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Country first before self

The US Senate voted to acquit former US President Donald Trump of the charge of inciting insurrection at the US Capitol to stop the certification by Congress that Joe Biden had won last November’s election. The final vote was 57 guilty to 43 not guilty.

Republican Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky voted not to convict Trump because he considered the trial unconstitutional. He is of the position that impeachment trials are for officials holding office, not for those already out of government. Another Republican senator, Mike Turner of Ohio, said there was no due process as no witness was called to testify and to be cross-examined. But both hold Trump accountable for the riot on Jan. 6 and must be meted sanctions.

Political analysts, constitutional and impeachment law professors, and former Republican senators and congressmen say that if the voting had been by secret ballot, the verdict would have been “guilty.” They believe many of the Republican senators were either blindly loyal to Trump or afraid of him or his political base of 74 million voters.

Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska blasted fellow Republicans for following a “cult of personality” and “acting like politics is religion.” Ironically, it was a Republican, Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th president of the US who said, “Patriotism means to stand with the country. It does not mean to stand with the president.”

Illinois Rep. Adam Kinzinger, also a Republican, said that while many young men are willing to risk their life in defense of the homeland and even of foreign democratic governments — he served as an Air Force pilot in Iraq and Afghanistan — some Republican politicians are more interested in protecting their political careers.

That is the challenge many Republican senators are facing. A vote to convict would have drawn the ire of Trump or of his rabid followers who would have seen a vote against Trump as a betrayal. For those in Republican strongholds like Texas and Florida, a fellow Republican allied with Trump running for the same position would be a formidable adversary.

That was the challenge senators Ted Cruz of Texas and Marco Rubio of Florida faced during the impeachment trial. Both have presidential aspirations. They vied for the Republican nomination for president in 2016 but lost to Trump. They believe they would need the support of Trump or his 74 million followers when they run for higher office.

But they should take heed of the counsel John F. Kennedy gave during his inauguration as president on Jan. 20, 1961. Neither Cruz nor Rubio had been born when John F. Kennedy was sworn in as the 35th president of the United States so they would not have heard what he said. But they should take heed of the counsel he offered in his inaugural address, “Remember, that in the past, those who foolishly sought power by riding the back of the tiger ended up inside.”

Kinzinger’s remark about choosing between country and career brought to mind Philippine Senator Jovito Salonga.  Salonga was elected senator for the first time in 1965, garnering the most votes among the winning senators. He ran for re-election in 1971, again topping the senatorial race. The imposition of martial law in 1972 placed his political career on hold.

After the People Power Revolution of 1986 had restored the democratic institutions in the country, Salonga returned to the political scene. He ran for the Senate in 1987, again emerging as topnotcher among the successful senatorial candidates, He was subsequently elected Senate President, making him presidential timber. Manuel L. Quezon, Manuel A. Roxas, and Ferdinand E. Marcos had been Senate President when they were elected president.

In 1991, the RP-US Bases Treaty was up for renewal. As Senate President, Salonga led the group of senators who opposed the renewal of the treaty. They were not against an alliance with the United States, but to them the presence of US military forces on Philippine territory was in violation of the sovereignty of the Philippines.

Salonga’s political allies advised him to tone down his rhetoric against the renewal of the treaty as it might adversely affect his candidacy for president in 1992. In response, he told them that so many Filipinos had sacrificed their lives in the fight for Philippine independence, he was willing to sacrifice his presidential aspirations for the sake of the country’s sovereignty.

Twelve other senators made the same choice, “Bayan muna, bago ang sarili.” (Country first, before self.) Many of those who opposed the renewal of the bases treaty had presidential ambitions or wanted to stay in the Senate for as long as they could.

Salonga did fail in his presidential bid in 1992. While he may have lost a large number of votes because of his stand on the US military bases, his defeat may not entirely be blamed on his opposition to the extension of the bases treaty. There were other factors. There were senators whose political stock was not diminished by their anti-bases stand.

In that election of 1992, Senator Joseph Estrada was elected vice-president and he was eventually elected president in 1998. Senators Orly Mercado and Ernesto Maceda, who both opposed the renewal of the treaty, were re-elected. Pro-renewal Senators Joey Lina, John Osmeña, Santanina Rasul, and Mamintal Tamano failed in their re-election bids.

The fact is that Salonga and others were willing to sacrifice their bright political future if the course they chose to take was for the good of the country. And as Salonga had told his politician friends, many young men and women had sacrificed their lives in the fight for Philippine independence.

There were many young professionals, graduates of the best schools in the country and abroad who had bright futures and who could have just sat out the war but instead went underground to join the resistance against the Japanese invaders. Thousands died on the battlefield, hundreds in Japanese prison camps.

Among them was a rising star in the political firmament, Wenceslao Vinzons, who at the age of 24 was the youngest delegate to the Constitutional Convention of 1935. He was the representative to the National Assembly (the Congress) of the lone district of Camarines Norte when the Japanese invaded the country.  Vinzons immediately organized armed resistance in the Bicol Region against the invaders. When he was captured, he was made to pledge allegiance to the Japanese occupation government. When he refused, he was bayoneted to death.

But there were also those who chose to foolishly seek power by riding the back of the tiger. Many young men joined Makapili (Makakaliwa Katipunan ng mga Bayani or Alliance of Philippine Patriots), a militant group formed during the Japanese occupation to give military aid to Japan. Its leaders were given ranks that were equal to their Japanese counterparts.

There were the technocrats, holders of master’s degrees and doctorates from the most prestigious schools in the US and the UK who were drafted by President Marcos in his administration and who chose to remain in his machinery even after he became a dictator.

There were the Craven Eleven senators who, out of canine loyalty to President Erap Estrada, tried to suppress evidence that could establish his guilt of huge bribery and massive graft and corruption.

There were the nine associate justices of the Supreme Court who upheld the principle of executive privilege in order to prevent one of President Gloria Arroyo’s Cabinet members from revealing to the Senate her scheme, which in turn would have exposed her immoderate greed.

And there are the 28 members of the House of Ill Repute, oops, Representatives who “killed,” to use their own word, the bill seeking renewal of the ABS-CBN license — in fulfilment of the wish of their vengeful master and benefactor.

As John F. Kennedy warned, those who foolishly seek power by riding the back of the tiger will end up inside. Most of the sycophants of Marcos, Erap, and Ate Glo have indeed ended up inside. 


Oscar P. Lagman, Jr. is a retired corporate executive, business consultant, and management professor. He has been a politicized citizen since his college days in the late 1950s.

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