Remembering Datu Toto and Ka Tanny

Datu Toto Paglas (left) with Samuel Labang of the Rotary Club.
Photo from

Ninoy Aquino is flanked by the three Grand Old Men of the Opposition: Senator Lorenzo Tanada, Senator Jovito Salonga, and Senator Gerry Roxas. Photo taken during the trial of Ninoy.
Photo from

By Rina Jimenez-David
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 08/09/2008

THE TIMING IS UNCANNY. DAYS BEFORE the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao elections marred by the threat of violence over the issue of autonomy and ancestral domain, a youthful champion and symbol of the new generation of Filipino Muslim leadership passed away.

Ibrahim Paglas III, better known among his family and people as “Datu Toto,” was just 47 when he died after being confined at the Davao Doctors Hospital due to meningitis.

He is best known as a businessman who showed the way for previously backward, neglected Muslim-dominated areas by turning his town of Datu Paglas in Maguindanao into an agribusiness center. This he did by convincing former MILF rebels to abandon their arms and work alongside ordinary farmers as well as Christians in a banana plantation. He then enticed foreign investors to put up the capital for the processing plants and agribusiness technology (including innovative drip irrigation systems from Israel) that turned “La Frutera,” a joint venture with Saudi, Italian and American companies into a huge success.

I met “Datu Toto” some years back when I joined a media group brought over by the Knowledge Channel for the inauguration of a project employing satellite technology to bring educational TV programs to public schools in Datu Paglas. He proved to be a charismatic, compelling figure, touring us around the banana processing plant and pointing out a mosque he had built in the workers’ compound. “When a man makes time to pray, he has less time to fight,” was his simple explanation for the project.

Last year, Datu Toto’s sister, Bai Norah Paglas, was part of a Filipino group on a study tour of Israel, where I took part, too. Working closely with her brother on their many ventures, Bai Norah was distressed by the twin shocks of rising oil prices and the falling dollar, simultaneously raising production costs and reducing peso earnings, exacerbated by a virus that attacked their banana plants. I don’t know how the Paglas Group is doing now, but with Datu Toto gone, I can only hope that Bai Norah finds the strength to cope with the continuing crisis.

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BUT Datu Toto was aware that economic and social success in a single town or province within the ARMM would not be enough to create lasting peace in Mindanao. The economic and developmental benefits of peace and prosperity would have to be sustained by good governance and social amity.

Datu Toto ran twice for ARMM governor and lost both times, perhaps because he was determined to forge an independent path—independent from the dictates of the ruling administration or of entrenched political interests—for himself and his people.

Samira Gutoc, a freelance journalist from whose article on Datu Toto I picked up some details, wrote that “he represented the youthful dynamism of the region … advocating business development, employment and education in ARMM.”

Perhaps, given his ties to both old-time political elites in Mindanao (his mother is a Pendatun, niece of the late Sen. Salipada Pendatun) and to rebel groups (he is a nephew of MILF founder Hashim Salamat), and his own personal charisma, Datu Toto would have played a decisive role in bridging the gaps of misunderstanding and misperception of the stalled peace talks, especially the controversial Memorandum of Agreement.

But it may not be too late to take up the slack left by the passing of Datu Toto. I am confident emerging Mindanaoan leaders, Muslim, Christian or lumad, will take up where he left off, though he will be sorely missed.

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ALSO sorely missed is the great nationalist and human rights champion, former Sen. Lorenzo M. Tañada, whose 110th birth anniversary we observe today.

Now more than ever we feel the lack of statespersons of “Ka Tanny’s” caliber who let nothing—not threats to his freedom, not ostracism by his colleagues, not even age or impairment—prevent him from doing what he thought was right and fighting for rightness. Or as another (surviving) Grand Old Man of Philippine Politics, former Sen. Jovito Salonga put it: “To Tanny, it is not a case of my government, right or wrong, but rather my government when right, to be kept right and when wrong, to be made right.”

His enduring public image will always be that of an old man with a shock of white hair and leaning on a cane, with his son Bobby behind him lending a supporting presence, taking his place in the front line of many a violently-dispersed rally. I was covering one such rally near the “Welcome” Rotunda in Quezon City, and it took my breath away watching Ka Tanny, along with another old man, Chino Roces, enduring the water cannons directed at them as they steadfastly linked arms with other leaders of the “parliament of the streets.”

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TAKE note that at this time of his life, Tañada had no need for any more public acclaim and/ or popularity. In fact, everyone would have understood if he folded his arms and said: “I’ve done my part, let others take the lead. By the time martial law was declared in 1972, he had retired from the Senate after having served an unprecedented 24 years as a legislator, and even longer as a public servant.

