There is ample justification, I believe, for the statement that emotionalism has beclouded and confused the North Borneo question. There are Filipinos who summarily adopt the my-country-right-or-wrong attitude; in specific terms, they tell us, “Let us have North Borneo by all means,” little realizing that by such a hasty, imprudent posture they render no little disservice to the very cause they propose to champion.

At the other end of the line are the faint-hearted souls who cherish a host of vague, nameless fears, and who have not stopped imagining the catastrophic, nuclear wars into which the Philippines would be drawn should it so much as attempt to press the claim to North Borneo, regardless of the merit or validity of such a claim. Responsible quarters confess to no little measure of amusement over the unrestrained enthusiasm, on the one hand, of home-grown nationalists in supporting claims — without adequate study of their validity — of sister countries in Asia over territories held by Western powers, and their unconcealed dread, on the other hand, in espousing a claim — without the slightest inquiry into its possible merit — over a portion of the globe’s surface which may belong as a matter of law and equity to Filipinos.

A good number of friends have asked me to deliver what they call an “impassioned speech” on the question, but I had felt that the time was not ripe and that the whole issue should be studied in an atmosphere of dispassion and restraint. I felt and still feel that the restoration of prudence and sobriety in the conduct of our foreign policy is a matter of cardinal importance. In the language of one world statesman, foreign policy is not only what we do, but how we do it.

If the Philippine claim to North Borneo is valid, we should — despite our standing as a young, physically weak nation — institute and press the claim in accordance with the accepted peaceful modes of settlement prescribed by international law and procedure. If, despite the assumed knowledge of the validity and justice of the Philippine claim, we fold our arms in mortal fear, we should lose not merely the respect of all law-abiding nations (the United Kingdom and the Asian countries in particular), but also a considerable measure of self-respect — which, to my mind, is more important — and, by our own inaction and timidity, lose our faith in the ultimate validity of that which is right and just. If, on the other hand, we come to the conclusion that the Philippine claim is without basis, then we should say so and let the British Government know our stand. Such candor and probity will undoubtedly inspire the respect of the entire free world.

It is partly because of the well known regard of the British Government for the rule of law, and partly because of our deep-seated respect for the British institutions of law and order, that I have requested the Department of Foreign Affairs to make a careful, thoroughgoing study of the question and, if morally convinced of the merit of the Philippine claim, to institute and prosecute this claim through all peaceful processes, including diplomatic negotiations, good offices, commission of inquiry, arbitration, or resort to the International Court of Justice. There need be no fear of breach of amicable relations between the United Kingdom and the Philippines. Both are members in good standing of the United Nations; both are committed to the rule of law and to the necessity of maintaining a society of free men. On the other hand, the peaceful solution of the North Borneo question may well be a distinct Anglo-Philippine contribution, so sorely needed at a time such as this, where instead of a precarious equilibrium of terror as a temporary stabilizing factor in international relations, there should emerge more instances of healthy respect for law and for more voluntary arrangements among nations so that the moral force of right may be made to prevail over the right of might.

Friendly countries will therefore understand why the Filipinos view with deep concern any move on the part of the United Kingdom, in advance of the institution of such a claim, to render academic the North Borneo question through extra-legal means. For instance, a dispatch from Kuala Lumpur. Malaya, published in the New York Times issue of February 7, 1962. states and I quote:

“KUALA LUMPUR, Malaya, Feb. 6. — A political merger under a strong central government has been recommended by the Malaysian Solidarity Committee.

”The five-state merger would create a federation of Malaya, Singapore Island — which is linked to Malaya by a three-quarter mile causeway — and the Northern Borneo territories of Sarawak, Brunei and British North Borneo.

“A British and Malayan commission, headed by Lord Cobbold, former Governor of the Bank of England, is due to arrive in Borneo soon to inquire into public opinion in Sarawak and British North Borneo concerning the merger. Both are crown colonies. Brunei is a British protectorate, and its Government will deal directly with the Federation of Malaya and with London.”

One may well inquire: — why this plan of a merger at a time such as this? At any rate, and without considering such a development, let us consider the facts.

1 . There is no controversy regarding one historical fact: namely, that in 1850, the Sultan of Brunei, in gratitude for the aid he received during war from the Sultan of Sulu, ceded North Borneo to the latter.

II. In January, 1878, the Sultan of Sulu entered into an agreement with two representatives of a private British company, namely, Gustavus Baron de Overbeck and Alfred Dent. It is at this point where controversy arises.

