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Thursday, October 6, 2022

15 Legendary Senators in Philippine History

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The Constitution only allots 24 seats in the Senate, the upper chamber of the legislature, crafting laws for the betterment of the country. In recent years, the electorate has leaned on name recognition as a basis for the 12 senators they would vote for every three years. That’s why celebrities, athletes, and members of political dynasties often make the cut, trouncing lawyers, labor leaders and other professionals who are vying for a seat despite meager resources.

But it was not this way in the past as lawyers filled the Senate, engaging in a battle of wit and intellect. They would show their prowess in debates, capturing the nation’s imagination and elevating the level of respect in the eyes of an ordinary Filipino.

Before the May 9, 2022 elections, Politixxx Today chose 15 legendary senators who pushed for meaningful legislation, fought the dictatorship and uplifted the Filipino spirit with their courage and integrity.

Claro M. Recto

Claro M. Recto (Photograph from the National Library of the Philippines)



The colorful life of Claro M. Recto, “The Great Dissenter,” in 1919 when he was elected member of the House, representing the third district of Batangas, just five years after he entered the lawyers’ rolls. More than a decade later, he was elected in the Senate, settling for minority leader for three years before ascending to the position of president pro tempore in 1934. With his wit and conviction that cannot be remained unnoticed, U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt appointed him an associate justice of the Supreme Court. He concurrently served as president of the Constitutional Commission, which aimed at drafting the 1935 Constitution – the best-written version of the charter according to scholars. He then served as Commissioner of Education, Health and Public Welfare under the wartime cabinet of Jose P. Laurel. Recto would be reelected senator in 1941, 1949 and 1955. He vehemently opposed the involvement of the United States in the interests of the country, often sparring with former President Ramon Magsaysay on key issues such as the Laurel-Langley Agreement and the Philippine Rehabilitation Act that allowed the free flow of U.S. goods in the country. He fought for an independent Philippines away from its dependency on the United States.

Lorenzo Tañada

Lorenzo Tañada (Photograph from Harvard Magazine)

Consistently voted as one of the “Most Outstanding Senators” by the Senate Press Club and the Philippine Free Press, former Senator Lorenzo Tañada, who served from 1947 to 1971, demonstrated exemplary work as a legislator, proposing a high number of bills spanning in different fields. He led the passage of an anti-wiretapping bill that punished eavesdroppers for a maximum of four years unless permitted by a court order or the Office of the Solicitor’s General. He pushed to strengthen the judiciary by increasing the compensation of justices, penalize hoarders, limit shares in banking institutions, ease the naturalization process, provide compulsory vehicle liability insurance, protect laborers on strike, require government officials to make public their assets and liabilities and move Independence Day from July 4 to June 12. His track record speaks for itself, making him the “Grand Old Man of Philippine Politics.”

Amang Rodriguez

Amang Rodriguez (Photograph from Google Arts and Culture)

Mr. Nacionalista” Eugelio “Amang” Rodriguez Sr. started in politics in 1906 as municipal president of Montalban, Rizal. After more than three decades, he successfully obtained a seat in the Senate, to which he served as Senate President for a record 11 years, from 1952 to 1963. He was never a turncoat, even if his party, Nacionalista, faced political ordeals during his time. He was a man of integrity in the face of adversaries who opposed his pro-masses policies.

Gil Puyat

Gil Puyat (photograph from Wikipedia)

Gil Puyat’s road to the Senate began when former President Manuel L. Quezon was bedazzled by his business acumen, appointing him dean of the College of Business Administration at the University of the Philippines at a tender age of 33. He built his reputation in the international business community thereafter. In 1951, he was elected senator, helming the position until 1973. He was the 11th Senate President, serving from 1967 to 1972. Puyat’s legacy included the passage of the Budget Act, which mandated the government to include in the budget a schedule of projects and auditing achievements, a seismic shift in the way public funds are distributed and administered.

