Posted on 2004

FAREWELL TO A GREAT MAN (Eulogy for Senator Arturo Tolentino)

One of the few distinguished statesmen who gave so much of his heart and mind, his time and his life in unconditional service to the nation has just passed away.

Even as we are made poorer by the death of Senator Arturo Tolentino, we are, however, enriched by the story of his life – his passion for excellence, his political wisdom, his inspiring humility in leadership, his integrity that was anchored on deep convictions, and his uncompromising love of country.

From a humble beginning in the poor men’s district of Tondo in Manila under the nurturing of simple parents from Angono and Pateros, Senator Tolentino had rightfully earned a string of countless scholastic achievements as he went through the various stages of the public school system from Quiapo Primary School to Manila East High School, and eventually to the University of the Philippines.

For an indefatigable achiever like Senator Tolentino, it would be too taxing to mention all his accomplishments and awards of distinction as a lawyer, as a law professor, an author, a legislator, and a diplomat. In all the chapters of his exemplary public service record, there was a single thread connecting them all together. He was driven by the call of integrity, patriotism, and a vision of the country’s future.

At a time when corruption in government became a crippling burden for the nation, Senator Tolentino authored the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act as the centerpiece of the crusade for good governance. This was a landmark piece of legislation in the quest for transparency in government.

Twice, this famous son of Manila refused a highly tempting offer from Malacañang to abandon his party and join the administration. He could have been Vice Mayor of Manila in 1947 or a Justice in the Court of Appeals in 1949 which was a proposition too difficult to ignore. But he was firm in his resolve to stay loyal to his party. His conviction could not be bought.

Against the wishes of his partymates and the administration, Senator Tolentino fought for US recognition of Philippine sovereignty over American military bases in the Philippines. His nationalistic spirit defied the threat of a political sanction.

Another instance of his moral, courage was when he refused to swear into office someone whom the President Marcos had appointed as an ambassador. For his stand, he was dismissed as Minister of Foreign Affairs. His conviction exacted a price.

He could have been Chief Justice of the Supreme Court had he so wished when given by the late President Marcos the opportunity upon the retirement of Chief Justice Roberto Concepcion. But he declined the offer because he as so focused on winning approval of the archipelago doctrine in the United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea. His sense of higher duty to this country was far more important than the leadership of the highest court of the land. Thanks to this illustrious legislator who was equally outstanding as an effective voice of the Philippines in international conferences, a total of 3,742,275 hectares of maritime area have been added to our territorial waters. This is one tangible legacy that deserves the gratitude of generations of Filipinos.

Senator Tolentino will be remembered not so much for his intellectual gifts and the many awards of recognition he had received. The relevance of his memory lies in the values he stood for and lived by. And these are an unwavering moral courage, sustained nationalism, a deep sense of integrity, and a readiness to rise above selfish ambition for the greater good of the nation.

Truly, Senator Tolentino was a man for all seasons. We pray that his memory will not pass away with his mortal remains but will remain cherished in the hearts and minds of the people he had served so well.

I never had the privilege of knowing Senator Tolentino personally. But somehow I am humbled by the nobility of his purpose and enlightened by the way he proved faithful to the sacred trust the Filipino people has given him. For this I am grateful.

As the head of the Nacionalista Party, I mourn the loss of a most distinguished Nacionalista. It is my distinct honor to be part of the party Senator Tolentino had dignified with his presence and loyalty.

To “Ka Turing”, all your sacrifices will not be in vain. Be assured that the principles and ideals you espoused will remain and will be continuously pursued by the co Nacionalista Party members you have left behind.

Indeed you are a great loss to us. But your loss will serve as a flame to rekindle our spirits and to forever remind us of our bursting love for the country.

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