There are, to be sure, several versions of the agreement and quite a number of translations of said agreement. One group of heirs of the Sultan of Sulu submitted a certified translation of a Spanish text of the agreement, dated January 4, 1878, which in turn is a translation of the original in Arabic. Under this document, the Sultan of Sulu merely concluded a contract of lease with Baron de Overbeck and Alfred Dent, and granted to Mr. Overbeck the title of “Datto Padajara Rajah de Sandakan” as long as he might live, with the right to levy taxes on the said land, exploit its ores, forest products and animals, administer justice and collect dues and taxes from the traders of said towns. There are also in the files of the Department of Foreign Affairs several English translations (Conklin translation; Saleeby translation on the “History of Sulu” pp. 225-233; Decision of High Court of Borneo citing translation in “Treaties and Engagements affecting the Malay States,” by Maxwell and Gibson), which invariably use the terms “lease,’ “cede” and “grant.”

On the other hand, a document purporting to be the British text of the agreement, kept in the files of the British North Borneo Company in London, would seem to show that the Sultan of Sulu ceded and granted to Overbeck and Dent on January 22, 1878,

“all the rights and powers belonging to me over all the territories and lands being tributary to us on the mainland on the Island of Borneo”

in consideration of a yearly compensation of 5,000 dollars, together “with all other powers and rights usually exercised by and belonging to Sovereign Rulers, and which we hereby delegate to him of our own free and sovereign will.”

III. On November 1, 1881, the British Government granted a Charter to the British North Borneo Company which, after a recital of the terms of agreement between the Sultan of Sulu and the two representatives of the Company, empowered the Company to acquire full benefit of the said “grant” and “benefits.” Accordingly, Baron de Overbeck and Alfred Dent turned over their rights to the British North Borneo Company, which continued paying the stipulated 5,000 Malayan dollars.

IV. In 1915, Governor Frank Carpenter, head of the Mindanao and Sulu division of the Philippine Government, defined the stand of the United States vis-a-vis the Sultan’s temporal and ecclesiastical jurisdiction over the territories of the Sultanate beyond American jurisdiction, particularly those in North Borneo. He stated and I quote:

“It is necessary, however, that there be clearly of official record the fact that the termination of the temporal sovereignty of the Sultanate of Sulu within the American territory is understood to be wholly without prejudice or effect as to the temporal sovereignty and ecclesiastical authority of the Sultanate beyond the territorial jurisdiction of the U.S. Government, especially with reference to that portion of the Island of Borneo which as a dependency of the Sultanate of Sulu is understood to be held under lease by the chartered company (known) as the British North Borneo Company.”

V. In 1939. a group of heirs of the Sultan filed suit in the court of North Borneo against the Government of North Borneo and the British North Borneo Company for the recovery of the stipulated annual payments. Both defendants admitted their obligation to pay, the only issue being — in view of reported dispute among the heirs — to whom payment was to be made. The High Court of the State of North Borneo, through Chief Justice Macaskie, rendered judgment in favor of the heirs on December 18, 1939.

Crucial Question:

VI. On July 10, 1946, six days after the Philippines became independent, the British Government, by virtue of an alleged agreement between the Secretary of State for the colonies and the British North Borneo Company dated June 6, 1946 — whereby the Company “have transferred and ceded all the said rights, powers and interests to the Crown with effect from the 15th day of July, 1946, to the intent that the Crown should, as from that day, have full sovereign rights over, and title to, the territory of the State of North Borneo, and that the said territory, should thereupon become part of His Majesty’s dominions” — announced, by what is now known as the “North Borneo Cession Order,” that from the 15th day of July, 1946, “the State of North Borneo shall be annexed to and shall form part of His Majesty’s dominions and shall be called, together with the Settlement of Labuan and its dependencies, the Colony of North Borneo.”

VII. On February 26, 1947, former Governor General Francis Burton Harrison (as Special Adviser on Foreign Affairs to the Philippine Government), in a special report to the President of the Philippines, considered this an act of political aggression, “which should be promptly repudiated by the Government,” since it was done by the British Government “unilaterally and without special notice to the Sultanate of Sulu nor consideration of their legal rights.” He added:

“The proposal to lay the case before the United Nations should bring the whole matter before the bar of public opinion.

“Never in history has there been given any people such an opportunity to secure justice by an appeal to the enlightened conscience of mankind.”

VIII. In 1957, the heirs of the Sultan of Sulu issued a proclamation declaring the termination of the lease contract over the territory in question effective January 22, 1958. This declaration was served on the British Government. Since then, the heirs have made claims upon the British Government for the return of the territory, but their claims have been disregarded.

The crucial question, then, is one of ownership: Is ownership vested in the United Kingdom? Does the Philippines have any right to claim North Borneo?

In discussing this, I have taken careful note of the statements of the highest British officials and considered the views of English authorities on international law. In this way, we avoid pointless controversy since the British Government cannot possibly dispute, under the principle of estoppel, its own official stand. There may be a lot of wrangling over what is the authentic version of the agreement of 1878, but there can be no debate on the official British stand on that agreement.