Jose Diokno

Jose Diokno (Photograph from Chel Diokno’s Website)

After heading the Justice Department for a year, from 1961 to 1962, during the term of Diosdado Macapagal, Jose Diokno vied for a Senate seat under Nacionalista Party in 1963 and won. The bar topnotcher championed nationalistic economic legislation that would drive the country away from its dependence on superpower countries. He worked for the passage of the Investment Incentives Act of 1967, which aimed to incentivize Filipino investors who would place the economy in the hands of Filipinos. Another is the Oil Industry Commission Act of 1971, which sought to create a commission to regulate oil prices. In 1972, he was one of the opposition figures arrested when former President Ferdinand Marcos Sr. declared Martial Law.

Tecla Ziga

Tecla San Andres-Ziga (File Photo)

The first female bar topnotcher was elected to the Senate in 1963, chairing the following committees: agriculture and natural resources, education, foreign affairs, blue ribbon, community development, social justice and welfare. She has championed women and children’s rights ever since she served the remaining term of her brother, who died in an accident, in the House in 1955 until she was appointed the Minister of General Services in 1986.

Jovito Salonga

Jovito Salonga (Photograph from the Official Gazette)

Former Senate President Jovito Salonga, known as the “Nation’s Fiscalizer,” topped the Senate races in 1965, 1971 and 1987. Serving as Senate President from 1987 to 1991, he primarily authored laws on plunder, military coups and corrupt officials, taking a page from his brief stint as the first head of the Presidential Commission on Good Governance (PCGG), the commission created by former President Corazon Aquino to retrieve the ill-gotten wealth of the Marcoses. Before pursuing his failed presidential bid, his last act in the upper chamber was his successful effort to eject American bases in the country, breaking an 11-11 tie in dissent of extending the RP-US Bases Treaty.

Eva Kalaw

Eva Estrada Kalaw (Photograph from the National Library of the Philippines)

She was the woman Marcos Sr. feared the most. Her 1965 victory was a landmark because of the prevailing chauvinism within political circles at the time. Described by Diokno as “babaeng may bayag (a woman with balls),” she pushed for education reforms and vehemently opposed sending troops in the Vietnam War, drawing the ire of the sitting administration. She is credited for forming the social welfare and development department, creating student and faculty representatives in governing bodies of state terrestrial institutions and establishing barrio high schools, among others. After being the first woman reelected senator in 1971 as she survived the Plaza Miranda bombings, she went on to be part of the long and arduous fight to regain democracy following the imposition of Martial Law.



Arturo Tolentino

Arturo Tolentino (Photograph from Wikipedia)

The running mate of Marcos Sr. in the 1986 snap elections first served as Senate President from 1965 to 1966, about eight years after he was first elected to the upper chamber. He was, in the words of Sen. Ralph Recto when he died in 2004, “an erudite constitutionalist using his deep knowledge of law and social issues in shepherding groundbreaking laws, while blocking those which injure the national interest or those which clothe the state with more powers over the individual.” He was reelected in 1992, serving his three-year term because he placed 18th in the race.

Ernesto Maceda

Ernesto Maceda (Photograph from Rappler)

The “Outstanding Councilor of Manila” in the early 1960s has risen to fame for his courageous exposes of government scams that earned him the monikers “Mr. Expose” and “Mr. Survivor.” After winning his first term in 1971, his bill, granting protection from real-estate buyers who would subscribe to installment plans, was the only law signed before Martial Law was declared the following year. After that, he went into exile in the United States and returned to the country nearly a decade later, just as the opposition was gaining ground following the death of former Senator Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr. When Marcos Sr. was ousted in 1986, Maceda was one of the first cabinet members of Corazon Aquino’s administration, heading the Ministry of National Resources. A year later, he was back at the Senate, where he exemplified diligence and integrity for attaining perfect attendance and delivering the most speeches. He rose to the Senate Presidency from 1996 to 1998, by then acknowledged for working hand-in-hand with senators in every bill of consequence.