In fact—as a letter to him by Ninoy Aquino pointed out—Ka Tanny was abroad when martial law was declared; but instead of a comfortable retirement in foreign shores, he chose to go back home and pick up the reins of the scattered and incarcerated political opposition.

Blessed with a long, fulfilling life and an enduring marriage, Ka Tanny lived long enough to see democracy restored and the Senate voting out the US bases, a cause he had championed even as a young nationalist. His was a life to be envied, emulated and celebrated, even many years hence.


Lorenzo Tanada

By Randy David
Public Lives
Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines—He lived much longer than his contemporaries. Born a few months after Emilio Aguinaldo proclaimed Philippine independence from Spain in 1898, and Lorenzo Tañada was 93 when he died. Had he lived like a Japanese centenarian, he would be 110 on Sunday, Aug. 10.

The martial-law generation referred to him as the “Grand Old Man of the Opposition.” It was a label that suited him well. Tañada was indeed all of that. He belonged to that era of Philippine politics when leaders consciously thought of themselves as noble stewards of the sacred legacy of nationhood and democracy.

He was the contemporary of Claro M. Recto, Jose P. Laurel, Eulogio “Amang” Rodriguez, Elpidio Quirino, and, of course, Ramon Magsaysay. He outlived all of them. In the 1960s, he was joined in the upper chamber by a younger generation of bright politicians that included the likes of Ninoy Aquino, Pepe Diokno, Jovito Salonga, Raul Manglapus and, of course, Ferdinand Marcos. First elected senator in 1947, Tañada’s career in politics ended when Marcos declared martial law in 1972. He served in the Senate for 24 years, making him for many years the longest surviving senator of the republic.

But the irrepressible Tañada refused to retire from politics after Marcos padlocked the Senate and jailed some of his colleagues. He swiftly metamorphosed into a “parliamentarian of the streets,” lending his venerable presence and stature to the street protests against the dictatorship. One memorable photograph of the old man during this time shows him braving the high-pressure water from the fire hoses of the Marcos police, defiantly locked in arms with street activists like Lino Brocka, Chino Roces, Ed Garcia and Rene Saguisag, among others.

He was present in almost every forum, always clear-minded, jovial and eloquent. He sat beside young activists like Lean Alejandro, not as a passive relic from a distant past, but as “Ka Tanny,” a living participant in the unfinished project of nationhood. He lived to see the downfall of the Marcos dictatorship, and the restoration of a fragile democracy under Cory Aquino.

His final crusade was the dismantling of the last of the American bases at Clark and Subic—which he waged through the broad Anti-Bases Coalition that he chaired. Tañada was inside the Senate hall in a wheelchair, watching militantly from the gallery, on a rainy day in September 1991, when the Salonga-led Senate rejected a new bases treaty. Immediately after the historic vote was announced, the senators turned in the direction of the old man and gave him a long standing ovation—an extraordinary tribute to a Filipino leader who had served the nation well. It was his final battle, and the grandest of his political victories.

But Tañada was not always the fiery nationalist that he was toward the end of his life. Rather, he was, like his brilliant contemporary, Claro M. Recto, transformed into one by his times—to borrow a concept from Renato Constantino’s political biography of Recto, “The Making of a Filipino.” Not many will remember that Tañada was a member of the Philippine Economic Mission headed by Sen. Jose P. Laurel that negotiated and signed the infamous 1954 Laurel-Langley Agreement, which extended the scope of American parity rights in the Philippines to include nearly all sectors of the economy. Tañada found himself defending a trade agreement that Recto had denounced as an unconscionable act of economic servility. Yet it is worth noting, as an aside, that, according to Constantino, Recto’s life too as a crusading nationalist began only in 1955, in the course of his personal battle with the US-sponsored Magsaysay for the leadership of the Nacionalista Party. Two years later, Recto and Tañada joined forces to offer a nationalist alternative in the 1957 presidential elections, and lost.

To the extent that the generation of Recto and Tañada was consumed by the twin tasks of consolidating the country’s independence and ensuring its long-term economic growth, the reform of the feudal social order itself took a back seat in the consciousness of these great leaders. When Magsaysay, for example, sought to jump-start rural reconstruction through a land tenure bill, Recto shot it down as an “ignoble brainchild” of an American conspiracy to keep the Philippines agricultural.

In this sense, Tañada belonged to that generation of aristocratic Filipino leaders—the legatees of a Filipino “ilustrado” class that imagined itself, in Jose Rizal’s words, “the brains of the country, within a few years … its entire nervous system.” It was in every respect an elitist generation, set apart from the masses by education and wealth, which still had an underdeveloped vision of social equity and, even more, of popular self-determination.