At the time the agreement was entered into in 1878, the British North Borneo Company had no legal personality whatever. It was incorporated by Royal Charter only on November 1, 1881. It is important to note this, since admittedly in 1878, North Borneo was not under the territorial supremacy of any member of the Family of Nations.

Overbeck and Dent, therefore, acquired rights over North Borneo merely as private individuals and no more. Their purported acquisition of territory and “sovereignty” was therefore beyond the pale of International Law. Did the incorporation by Royal Charter of the British North Borneo Company in 1881 create a trading company with sovereign rights — even from the English viewpoint — over North Borneo? This was the very bone of contention between the Spanish and Dutch Governments, on the one hand, and the British Government, on the other, soon after the Royal Charter was granted the British North Borneo Co. It is a matter of record that the British Government had declared that it did not intend to acquire sovereign rights in North Borneo. But the Spanish and Dutch Governments protested that such a declaration was inconsistent with the grant of a Royal Charter to the British North Borneo Company, “invested with sovereign rights by the Native Chiefs of North Borneo, and subject, as regards the exercise of these rights, to the Supreme authority of Her Britannic Majesty’s Government.” The British Foreign Minister, Lord Earl Granville, in a correspondence to the British Minister at Madrid, Mr. Morier (No. 197), dated January 7, 1882, recapitulated “the circumstances under which Her Majesty’s Government acceded to the application of the Company for Incorporation by Royal Charter,” drew attention “to the special character of that Charter,” and explained “its legal effect.” Lord Granville said the British North Borneo Company was in fact established under three Charters: (1) the Charter and territorial concession from the Sultan of Sulu; (2) the Charter and territorial concession from the Sultan of Brunei; and (3) the British Charter of incorporation. Note the following significant passages from Lord Granville’s correspondence:

“The first two Charters, from the Sultans of Sulu and Brunei, are those under which the Company derive their title to the possession of the territories in question, and their authority to administer the government of those territories by delegation from the Sultans.

“The third Charter is the British Charter under which the Company have obtained incorporation and a recognition of her Majesty’s Government of their title to the territories granted. In return for incorporation by Royal Charter, and for the recognition of the Concessions, the Company have surrendered to Her Majesty’s Government various powers of control over their proceedings which, though of a negative character only, are sufficient for the prevention by Her Majesty’s Government of any abuse in the exercise of the authority conferred by the Sultans. It is important to bear in mind that no such control would have been reserved to the Crown had the Company taker, incorporation in the usual manner by registration under the Companies Acts, and elected to follow their own course independently of Government support.

“The British Charter therefore differs essentially from the previous Charters granted to the East India Company, the New Zealand Company, and other Associations of that character, in the fact that the Crown in the present case assumes no dominion or sovereignty over the territories occupied by the Company, nor does it purport to grant to the Company any powers of Government thereover; it merely confers upon the persons associated the status and incidents of a body corporate, and recognizes the grants of territory and the powers of government made and delegated by the Sultans in whom the sovereignty remains vested. It differs also from previous Charters, in that it prohibits instead of granting a general monopoly of trade.”

In thus differentiating the status of the British North Borneo Company, Lord Granville stated that “after very careful consideration of all the circumstances of the case Her Majesty’s Government decided that the Charter should be granted, and you will perceive from an examination of its provisions that its effect is to restrict and curtail the powers of the Company and not to create or enlarge them.”

In similarly repudiating the Dutch contention, Lord Granville stated that the territories “will be administered by the Company under the sovereignly of the Sultans of Brunei and Sulu, to whom they have agreed to pay a yearly tribute,” and that “the British Government assumes no sovereign rights whatever in Borneo.”

Much the same disclaimer was sounded by the famous Prime Minister, William Ewart Gladstone. Speaking in the House of Commons, he acknowledged that the “remarkable powers” obtained by the British North Borneo Company involved the “essence of sovereignty” but they were “covered by the Suzereignty of the Native Chief.” He declared that no greater obligation rested upon the Government to protect the Company than “to protect any other subject who might be in pursuit of objects not unlawful.”

These authoritative statements show, in brief:

1 . that Overbeck and Dent were not authorized by the British Government to acquire and administer North Borneo; they merely acted in their private individual capacity.

2. that the British North Borneo Company was not invested by the British Government with the public power of acquisition and administration of North Borneo, unlike the different trading companies chartered at the time.

3. that the British Government assumed no rights of sovereignty whatever in North Borneo; and

4. that the British Government explicitly acknowledged the sovereignty and title of the Sultan of Sulu over North Borneo.