Edgardo Angara

Edgardo Angara (Photograph from the National Library of the Philippines)

After his tenure as a delegate in the 1971 Constitutional Commission, president of the Philippine Bar Association in 1975 and Integrated Bart of the Philippines in 1979, and president of the University of the Philippines from 1981 to 1987 – an election that even shocked him – Angara moved towards the upper chamber, elected in 1987, 1992, 2001 and 2007, spanning a total of 23 years. He was voted Senate President by his peers in 1993. He had left an indelible legacy by crafting laws that strengthened the education and finance system and promoted culture and the arts. He was one of those behind the laws that formed the Commission on Higher Education (CHED), Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA), PhilHealth, Philippine Depository Insurance Corporation (PDIC), Home Development Mutual Fund (Pag-Ibig Fund) and the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA). He has also pushed for legislation concerning senior citizens, fisherfolks and traditional artists, among others.

Aquilino Pimentel Jr.

Aquilino “Nene” Pimentel Jr. (Photograph from Pilipino Mirror)

Aquilino “Nene” Pimentel Jr. became a household name for helping orchestrate the People Power Revolution that toppled Marcos Sr., who imprisoned him thrice, first for being a vocal opponent, second for allegedly cheating his victory in 1980 to be Cagayan De Oro’s mayor and third for charges of rebellion. He was first elected to the Senate in 1987 but lost reelection in 1995 because of a “dagdag-bawas” cheating scheme. He was resoundingly voted, however, in 1998, placing fourth, moving towards the Senate Presidency in 2000. But just a little less than a year later, he resigned his post in protest for not opening the second envelope that would further implicate former President Joseph Estrada in his impeachment trial. His term would eventually last until 2010, which, at the time, he was the minority leader for six years. Probably his most significant legislation was the Local Government Code of 1991, which gave cities, municipalities and provinces autonomy to pass ordinances that would benefit their jurisdictions.

Raul Roco

Raul Roco (Photograph from Wikidata)

Former Senator Raul Roco, who was first elected in 1992, contributed earnestly to the fields of education, finance and human rights, among others, during his tenure as a member of the upper chamber. He earned himself the title “Father of the Bangko Sentral” for writing the law that reformed the nation’s banking system. He shepherded bills to liberalize the banking industry, strengthen thrift banks, and establish rights for intellectual properties. In education, he proposed bills that would benefit teachers and students alike, including funding teachers’ cooperatives, providing computers to public institutions and aiding retiring public school teachers. And Roco underscored the importance and protection of women in society by filing bills such as the Women in Nation Building Law, Anti-Sexual Harassment Law and Anti-Rape Law.

Blas Ople

Blas Ople (Photograph from The Daily Tribune)

After holding the position as Minister for Labor for a record 17 years under Marcos Sr.’s administration and being tapped by Aquino to be a framer of the 1987 constitution, Blas Ople was twice elected to the Senate, rising to the Senate Presidency from 1999 to 2000, championing laborer’s rights here and abroad by authoring the Labor Code of the Philippines, establishing an overseas employment program and facilitating more than 50 treaties and agreements aimed to link the Philippines to the world and assist the growing number of migrant workers. After dying in 2003, his heirs organized The Ople Center to help Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) experiencing maltreatment and exploitation.

Juan Flavier

Juan Flavier (Photograph from Kahimyang)

Juan Flavier, the only medical physician who was elected senator, carried with him his rich experiences as a barrio doctor and secretary of health which he transformed to be the most outstanding during the administration of Fidel V. Ramos. Reelected once, serving from 1995 to 2007, he worked for the passage of laws aiming to improve the country’s healthcare system, such as the Traditional Medicine Law, Poverty Alleviation Law and the Philippine Nursing Act of 2002. He was also part of the legislators who pushed for landmark bills such as the Anti-Money Laundering Act of 2001 and the Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002. He was the chair of the Senate Committee on Health and Demography during his time.

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