 1986. Impressive, and a tough act to follow.

At age 88, Joker Arroyo succumbed to heart attack.




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"Let's DOH It!" This is the most successful campaign—and catchiest slogan—of Juan Flavier as Health secretary, which provided health services to the the poor.

Flavier was born in Tondo, Manila to a very poor family. He got his medical degree from UP Manila in 1960 and his Masters in Public Health from Johns Hopkins University in 1969.

A charming, witty man who stood only at 4'11", Flavier was one of the most beloved and down-to-earth public officials in the country during his time. Calling himself just a "barrio doctor," he always made people laugh even on his medical missions.

His other prominent projects were Yosi Kadiri, an anti-smoking campaign; Oplan Alis Disease, a polio vaccine program and the Sangkap Pinoy campaign against micronutrient malnutrition.

However, his anti-HIV/AIDS campaign, wherein he distributed of condoms to Filipinos, earned him an exaggerated label of "agent of Satan" from the late Archbishop of Manila Cardinal Sin. A touchy subject for the Catholics, indeed.

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His immense popularity easily made him win the senatorial elections. But he never aspired for the presidency, saying he "did not have the fire in his belly" for it. If only other politicians knew when enough is enough.

Flavier retired after his tenure and lived in his old house he's owned since the '60s. In an age when every public official is slapped with a case of corruption or reputed to be mooching off public funds, Flavier did not take office to fatten up his wallet. Based on his SALN reports, he was consistently the "poorest" among the senators—shocking indeed.

It is unfortunate that he died at age 79 on October 30, 2014 due to pneumonia. Who knows, he could have invented a drug for politicians afflicted with amnesia (who keep forgetting their campaign promises) and kleptomania (for those who like to pocket public funds). 



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Touted "the best president we never had," Raul Roco devoted his career to the education of Filipinos, the welfare of their families, and the protection of women and children in the society.

Born in Naga City on October 26, 1941, he graduated magna cum laude with Bachelor of Arts degree from San Beda College in 1960, and obtained his Bachelor of Laws degree in 1964 from the same college.

In the mid '80s, he was a legal staff of Ninoy Aquino and drafted the "Study Now, Pay Later" Law. As congressman he provided the legal and constitutional bases for the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program. As a lawmaker, he authored the Women in Nation Building Law; The Nursing Act; The Anti-Sexual Harassment Law; Anti-Rape Law; and The Child and Family Courts Act.

As a true blue statesman, his tenure as Education secretary in 2001 proved pivotal for the agency. He cleaned ranks and removed dishonest officials in the then-widely corrupt agency, and made purchase of textbooks open and transparent. Within just eight months, it became the most trusted agency in the country.

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He aspired for the presidency in 2004 and was even a frontrunner in pre-election surveys. He promised to implement the Ganzon Law authored by Sen. Rodolfo Ganzon, which gives free basic education for every Filipino. Apparently, the law was passed in the '60s but, strangely, never implemented.

But sadly, he was forced to leave the campaign trail due to his recurring prostate cancer. And on August 5, 2005, Raul Roco passed away at the age of 63.

Had he lived on, maybe there would be more educated people, and politicians (and their bag of promises) can no longer fool them on their campaign trail. 



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Born on May 27, 1958 in Naga City, Jesse Robredo obtained his undergraduate degrees in Industrial Management Engineering and Mechanical Engineering at La Salle.

He became the youngest mayor at 29 and served for 19 years. During that time, Naga was transformed into one of the "Most Improved Cities in Asia," as cited by Asiaweek Magazine in 1999. He was awarded the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Government Service in 2000, the first Filipino mayor honored.

Robredo was a real man of action. More concerned about service than personal image, his OOTD is always simple and even practical—it may not be Instagram-worthy, but if you care more about looks in the face of other people's problems, man, you are heartless.

He lived an ordinary life, and his demeanor is far from the feeling-VIP entitlement of most traditional politicians who disgustingly flaunt wealth, power, a bevy of bodyguards, and so much more. You know who they are; most smile at you from their epal posters or TV guesting.

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Robredo's humility endeared him to his constituents; his government colleagues remember him not minding doing the "little unheralded and unglamorous things."

"Naalala ko nun nagbaha dito sa Naga, tapos siya nakaapak lang yan nag-aano ng basura," recalled one of his constituents in a documentary. "Yan ang unang mayor na naalala namin na nagdadakot ng basura."

In 2010, he was appointed as Department of Interior and Local Government secretary by Pres. Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III. Two years later, Robredo met his untimely death on August 18, 2012. The plane he was in plunged into the Masbate Sea, killing him and his two pilots.

