The Law of the Sea

Arturo M. Tolentino: I wish people will remember me for The Law of the Sea

EULOGY OF SECRETARY DELIA DOMINGO ALBERT (as read by Undersecretary Brillantes):

In Chapter 20 of the Book of Revelation, we read: “I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God… and a book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the Book.”

After nine decades of life and work, much must be written in the Book of Life about Arturo Tolentino. But probably written in luminous gold letters are: “He loved his country and his people.” And God, who profoundly understands such love, would probably smile and regard Arturo with kindness and sympathy.

Arturo Tolentino loved his people – the Everyman of his country, the not-too-wealthy and the not-too-miserable, who make up the great majority of our people. Growing up in Manila, he saw the lives of the very rich, but his sympathies were with those who worked and toiled with great effort and selfless dedication to improve the quality of life of their families, of their children and their children’s children.

A brilliant student, he won scholastic honors in public schools. He studied the liberal arts and law at the University of the Philippines and became an outstanding member of the bar, a legal scholar, an author and professor of law.

His education and training helped him realize the importance of public service. So he became, in the 1930’s, a militant and outspoken leader of the youth and a youthful politician in his native city.

The entire nation noticed the keen intellect and vigorous leadership qualities of Tolentino and elected him to the Senate where great minds meet to serve the country.

In the Senate, his oratory was vibrant with nationalism – with a profound love of country and a concern for its authentic independence and sovereign self-determination. Among the bills he proposed or supported were those related to:

He was an important member of Philippine delegations to international conferences, notably the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. He was instrumental in the formulation and adoption of the archipelagic principle defining the territorial rights of archipelagic countries like the Philippines. Nevertheless, he also expressed the negative implications of mistaken interpretations of this principle.

Recognizing Tolentino’s expertise in international law, another brilliant lawyer, Ferdinand Marcos, appointed him Secretary of Foreign Affairs, succeeding the legendary Carlos P. Romulo.

As foreign secretary, the people-loving Tolentino improved the consular services of the Department of Foreign Affairs, stressing the right of every citizen to obtain a passport as a document of his Filipino identity and citizenship.

Such was the admiration and respect of Marcos for his fellow U.P. alumnus that he chose him for his Vice-President in the Philippine Government.

Although Arturo Tolentino was associated with the Marcos Martial Law Administration, it was his integrity and competence as a public official – rather than the stigma of the fallen dictatorship – that people remembered him for after Edsa I. He never lost the respect of his people whom he loved and worked for with profound sincerity and dedication.

With the passing of years, the once youth leader, dynamic and articulate, retreated to a life of thought and reflection, like the late Diosdado Macapagal and another lawyer-senator Jovito Salonga. But whenever the nation needed the wisdom and insight of an elder, Tolentino would break his silence and speak. And his people whom he loved and worked for would listen with respect.

I remember him in a wheelchair paying his last respects to a brother senator and fellow Foreign Secretary Blas Ople at the Sacred Heart Church Mortuary Chapel last December.

He must have thought: “Ikaw ngayon, Ka Blas, ako naman bukas.” Not long after the passing of Ka Blas, another Vice-President-Foreign Secretary Salvador Laurel, left us.

The voices of those three articulate men of the people are stilled now. Like Blas Ople and Doy Laurel before him, Arturo Tolentino stands before God, who looks at the Book of Life, smiles, and says to Arturo, “Because you loved your people and your country, you loved me and served me. Enter, my Son, and reap your eternal reward.”

And we remember the poet saying in his “Psalm of Life:”