Bobby Tañada: Standing up for the Philippines
“(But) still more painful, more agonizing, more devastating is to have to witness the deep division that separates our people over the bases issue. It is a division stoked by fears, the lack of confidence and political will of our leaders, by the greed and vested interests of some sectors, by the shameful disregard of national dignity and honor. It is a division that has seen the most embarrassing and pathetic manifestation of colonial subservience and a seeming reluctance to gain true independence. We must say, ENOUGH OF THIS DIVISION!”
These were the words strongly delivered by Sen. Wigberto “Bobby” Tanada in September 1991, when he voted no to the continued stay of the American bases in the Philippines. Though this was said 29 years ago, it remains relevant till today as the Philippines negotiates US military presence in the country and navigates relations with a foreign country occupying its territories.
This was one of the speeches published in the book, “Sense of Nationhood: Senator Bobby Tañada Reader,” which discussed the provisions on national sovereignty as enshrined in the Philippine Constitution. The book compiles Senator Tañada’s speeches from 1987 to 2001, when he was congressman and senator, and they focus on four themes: the struggle for sovereignty; human rights; the journey to peace; and challenging mainstream economic thinking.
“Bobby Tanada’s speeches are very timely and relevant,” Wolfgang Heinze, country head of Friedrich Naumann Foundation Philippines (FNF), said. “The need for the Philippines to chart its own course and not be dependent on any country, be it the United States or other countries, is very much, on point. The Philippines should not give up sovereignty claims for short term gains, but should pursue these claims through an inclusive international advocacy on an international level.”
Published by the Center for People Empowerment in Governance (CenPEG) with support from FNF, it was launched in an online forum in October last year.
Sovereignty and lessons from the past
University of the Philippines (UP) Professor Roland Simbulan provided a detailed account of the defense agreements allowing US forces to occupy bases in the Philippines. “Sovereignty in the context of our country means that no foreign country has the power over our lands and seas, its riches or resources because sovereignty is important. It is enshrined in the 1987 Constitution,” he said.
According to Simbulan, “a country has the freedom to choose a development path suited to its people’s needs. It also means that those who govern do so in a consultative manner responding and respecting the needs of the people, and their civil and political rights.”
Four panelists shared their messages and reflections on the book:
- Francis Pangilinan, senator and president of the Liberal Party of the Philippines;
- Marites Vitug, bestselling author, journalist, and Rappler editor-at-large;
- Rene Ofreneo, professor emeritus at the University of the Philippines and former dean of the UP School of Labor and Industrial Relations; and
- Ed Garcia, who taught political science in UP and interdisciplinary studies at the Ateneo de Manila University.
Sen. Pangilinan remarked:
“29 years might not seem like much in world history, but it is a big chunk in the history of our nation. With fake news and misinformation easily finding its hold on online platforms, we need more accounts like Ka Bobby’s to combat the very real threat of historical revisionism. History is indeed important to pave the way for the future. But what is even more important is to learn from it so that the shortcomings then will be avoided today. Ka Bobby gifted us the wisdom of the legislators elected by our fathers and grandfathers. It is upon us to use these learnings so that the generations after us will not face the same.”