MANILA—“The spirit of the old Jovito Salonga is gone.” This was how Steve Salonga, 62, one of the five children of the man who was a staunch fighter of corruption and a most outspoken opponent of martial rule, described his ailing father.
The lawyer-statesman, now 92, has been afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease for the last two years and is being fed through a tube after he suffered a stroke and lost the ability to swallow.
“You know how to nurse a child? This is close to that,” said Steve, a practicing lawyer, on how he and his family attend to their bedridden father.
He said the older Salonga can no longer speak, move, or understand the people around him. He has practically stopped conversing with the people around him after his stroke in February this year.
“His body has shrunk,” Steve said of the feeble Salonga, who is unconscious most of the time. “Sometimes while hallucinating, he utters gibberish but the only word we could understand is ‘Amen.’”
Salonga is now confined in a room he used to share with his wife Lydia before she died from complications of diabetes in 2010.
Steve and three private nurses work in shifts to attend to the former senator in the family’s Valle Verde home. Steve said he and his wife had to move out of his farm in Antipolo City to closely watch his ailing father.
“I inherited the responsibility by force of circumstances. I am the only one living close to him,” he said, noting that his brothers and sisters have settled abroad with their respective families.
But more than the duty of a son, Steve said it has been a blessing taking care of a good father in his remaining days.
The former senator’s private nurse confided that Steve would always say hello to his dad even if he knew he wouldn’t be getting a response.
Steve said his father himself did not expect to live a long life. After his mother’s passing, Steve said his father said goodbye to them, telling them he would be gone soon.
“But we did not mind it. We continued to take care of him,” he said.
What was apparently a close call was when his father was critically injured during the August 21 Plaza Miranda bombing in 1971. His family thought his father was not going to make it.
“We thought he was already dead. It was a miracle that he survived,” said Steve, exposing to the Philippine Daily Inquirer some of his father’s scars.
Steve said decades later, the older Salonga, the son of a Presbyterian minister, asked in jest, “Why has God not taken me yet?”
It was, he said, in his father’s character to take problems lightly.
That was why when a warrant was issued by a Pasig Regional Trial Court judge father’s arrest on a charge of fraud, Steve said his family just dismissed it simply as a nuisance.
Salonga, Steve said, was good and generous yet a disciplinarian to his kids. “At this age, we realized that he raised good children,” he said.
“But he loved the country more than he loves us,” he said, explaining that his father’s passion for politics took him away from his family most of the time.
But it was a fact, he said, that they had accepted long time ago when they were still children.
“We were proud because many people told us he was an exceptional person. If his life is a book, he had finished writing it,” he said proudly.
Steve said the peak in the career of his father, who consistently topped three Senatorial elections, was in September 1991 when he led a group of 12 senators in rejecting the RP-US bases treaty.
He said it was an important decision that led to his ouster as Senate President. It was also believed to be one of the reasons he lost the 1992 presidential elections.
The former senator was responsible for a number of significant legislation, notably the the State Scholarship Law, the Disclosure of Interest Act, the Magna Carta for Public School Teachers, and the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees, and the Act Defining and Penalizing the Crime of Plunder.
In retirement from government service, Salonga continued to work in public service through some civil society groups. “It was only after his retirement from politics that he had more time for us,” Steve said.