Speech at the felicitation of Senator Jovi Salonga by the

Philippine Liberal Party and the Council of Asian Liberals and Democrats

On the occasion of the inauguration of

Philippine President Benigno Aquino III

By Prof Rajiva Wijesinha

Chairman of the Council of Asian Liberals and Democrats

Let me begin by thanking the Philippine Liberal Party, and so many of its Presidents gathered here, for sharing such a memorable occasion with your fellow members of the Council of Asian Liberals and Democrats. Today is really a great day for us external  delegates because, while all of you members of the Philippine Liberal Party  have had the pleasure of knowing and listening to Senator Salonga previously, some of us knew him before only by reputation. When I was young, many years ago, we had certain icons of Asian Democracy and, amongst these, all the names that we heard of during the struggle against the Marcos regime have always reverberated in my mind.

So it is an extreme pleasure today to have been able to meet one of the shining stars of that time. And then, a few years later, following the replacement of Marcos by President Corazon Aquino, we also had the situation where, after the restoration of democracy, many of us thrilled to the struggle for national liberation which still continued. At that time the name of Senator Salonga became synonymous with the decision of the Philippines to ask the Americans very politely to leave the bases they had owned here previously. And let me say that I think those steps were very important, because what I might call the more civilized nature of western engagement with the third world springs from decisions like that. You remember the support which was highlighted  today that America gave to regimes like that of President Marcos in the old days when democratic values did not matter in comparison with partisan support, In such a context we had to say that we wanted more from what was supposed to be an alliance, we need to work with you, but we need to work with you on our terms, not on yours.

And I think your decision then, Senator Salonga, your success in withstanding pressure, as he has described it today, from one of your successors as a later leader of the Liberal Party, Senator Franklin Drilon – and who finds it easy to resist Senator Drilon when he is in a tough mood? – was vital for an emerging democracy. For your success in that, and the acknowledgment by all parties of national sovereignty, made it clear generally to us in Asia that the restoration of democracy had to be accompanied  by self respect.

In listening today to the celebration of your senior President by other Presidents of the Party, let me note that that I realized that there is one vital secret about becoming President of the Philippine Liberal Party. You have to be taller than your predecessor. But, watching that progression, I am not sure where President Mar Roxas is going to find someone taller than himself. Certainly when he does so, it will certainly be impossible to fit all your Presidents, let alone the whole party, into a Volkswagen as it was claimed many years ago was possible.

But along with physical progress, there has also been substantial intellectual progress and maturing of the party. And though I have had the pleasure of watching this over the years, during the long association between the Sri Lankan Liberal Party and the Philippine one, I now have the pleasure too of understanding more clearly the great inspirations that Senator Salonga has been to you throughout. I should note that we feel an even greater affinity perhaps to you than to others, because I think we are the only two members of CALD that specifically use the term ‘Liberal’ in our title. I am glad therefore also today to pay tribute to former and now current Congressman Raul Daza, back in your capital now after a stint as Governor of his Home Province, for he was an inspiration to us in Sri Lanka to establish the Liberal Party, he attended our first major anniversary, and was instrumental in helping us develop international contacts.

Raul is now a senior member of the party, though not as senior as Senator Salonga – who however perhaps claims greater seniority than he really possesses. I spoke to him earlier when he was pretending, sitting over there in the ante-room, to be 90 years old, and very frail, speaking very softly. And then suddenly I heard him give his speech now, and realized that indeed, if he is 90, life begins at 90. The strength of his voice, the clarity of his remarks, the brilliant ability to sum up so much of experience in a way that communicated itself to all of us suggested the enormous humanity behind the man of tremendous principle as well.

I am very grateful therefore for the opportunity to be here today to be able to participate in this celebration as well as the inauguration of your new President, and to share with all the Presidents of the Liberal Party and all of you, your great success at this time, and to honour one of the fountainheads of that success. Thank you.

Manila, June 28 2010

Speech at the felicitation of Senator Jovi Salonga