The classic British text on International Law, a Treatise on International Law by Oppenheim (7th edition, edited by Lauterpacht, 1948), gives us the significance in International Law of the above facts. Oppenheim states that where an individual or a corporation acquires land in countries which are not under the territorial supremacy of a member of the Family of Nations, such acquisition of territory and sovereignty thereon “takes place outside the dominion of the Law of Nations, and the rules of this law, therefore, cannot be applied,” unless the “corporation in question is invested by its State with public power of acquisition and administration.” (Volume I, sec. 209 (2), p. 496). He adds:

“If the individual or corporation which has made the acquisition requires protection by the Law of Nations, he or it must either declare a new State to be in existence and ask for its recognition by the Powers, as in the case of the former Congo Free State, or must ask a member of the Family of Nations to acknowledge the acquisition as having been made on its behalf.” (Id., at 496, 497.)

It is obvious that the British North Borneo Company, as the successor in interest of Overbeck and Dent, has not declared a new State to be in existence in North Borneo; and it is equally obvious that the British Government has refused to acknowledge, at least until 1946, the acquisition by Overbeck and Dent, and latterly, the British North Borneo Company, as having been made in its behalf.

What, then, is the significance in International Law, of the British Cession Order of July 15, 1946, which states in part:

“And whereas by an Agreement dated the twenty-sixth day of June, 1946, and made between His Majesty’s Secretary of State for the Colonies on behalf of His Majesty (therein and hereinafter referred to as ‘the Crown’) of the one part and the Company of the other part the Company (amongst other things) have transferred and ceded all the said rights, powers, and interests to the Crown with effect from the fifteenth day of July, 1946, to the intent that the Crown should, as from that day, have full sovereign rights over, and title to, the territory of the State of North Borneo, and that the said territory should thereupon become part of His Majesty’s dominions;

“Now, therefore, His Majesty is pleased, by and with the advice of His Privy Council, to order, and it is hereby ordered, as follows:

“1. This Order may be cited as the North Borneo Cession Order in Council, 1946, and shall come into operation on the fifteenth of July, 1946;

“2. As from the fifteenth day of July, 1946, the State of North Borneo shall be annexed to and shall form part of His Majesty’s dominion and shall be called, together with the Settlement of Labuan and its dependencies, the Colony of North Borneo;

“3. All persons who on the fifteenth day of July, 1946, are citizens of the State of North Borneo by virtue of the provisions of the North Borneo Naturalization Ordinance, 1931, shall, on that day, become British subjects;

“4. His Majesty hereby reserves to Himself, His Heirs and Successors, power to revoke, alter and to amend this Order.”

Note that the Cession Order is convenient in its vagueness as to the exact nature and scope of the rights and interests of the British North Borneo Company. How could it be otherwise in the light of the categorical disclaimers made by Lord Granville and Prime Minister William Gladstone?

Could the British North Borneo Company purport to transfer sovereignty over North Borneo to the Crown? Certainly not. The British Government had made it crystal clear that the Company did not have that power, and that sovereignty remained with the Sultan of Sulu. All that was transferred, in the very carefully worded Cession Order, was the mass of “interests, powers and rights” previously acquired by the British North Borneo Company.

In other words, the assertion of sovereignty over North Borneo by the Crown, effective July, 1946, under its own Cession Order, repudiated and set aside all the solemn Government declarations made by its highest officials; more than that, it threw overboard the sovereignty and title of the Sultan of Sulu which it had acknowledged in the past and completely disregarded the proprietary rights of the heirs of the Sultan over North Borneo. It was, to borrow the language of former Governor General Francis Burton Harrison, “an act of political aggression which should be promptly repudiated by the Government.”

I shall not, at this juncture, belabor the point so ably expounded by the Philippines Free Press writer, Mr. Napoleon Rama, namely, that the agreement of 1878 was just a contract of lease, not a contract of cession. The statements of Lord Granville and Prime Minister Gladstone three years after the contract was concluded, the contemporaneous official communications to and from the Minister of State in Madrid, the yearly tribute of 5,000 dollars to the Sultan of Sulu, and the terms of the “Cession Order of 1946” amply show that no cession was contemplated or ever perfected. A lease arrangement which, according to language scholars, is the English translation of the Malayan word, “padjak,” would seem to be the only other explanation. At any rate in International Law, individuals do not and cannot enter into treaties of cession (whereby sovereignty is acquired) with native tribal chiefs: these are outside the realm of the Law of Nations.


It is probable that the British Government, to justify its new stand, will fall back on one of two modes of territorial acquisition in International Law; namely, occupation and prescription.

Occupation is an original mode of territorial acquisition, and is effected through possession and administration of the territory by or in behalf of the acquiring State. The prime object of settlement by occupation is the incorporation of unappropriated territory into the national domain of the acquiring State. Only such territory as is not within the dominion of any State may be the object of occupation. In other words, the territory must be res nullius or terra nullius. The term res nullius, as has been interpreted, does not require that the territory be uninhabited, but that it be not already occupied by a people or State whose political organization is such as to cause its prior rights of occupancy to be recognized.

