10 Senators That Defined the Past Glory of the Philippine Senate

The senatorial election of 2019 looms much sooner than we expected. Weeks ago, PDP-Laban has introduced their senatorial slate. The slate is mostly composed by political butterflies, but there are some new faces like “Hand of the King”, Christopher “Bong” Go, the embattled erotica icon-turned-PCOO Asec. Margaux “Mocha” Uson, news media personality Jiggy Manicad, and *surprise*surprise* the living legend, OPM icon Freddie Aguilar. And now, the position of Senate President is expected to be handed over to a bigot and a plagiarist.

Panem et circenses. Bread and circus.

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The Senate of today pales in comparison to the illustrious senators of the past. They were men and women of political caliber, intellectuals, and principled people of personal excellence, driven by a vision for a greater, freer Philippines.

Here are 10 of them:


Miriam Defensor-Santiago

Photo from CNN Philippines

Known as the “Iron Lady of Asia” for her tough talk and tough work in government service. The late “MDS” has little to zero tolerance for mediocrity, especially for public servants. Besides being a senator, she is a lawyer, a judge, an author, and a professor whose public service spans generations and cuts across all three branches of the government. Miriam is a Ramon Magsaysay Awardee and the first Asian woman to be elected as a judge at the International Criminal Court (ICC). She is also the author of the hilarious “Stupid is Forever”. Her only known fault is being an accessory to historical revisionism and to the rehabilitation of the Marcoses by partnering with Bongbong Marcos.

Eva Estrada-Kalaw

Senator Eva Estrada-Kalaw in between fellow Senators Doy Laurel and Ramon Mitra, and opposite Senators Gerry Roxas and Jovi Salonga padlocked out of the Senate during Martial Law. Photo from Pinterest.

Eva is another remarkable woman senator. An expert pistol shooter, she is also a professor. During the dark days of Martial Law, she was one of the few senators who challenged, opposed, and criticized Marcos Sr. despite her political party’s affiliation with the dictator. Her political grit made her the first woman senator to win two consecutive terms. As senator, the bills she passed included the salary increases of public school teachers (RA 5158); the creation of Local School Boards (RA 5447) and of the Barrio High School Charter/Magna Carta for Private Schools (RA 6054); the Educational Financing Act (RA 6728) and the inclusion of the presidents of student councils in the Board of Regents of all state colleges and universities. She is a recipient of the Mahatma Gandhi Freedom Award.

Aquilino “Nene” Pimentel Jr.

Photo from Inquirer

Known as the “Father of Philippine Federalism” for his proposition and drive for a federal system of government, Nene Pimentel is an illustrious figure of principle. As a lawyer, mayor, assemblyman, and later on a senator, he has always been known to be a fierce critic of corruption and wrongdoing. He was one of the first and staunchest critics of the Marcos dictatorship. For his vocal and fierce opposition, he was consistently politically harassed and jailed throughout Martial Law. He was one of “Magnificent 12” Senators who voted to oust the US Military Bases in Pampanga. Nene Pimentel, among various legislations, authored the Local Government Code. He became Senate President from 2000 to 2001 and oversaw the impeachment proceedings against ex-president and convicted plunderer Joseph Estrada, who was then ousted by the EDSA Dos.

Read Also: Political Showdown: Ousting Chief Justice Sereno

Ceferino “Joker” Arroyo

Photo from YouTube

Joker Arroyo was the very first person to challenge Marcos’ declaration of Martial Law in the Supreme Court. As a formidable lawyer, he acted in defense of opposition members at that time. He was an active figure in the anti-Marcos protests that ensued and suffered state violence and coercion. After EDSA 1986, he was appointed Executive Secretary and was also responsible, among others, for the creation of the Presidential Commission on Good Governance (PCGG), the Peace Constitution of 1986, and the Family Code. He was Congressman from 1992 to 2001 where he had 100% attendance. His awards include the Philippine Bar Association’s Most Distinguished Award for Justice as a “man beholden to no one except to his country”.

Juan “Johnny” Flavier

Photo from Rappler

The most famous Philippine Secretary of Health of all time. Johnny is a doctor from the University of the Philippines Manila whose life-story includes his struggle to get out of poverty and a 30-year experience in serving the poor in far-flung provinces as doctor-to-the-barrios. His programs as Department of Health Secretary included the institution of the Doctor to the Barrios Program, Family Planning, and Anti-TB campaign. As a senator, he had a perfect attendance in all sessions, and pass legislation such as the Traditional Medicine Law, the Philippine Clean Air Act, Indigenous People’s Rights Act, Anti-money Laundering Act, the National Service Training Program (NSTP) for Tertiary Students, and the Dangerous Drugs Act among others.

Raul Roco

Photo from Rappler

His active promotion and advocacy for honesty and good governance endeared him to the youth. He was Secretary of Education, a distinguished lawyer, awarded as Most Outstanding Student and chairperson of the National Union of Students of the Philippines, the Executive Producer of Lino Brocka’s “Tinimbang Ka Ngunit Kulang” and recognized as an outstanding senator of the republic. In less than a year after becoming Secretary of Education, he cleared the department of corruption, especially on the issue of textbooks.