But because Tañada’s life spanned several generations, he saw for himself the transformation of Philippine society and the growth of various forms of social struggles. He, too, was growing in consciousness. His early advocacy of civil liberties matured into a commitment to fundamental social rights, and so, toward the end of his life, Tañada had surpassed Recto’s radicalism. From elite politician, he had become a social activist.

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Remembering Ka Tanny: Nationalist to the last


“Nationalist to the last.” This is how Rene A.V. Saguisag describes the late Sen. Lorenzo “Ka Tanny” Tanada, whose centennial we are celebrating on August 10, 2008.

The first time I met the late Sen. Lorenzo “Ka Tanny” Tanada was in the old Senate Building in Luneta. I went there for the first Council meeting of the Movement for the Advancement of Nationalism (MAN) . He was the first Chairman. I was a then a member of the Kabataang Makabayan and represented the Youth Sector.

In those days, senators were like Olympians, more godlike than human. They towered over mere mortals in their erudition, eloquence and grandeur. They were like the Roman senators of old. For a graduate student in her twenties fresh from the province, the experience of meeting, talking and seeing a senator up close was awesome.

I was a callow and timid promdi taking up graduate studies in the then U.P. Institute of Public Administration. Dodong Nemenzo was my professor. It was he who brought me to Kabataang Makabayan and to Ka Tanny.

Dazzling is the only word which can be used to describe Ka Tanny’s smile. And when he spoke, his listeners were all mesmerized. During assemblies and marches, young people were carried away by his brilliance and eloquence as he expounded nationalist tenets.

The Movement for the Advancement of Nationalism (MAN) was the broadest alliance of different sectors rallying to the cause of nationalism. The first Secretary General was Jose Maria Sison. Leading personalities included intellectual giants like Renato Constantino, Dodong and Princess Nemenzo, Merlin Magallona, and fiery labor leaders like Ignacio Lacsina and Juan Olalia..

As MAN Chairman, Ka Tanny steered the organization at a time when to be a “mere” nationalist was considered dangerous. At times, we would meet in the house of Renato and Letty Constantino

Those were heady days. I felt like a fish thrown into the waters of nationalism. We read and reread, and held DGs (discussion groups) in different houses. Nationalism was the first step on the road to radicalism and the young welcomed it joyously.

My MAN experience was a defining moment in my journey to full development as a nationalist and progressive. It completely changed my life and led me on the path which I have never abandoned. Many young people of that time started with MAN. Now they are national leaders in their own right.

Ka Tanny was part of the MAN experience for many young men and women. In the words of Arlene Babst, “He looked, in fact, like the youngest MAN (Movement for the Advancement of Nationalism, which he spearheaded) I have ever seen in my life.”

From Senator to MAN

When Ka Tanny became senator in 1947, he had already built up a formidable reputation as professional, lawyer and public servant. He held the longest record of continuous service in the Senate, 24 years.

He received his law degree from the University of the Philippines, his Master’s of Law from Harvard University, and his Doctor of Civil Law from the University of Santo Tomas, meritissimus.

His nationalist inclinations were enriched by his experience as running mate of Don Claro M. Recto in the Nationalist People’s Party. His chairmanship of MAN was a result of nationalist positions which he espoused in the Senate, his relentless battles against graft and corruption and his advocacy of civil liberties as founding member of the Civil Liberties Union.

From MAN to nationalist hero

Ka Tanny is best remembered for his leadership role during the dark days of Martial Law.

Along with other luminaries, he fought the dictatorship. He was campaign manager of Lakas ng Bayan, a coalition of anti-dictatorship forces. Ka Tanny later led a protest march against the massive cheating during the 1978 election.

Ka Tanny continued his glorious journey during the Aquino administration with his heroic stand on the military bases. He was among those who headed the series of protests which led to the mothballing of the much maligned Bataan Nuclear Power Plant.

Ka Tanny only stopped when his physical system finally gave up on him. He passed away in 1992.

Remembering Ka Tanny

How easily people forget! Eccelesiastes has said, “There is no rememberance of men of old, and those who are yet to come will not be remembered by those who follow.” How soon the country forgets! But those who were enraptured with his oratory in MAN, his courage in the face of Martial Law, and his endurance in the fight against the bases will not forget.

Nationalism was my first step in the journey towards full development. Ka Tanny was part of that journey. I too travelled the same road as his son Wigberto. Now I am with his grandson Erin. Thank you, Ka Tanny.