We must concede that in the past European powers did not recognize the title of settled peoples whose civilization was allegedly below the European standard. The emergence of non-European powers, and the growing importance of new nations in the Afro-Asian bloc, have eroded away this concept. At any rate, insofar as the British Government is concerned, it is precluded from claiming that the Sultan of Sulu had a title or a political organization below the European standard. All we need to do is to refer back to the text, of Lord Granville’s correspondence. Note the last paragraph in his letter to Morier, the British minister at Madrid, portions of which were quoted earlier:

“As regards the general features of the undertaking, it is to be observed that the territories granted to the Company have been for generations under the government of the Sultans of Sulu and Brunei, with whom Great Britain has had treaties of Peace and Commerce. . .”

It would be passing strange now for the British Government to contend that the Sultan of Sulu did not possess either a perfect title or a political organization below European standards, at least insofar as North Borneo is concerned. In the Law of Nations, states the British authority, Oppenheim, the conclusion of a bilateral treaty, such as a treaty of commerce and navigation, implies recognition (Op. cit., Section 75 (cl) p. 143).


But this is not all. The important thing is that the Cession Order of 1946, annexing as it does the Territory of North Borneo and incorporating it as part of His Majesty’s dominions, ran counter to and violated:

(1 ) the official declarations of the British Government as to the legal nature and effect of the Agreement of 1878;

(2) the Treaty of Peace and Commerce entered into between Great Britain and the Sultan of Sulu;

(3) the title and rights of dominion which the Sultan of Sulu, on the strength of British admissions, had over North Borneo.

Oppenheim is authority for the proposition that while it is true that States may acquire new territorial or other rights by unilateral acts, such an annexation, without recognition on the part of third States being required for their validity, yet the position is different when “the act alleged to be creative of a new right is in violation of … conventional International Law. In such cases the act in question is tainted with invalidity and incapable of producing legal rights beneficial to the wrongdoer in the form of a new title or otherwise.” (Op. cit., Sec. 75 (b), at p. 136).

Prescription. — Prescription has been defined as the acquisition of territory by an adverse holding continued through a long term of years. The generally accepted concept of prescription in International Law apparently requires the existence of two essential facts, namely: continuous and undisturbed possession, and lapse of a period of time. Hugo Grotius, the father of International Law, laid down the rule that the adverse holding should go “beyond the memory of man. Vattel maintained that possession may ripen into title only after the lapse of a “considerable number of years ” Insofar as the present question is concerned, there may not be sufficient warrant for saying that the British possession was adverse, considering the yearly tributes they have paid to the Sultan of Sulu and his heirs. Their possession from 1946 up to this date, in the light of the continuous protests of the heirs and the termination of the lease, has not been uninterrupted and cannot possibly ripen into a title.

I have heard it said that the Philippine claim may not prosper because of Article 1 of the Philippine Constitution defining the National Territory. Article I provides:

“Section 1. The Philippines comprise all the territory ceded to the United States by the Treaty of Paris concluded between the United States and Spain on the tenth day of December, eighteen hundred and ninety-eight, the limits of which are set forth in Article III of said Treaty, together with all the islands embraced in the treaty concluded at Washington, between the United States and Spain on the seventh day of November, nineteen hundred, and in the treaty concluded between the United States and Great Britain on the second day of January, nineteen hundred and thirty, and all territory over which the present Government of the Philippine Islands exercises jurisdiction.”

I feel that those who argue along this line confuse the concept of national domain with proprietary rights of Filipino citizens over a portion of the earth’s surface. The Philippine Government is now called upon to defend and vindicate those rights, and if, as I know, appropriate arrangements have been made by the heirs of the Sultan of Sulu, with the Philippine Government, there should be no apprehension whatever that this claim will provide undue incentives for mere speculators. In other words, Article I has no applicability whatever to this kind of a claim. In the remote possibility that Article I is made to apply, there is ample room for protection in the saving clause found in said article, in the light of authoritative pronouncements of British officials. We need not even consider the thesis that in 1935, when the Philippine Constitution was adopted by the Filipino people, the Philippines was not an independent State but a mere dependency, and that therefore the restrictive provisions of Article I could not possibly tie the hands of the Republic as soon as independence became a reality.

There is something pathetic in the fact that it took an American official, the former Governor General Francis Burton Harrison, to assess the full import of the Cession Order of 1946. In a special report he submitted on September 26, 1946 in his capacity as Special Adviser on Foreign Affairs to the Philippine Government, he called the Cession Order by its proper name — “an act of political aggression.”

It would seem equally pathetic that some home-grown nationalists have counseled the Government to pursue a policy of fear and inaction.

In 1946, the voice of Harrison sounded like a cry in the wilderness. In 1962, that voice has gained volume and is no longer alone. Just a few days ago, the House of Representatives unanimously passed a resolution requesting the President to take all the necessary steps consistent with international law and procedure for the recovery of North Borneo.