Lorenzo “Ka Tanny” Tañada

Senator Lorenzo Tañada in pain after police used tear gas during the violent dispersal of a Welcome Rotunda rally on September 27, 1984. Photo and caption from Inquirer

He is fondly known as the Grand Old Man of Philippine Politics and the Parliamentarian of the Streets. He is the longest-serving Philippine senator in history for 24 years, a lawyer of caliber having a Master of Laws from Harvard, one of the country’s foremost nationalists, and a former international football player.

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His reputation and political acumen precede him. He lends his name to the landmark Supreme Court case, Tañada vs. Tuvera which ruled that unpublished laws are without effect. The case was instrumental against Marcos’ Presidential Decrees. Although already advanced in age at the time of Martial Law, he became one of its staunchest critics and became active in the protest movements of the streets. He experienced being bombarded by water cannons and tear-gassed. He was regularly picked up by police and imprisoned. His nationalism is greatly acknowledged by different political groups including the Communist Party of the Philippines. Senator Tañada was a fierce opponent of US military presence in the Philippines and was a key figure in the movement to oust the US military bases.

Jovito “Jovi” Salonga

Photo from Bantayog ng mga Bayani

Former Senate President Jovi Salonga is a World War II Hero and a bar top-notcher. As an intellectual, he was a scholar in both Harvard and Yale. He also served as professor and dean of law. He successfully defeated the cases filed by dictator Ferdinand Marcos against Ninoy and his appeal to the Supreme Court. As another fierce opponent of Marcos’ Martial Law, he suffered the violence and injustice of this dark period in Philippine history. He was severely injured in the Plaza Miranda bombing which left one of his eyes damaged.

He was a strong defender of human rights. He was voted as Number 1 senator for three different terms and passed landmark legislation such as the State Scholarship Law, the Disclosure of Interest Act, the Magna Carta for Public School Teachers, the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees, and the Act Defining and Penalizing the Crime of Plunder. Salonga also headed the “Magnificent 12” senators who rejected the ratification of the PH-US Bases treaty. He is a Ramon Magsaysay Awardee.

Jose “Ka Pepe” Diokno

Photo from Rappler

A great Filipino nationalist, founder of the Commission on Human Rights, and the only Filipino to get the Number 1 spot of both board exams for lawyers and Certified Public Accountants. He founded the Free Legal Assistance Group during Martial Law in defense of human rights against the abuses of Marcos. As a senator against Marcos and his regime, Ka Pepe saw the grave human rights abuses as wrongs that must be vehemently opposed. His commitment to the dignity and sanctity of human rights were so great that it grieved him when the Mendiola Massacre was sanctioned by his political ally, then President Cory Aquino. He resigned from his post out of great indignation. He was posthumously given the Order of Lakandula.

Claro M. Recto

Photo from Esquire Philippines

Poet, playwright, essayist, scholar, jurist, politician, lawyer, nationalist, a genius of speech and logic, ‘the finest mind of his generation’. Senator Recto could very well be the envy of most senators. Foremost author of the 1935 Constitution, Recto started his active political career during the Commonwealth period. As a lawyer, he became known as “Abogado Milagroso” or Lawyer of Miracles for his unrelenting winning streak in his legal battles.

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He is considered a mentor and forerunner of Filipino Nationalists like Senators Diokno, Tañada, Salonga, and historian Renato Constantino. He was a fierce enemy of US imperialism and called out the “mendicancy” and subservience of Philippine foreign policy to America and called for a nationalist industrialization to better the fate of the nation. His nationalism was so fierce, so anti-US that the CIA produced black propaganda against him during his presidential race and even plotted a murder strategy using poison.

These great men and women have the following characteristics that should guide us in following and selecting our leaders:

  • They are Nationalists. They are biased to the interests of the Filipino people. They struggled so that the Philippines will be free economically, socially, and politically from the influence of foreign powers such as the United States.
  • They are persons of Intellectual Excellence. Their education degree and political acumen were not of the ordinary. They knew their craft and their office. Their service record and awards, their dignified reputation precedes them. They were people of many talents and each performed excellently in their respective fields prior to politics.
  • They are persons of Principle and Integrity. They are not political butterflies like most politicians today. They have an ideology that drives their actions and they stay true to it. They are not hindered by politics and affiliation. And their anger is an expression of righteous indignation that knows no president or dictator.
  • They were all Anti-Dictators. These men and women respected and upheld the rule of law, human rights, and the freedoms guaranteed by democracy. No bombs or prisons deterred them from opposing the strong-handed tactics of a fascist regime.

May these lives remind us again to right what is wrong.

Rest in Power, Champions, and Servants of the Filipino People!


Dom writes for pay by day and writes for passion by night. He is a Japan major at the University of the Philippines. He’s fond of ramen and anime but not of nice people.


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