The Law of the Sea

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

Minister of Foreign Affairs


Minister of Foreign Affairs and othersMinister of Foreign Affairs and others

Since I was a teenager, I have heard my father say many times that he does not wish to hold any appointed position by the president. He wants to be elected by the people.

When Carlos P. Romulo, was seriously ill and he called for my father. Carlos P. Romulo was Daddy’s first boss even before Daddy took the bar. They have remained good friends all these years. One day he told me that the Minister of Foreign Affairs Carlos P. Romulo had been asking for him and he was going to see him.

The next morning, I asked my father how was his visit with the Minister? He was very serious, he said that he may not last long and he asked me to promise him one thing which is very heavy in my mind. I like to please him and do as I promised but it’s really not something I would like to do. I got very curious. I asked what was it that the Minister of Foreign Affairs asked you to do? He said with a sigh, “he made me promise that if President Marcos asked me to succeed him, to please accept it”.

For the first time my father promised to accept an appointment from the president should he be chosen. I know that Daddy would rather not but he promised Carlos P. Romulo. Before Romulo even told my father about this, he and President Marcos had been discussing who will be Romulo’s successor. If I remember correctly there are two or three names mentioned but Romulo recommended Daddy very highly and the President asked Romulo to talk to Daddy first. My father promised that if asked he will accept but I know deep in his heart this is not what he wants to do.

That is how Arturo M. Tolentino, the oppositionist became Minister of Foreign Affairs. It’s a big financial sacrifice for him because he can’t practice law as MFA. I think this period of his service to his country was not a happy one. I used to go to the Philippines to help him as his social / personal secretary whenever I can manage. I have seen him worried many times. Once I passed by his room and I saw him sitting on the floor with his back against the wall. This is during his one hour exercise period, and the door to his room was opened. I walked in to ask if he was feeling alright. He said to me, “I am fine but I just can’t understand how Romulo was able to budget the expenses. I have cut down on almost everything we do not need but I still can’t see how we can manage.”

Needless to say, my father’s time as MFA was short lived. A maverick to the end he continued to criticize Marcos and the Marcos regime. On March 4, 1985 President Marcos wrote to my father relieving him of his duties as MFA. Arturo Tolentino, who never wanted the position in the first place, replied immediately.

Public Speaking

This is just a part of his reply:

“The President has known me for a long time and I’m sure he knows that I cannot change my convictions and my standards of good government for any position that he can give me. I did not consider that complete agreement with him and suppression of my thoughts as conditions for my holding the position of Foreign Minister.

I did not seek nor aspire for this position. In a tele-cast news conference on June 12, 1984, in answer to a question, the President made the assurance that if I should accept the position I would not be limited in my freedom to speak out my mind. I bore that in mind and finally acceded to the request of the First Couple to help the administration by accepting the position. Events have now shown that this could not be.”

During the early 1980’s Arturo M. Tolentino, as member of the Batasang Pambansa and Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, continued to pick away at the complicated tangle of legal technicalities necessary to finalize the Law of the Sea. He spent much of his time traveling to New York, Geneva, and other places for meetings of U.N.C.L.O.S., arguing and debating with his international peers.