Before the bar of world opinion, the Philippines can invoke the ringing declarations of responsible leaders all over the world — including those of the United Kingdom — who have vowed to end the practice of colonialism in all its manifestations. In recent years, the United Nations has been seriously concerned with the problem of colonialism and has now asked for its speedy liquidation. The North Borneo question should furnish an excellent instance for the British Government to translate a preachment into a cold reality. When in 1946, the British Government saw fit to make North Borneo a colony, in disregard of its previous disclaimers, her policy-makers must have foreseen the inevitable consequences of such an inopportune move, considering the temper of subject peoples all over the world. For the Filipinos, the North Borneo situation is not merely a problem of liquidation of colonialism; it is a question of the return to them of what, in law and equity, properly belongs to them, and which they can rightly call their own.

As I said in the beginning, there should be no apprehension of any rupture in the friendly relations between the United Kingdom and the Philippines. Friends can and should at times disagree. The important thing is that they should not become disagreeable. And like two good friends, the Philippines and the United Kingdom can differ on this point without being difficult. It is merely in keeping with the highest traditions of civility and a mutual respect for the rule of law that the Philippine Government should now, in the light of all relevant evidence, institute the claim and initiate the necessary steps toward the peaceful settlement of the North Borneo question. Manila Times, Manila Chronicle, Philippines Free Press – May, 1962.

Posted by Steve Salonga 12 comments

Ramon Magsaysay Award Lecture, August 30, 2007

Introduction of the Lecturer
By Christian S. Monsod, TrusteeIt is my honor to introduce our lecturer today, the 2007 Ramon Magsaysay awardee for government service.If you were not yet born or are too young to remember the last war, the martial law years, or the people power revolt of 1986. or if you have not kept up with the landmark cases brought up to the Supreme Court on constitutional issues or human rights, this is a good time to listen to the man who was and is very much a part of historic events. His story is in many ways the story of our country during the past six or seven decades.

Everything you read in the materials we distributed about him is true, and more. But there are points I would like to touch on this afternoon:

(1) Why is he being awarded for government service when he stepped out of government office in 1992, more than 15 years ago? Because it is only fitting to honor a life devoted to making our government work within a democratic setting, whether in or outside of it, and to that end, be willing to put at risk not only political fortunes and professional stature but life itself. In a world of broken promises where vows of fidelity to a person, a nation or a vision are high on the list of perishables, our awardee has kept faith with his vows, regardless of the consequences to himself. And that, my friends, is greatness of spirit.

(2) There are those who say that he bears a charmed life. Born to a poor family, he managed to get the best education at the University of the Philippines, Harvard and Yale. He survived imprisonment during the Japanese occupation, He miraculously survived the bombing of the opposition in 1971. During martial law, his jailor released him to the marital custody of his wife, thinking perhaps that it was a punishment. This to the man who has described marriage as an endless romance, sanctified by prayer. He has overcome all the black propaganda against him by his illustrious record of public service, the modesty of the life he leads and the dignity of his demeanor. He gave way as vice-president to Cory Aquino in 1986 to help unite the opposition but came back to top the senatorial elections for the third time in his political career. After the only election he ever lost, for the presidency, he returned to public life as civil society’s champion against injustice.

He may indeed have a lucky star or maybe it is all grit and determination to prevail over countless adversities. But I think it is God telling us that he loves this country by saving His most trusted sentinels to protect it when it is most in need.

(3) Our awardee belongs to the country’s intellectual elite, a certified “egghead”, a word he once used to describe Adlai Stevenson, who also lost a presidency, but he has never lost touch with the core issues that affect the common man. Up to now, he is only a cellphone away when his leadership or counsel is needed. Yesterday, you must have read in the newspapers about the petition he brought to the Supreme Court asking for the release of a pastor who he believes is being unjustly detained, and tortured, on trumped-up charges. Indeed, and I speak for the many times I have done so myself, he is the man to go to, to even out the odds against those with dangerous tendencies to upset the delicate balance of rights and interests that sustains any democracy.

Ladies and gentlemen, may I introduce the man who personifies the audacity of principled politics former Senate President Jovito R. Salonga.

Posted by Steve Salonga 3 comments

By Jovito R. SalongaI

Definition of Terms

I suppose the title of the lecture assigned to me might have been inspired by the book of Barack Obama— The Audacity of Hope—which has become a consistent New York Times best seller for non-fiction since it came off the press in 2006—only a year ago. Many of those who bought the book might have been affected by a number of factors, apart from plain curiosity: (1) Barack Obama’s phenomenal rise in American politics, from a relatively obscure black legislator in Illinois to a leading contender for the Democratic nomination for the presidency of the United States, competing with Mrs. Hillary Rodham Clinton, the well-known senator from New York; (2) Obama’s record as a top scholar in Harvard Law School, where he became the first African-American president of the prestigious Harvard Law Review; (3) Obama’s unique background—his father was from Kenya but his mother, who greatly influenced his life, is a white American from a small town in Kansas; (4) how he, as a senator finally became a Christian, a member of the Trinity United Church in Chicago, one who writes and speaks of his religious convictions in the turbulent field of politics. In his book, in the chapter of Faith, he says, many Americans want a sense of purpose, “an assurance that somebody cares about them, is listening to them—and that they are not just destined to travel down a long highway toward nothingness.” (p. 202.)