Rather than extinguish his light, his death revealed to many his effectivity in service. He instantly became an icon of good governance. While his early demise was a great loss to the country, he is a role model we hope our public servants could emulate.



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Even as a kid, Lorenzo Tañada showed signs of being a "tibak" (activist). In fifth grade, he joined the protest against their American principal who forced students to build a playground during weekends. If he were a kid in school today, bullies would not stand a chance.

Known as the "Grand Old Man of Philippine Politics," Tañada was born on August 10, 1898 in Gumaca, Quezon. He finished his law degrees in UP, UST, and Harvard University.

Another WWII survivor, in 1972 he also fought against Martial Law, questioning the legality of its proclamation after studying its implications. "You cannot remove sovereignty, independence and well-being from the people otherwise they will just be merely slaves," he argued.

As legislator, he sponsored anti-graft and corruption bills requiring government officials to make public their assets and liabilities. We could imagine the collective groan from his unscrupulous colleagues. It may not have totally hindered politicos stealing public funds and pocketing huge sums from, say, the construction of ridiculously overpriced ugly buildings, but it is a measure that's been put in place, needing better implementation.

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Apart from authoring laws protecting laborers, like the Tañada Picketing Law, he also organized the Anti-Bases Coalition and other groups against the presence of American troops in the Philippines. He also showed his support, and received a standing ovation from the senate, after rejecting the extension treaty of Subic Naval Base in 1991.

But we never learn, do we? The Visiting Forces Agreement later brought back the Americans here—something Tañada would certainly be disappointed about.

Tañada died on May 23, 1992 at the age of 93 on the way to the hospital. He had been undergoing kidney dialysis days prior.



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Gerardo "Gerry" Roxas was born in Manila on August 25, 1925 to the late Pres. Manuel Acuña Roxas of Capiz and Doña Trinidad de Leon. For those not in the know, he is the father of former DILG secretary and presidential aspirant Mar Roxas.

A graduate of UP Law, Roxas served as congressman of Capiz in 1957, and senator under the Liberal Party in 1963. He authored so many important bills that he was consistently voted one of the country's outstanding senators by various publications.

Aside from being a great leader, he had awesome oratorical skills he developed as a UP student leader. It is said that a great speaker is a charismatic leader; fortunately Roxas used his skills and charisma for something positive. He united the disgruntled Filipinos in their fight for the restoration of our freedom, establishing the UNIDO party to aid in this goal.

Another political leader in opposition to the declaration of Martial Law, it was unfortunate that Roxas never lived long enough to see the Marcos dictatorship toppled in 1986. He passed away on April 19, 1982 at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City due to liver tumor complications. He was 58 years old.

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Have you experienced being insulted by a foreigner just because you're a Filipino and stand just a little more than five feet? Many may have been subjected to that, but it was surprising that it actually happened to a UN diplomat, Carlos Romulo.

The same Carlos Romulo who said this: "I had to be outstanding, to make the greatest effort to win, to prove I was capable... not in spite of having been born a Filipino... but because I was a Filipino."

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Filipinos are height-challenged, that much is true. At 5'4", he often made fun of his own height. As the first Asian ever to become president of United Nations in 1948, he joked that he had to be "perched atop three thick New York City telephone books" just to see and be seen by the delegates below the podium.

General Carlos Peña Romulo, son of a Filipino guerrilla fighter, was born in Camiling, Tarlac on January 14, 1898. He was with Gen. Douglas MacArthur during his historic return to Leyte in 1944. As Romulo waded the waters, one correspondent asked how he could do so in that depth without drowning. Again, discrimination.

At the third UN General Assembly, Romulo once strongly disagreed with a proposal made by the Soviet delegation. He was referred to as "a little man from a little country." In one badass moment he fired back, "It is the duty of the little Davids of this world to fling the pebbles of truth in the eyes of the blustering Goliaths and force them to behave!" The Soviet delegates sat silenced.

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How many of our politicians today have the balls and guts to say such statements to other foreign leaders?

Romulo was known for expressing his views on various international issues. He would argue seemingly small matters even against a high official. When the UN seal was being created, he asked where the Philippines was. Some US senator said putting our country on it would be "no more than a dot." Romulo said he wanted that dot. He got it—a tiny speck between the Pacific Ocean and the South China Sea.

This well-awarded statesman, who served eight presidents from Manuel Quezon to Marcos, became the most admired Filipino in international diplomacy of the 20th Century. He was named by Asiaweek as "A Man of His Century"—that is something we ought to consider in choosing our next leaders.

He died on December 15, 1985 at 87. His remains lie at the Libingan ng mga Bayani.

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