Would it be proper to place the audacity of hope on the same level as principled politics? Is principled politics audacious’?

Yes, in the sense that audacity stands for boldness or daring, with confident disregard for conventional thinking.

How about “principled politics?” A politics without principle is a kind of politics without any ethical or moral sense. Moral sense is the sense of right and wrong. It is wrong to act based on lying, self-dealing, double cross, cheating, treachery or expediency. It is right for one in politics to speak the truth with boldness and work for a transparent, accountable system of government.

I would like to suggest that principled politics, which depends on a rational, high-level discussion of relevant issues, was the way politics was practiced during the time of Senator Claro M. Recto and former Justice Jose P. Laurel, long before martial law. They did not resort to money politics, in the sense of buying votes or buying off political leaders or the media. Having worked for Justice Laurel in the 1949 presidential elections and collaborated with Senator Recto in a number of important cases in the early 50s and worked for his reelection as senator a little later, I may be permitted to assert that both of them were men of principles. On the basis of personal knowledge, I ascribe their politics of principle to their strong faith in Divine Providence—the term they employed—when they drafted the 1935 Constitution which, in the view of many legal experts, remains unsurpassed up to this day.


A personal testimony—
my first two senatorial campaigns

In my first two senatorial campaigns before martial law—1965 and 1971—I did not have enough logistics, the euphemism for money politics, hence, I had no choice but discuss the issues in the belief that our people, whose native intelligence many other politicians tend to underestimate, would prefer to use their minds in choosing their candidates for high office.

I was proved right. According to the records of what used to be the reputable COMELEC, the constitutional agency with the power and duty to conduct and administer the elections, I topped the two senatorial elections—in November 1965 when Ferdinand Marcos defeated incumbent President Diosdado Macapagal in the 1965 presidential election and in the mid-term election of 1971. I was in my sick bed at the time because of the extensive injuries I suffered as a result of the Plaza Miranda bombing of August 21. 1971—with more than a hundred tiny pieces of shrapnel in my body; my left eye could no longer see, my right ear could no longer hear, I was then hovering between life and death. My 34 doctors who volunteered their services thought I had no more than a 5% chance to live. But against all odds, I survived.

How can one explain this miracle of survival? Chief Justice Reynato S. Puno, in reviewing my latest book, titled Not by Power or Wealth Alone, gives the following explanation:

“But what may not be captured by the public eye is the unseen sword of the Christian faith and the shield of his unyielding moral courage that many are known to have little regard for: the values of truth, integrity and selflessness…the Christian anchor of both his public service and private life. ”

The Chief Justice, however, is a prominent layman of the United Methodist Church. Perhaps, one may say he could be biased, since I am also a layman of Cosmopolitan Church. UCCP.

Roman Catholic Bishop Socrates B. Villegas of the Diocese of Balanga, Bataan, says he was born and raised in the quaint town of Pateros, Rizal, and that his father admired Salonga, a politician from the neighboring town of Pasig. When he became the priest secretary of the late Jaime Cardinal L. Sin, his second father, he came to admire even more (Salonga), “the living martyr of the Plaza Miranda bombing,” In his comment on my latest book, he tells us why:

“This politician was unique and different from the rest. His political career has a soul. His government service has a conscience. His life witnessing is edifying. From his intimate encounter with God in prayer, he entered politics. From his political engagement, he returned to his prayer corner and submitted all to Him who is Everything. He serves God as a politician, and God is glorified in his political service. ”

Another devout Catholic, former Chief Justice Artemio V. Panganiban. who was a talented student in the Institute of Law of FEU, says in his Foreword to my latest book:

“Though we are of different faiths…we never talked of what divided us but only of what brought us together. One thought that always united us was, and still is, the role of faith in our lives…In concluding this Foreword, I now daresay that our good Lord had granted him a long and purposeful life, because he wanted him to be the conscience of the nation… ”

(incidentally, the title of his subsequent column in the Inquirer on August 19, 2007).

The paradox is that my contemporaries in politics, led by Senators Lorenzo M. Tanada, Ninoy Aquino and Pepe Diokno, who were not victims of the Plaza Miranda bombing, passed away. A good number of doctors who saved my life are gone. A few have migrated to the United States.

Some people may not know that I am Protestant- my father was a poor Presbyterian Minister, and my mother, a poor market vendor, was a woman of faith and spirituality. Because of the influence of my parents, my life in politics and outside politics has been anchored on the Christian faith, despite the fact that like all sinners, I have fallen short in more ways than one.

In truth, I had been assailed by many a doubt about my Christian faith (I sometimes considered myself a skeptic) when, after going underground to counteract the Japanese propaganda, I was captured and imprisoned by the Japanese kempeitai in Pasig during Holy Week of 1942. It was the infliction of torture by the kempeitai in the presence of my aging father, my stay in Fort Santiago, then in the Old Bilibid in Manila, and finally in the New Bilibid in Muntinglupa, that rekindled my broken faith. For almost a year, by common consent, I led in the evening prayers in my brigada where convicted criminals and political prisoners were together on bended knees.


After one term as a congressman and three terms as a senator, I retired from partisan politics in 1992—indeed I am no longer an active member of the Liberal Party, since my active involvement in civil society. I founded and organized Kilosbayan in 1993, mainly “to arouse public interest and participation in important questions of public policy, in light of the right of the people to their own governance and on the basis of civilized norms of morality, justice, truth and ethics.” Its officers, trustees and members are Roman Catholics and Protestants. The President of Kilosbayan today, ex-Secretary Rafael M. Alunan III, who succeeded me, is a Roman Catholic; the Vice-President, Dr. Quintin S. Doromal, is a Protestant, the former President of Silliman University. In a deeper sense, we in Kilosbayan are involved in non-partisan politics, in the same manner as priests and nuns, the Protestant pastors and laymen like me, followed Cardinal Jaime Sin in February 1986. You recall the Cardinal called on the people, through Radio Veritas, to support Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile and PC Chief Fidel V. Ramos in mounting the EDSA I People Power Revolution against the Marcos regime.

On Recto Day, February 8, 2000, ex-Secretary of Justice and ex-Ambassador Sedfrey A. Ordonez and I founded and organized Bantay Katarungan, an NGO, to help improve and modernize our system of justice in the Philippines, with the help of young students of idealism and competence from the best law schools in Metro Manila—UP, Ateneo. San Beda. LIST. FEU and Lyceum. It was inaugurated by Chief Justice Hilario G. Davide. assisted by Associate Justice Artemio V. Panganiban, who succeeded Davide as Chief Justice. Our first Chairman was Amb. Sedfrey Ordonez, my law partner for 33 years, who, because of failing health, was replaced by former UP Law Dean Raul C. Pangalangan.

We reach out to young college students, our nation’s hope for tomorrow, through the Kilosbayan Forum, which is being held from time to time. The last Forum was held last July 27, in Lyceum of the Philippines University in Intramuros, Manila. Guest Speakers were Senator Mar Roxas, who spoke on the SONA of President GMA, and Senate President Franklin M. Drilon who explained the Human Security Act, which is a misnomer, since it endangers every person’s security. Composing the audience were hundreds of professors and students from Lyceum and from nearby universities and colleges. Why do we in Kilosbayan do this? We want to prepare the youth of the land so they will be well-informed and well-trained. At the proper time, they can take over the helm of leadership, hopefully based on the concept of principled politics.

On the lighter side. I am only 87 years old. compared to the other awardees of the Ramon Magsaysay Foundation. I say only 87 because life begins at 80. Let me now tell you about the life and work of Dr. Frank Laubach, the missionary educator who went to Lanao before World War II to live among the Muslims—the Maranaos in Lanao. Unlike other missionaries, he did not try to convince them to be Christians. What he did was to teach the Muslims how to read and write English in his own unique way of teaching. He was loved by the Muslims who did not want him to leave. But he was invited by Mahatma Gandhi to go to India and teach his people English in his unique method. Laubach went to India and taught them English. But he was invited to South America to do the same thing, which he did. When he reached 80, he returned to his home in Pennsylvania to retire. It was here where he composed his well-known essay—Life Begins at 80, which I shall read.

Life Begins at 80 By Dr. Frank Laubach

Once you reach 80, everyone wants to carry your baggage and help you up the steps. If you forget your name, or an appointment, or your own telephone number or can’t remember how many grandchildren you have—you only need to explain that you are 80.

Being 80 is a lot better than being 70. At 70, people are mad at you for everything. At 80, you have a perfect excuse, no matter what you do. If you act foolishly, it’s your second childhood.

Being 70 is no fun at all. At 70, they expect you to retire to a house in (Florida) Baguio and complain about your arthritis. And you ask everybody to stop mumbling because you can’t understand them. Actually, your hearing is about 50% gone.

If you survive until you are 80, everybody is surprised that you are still alive. They treat you with respect just for having lived so long. Actually, they are surprised that you can walk and talk sensibly.


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