Remember the Senator who ate Marcos for breakfast

In our search for better leaders during this pandemic, we find examples in our own history, imbued with courage, conviction and a persistent pursuit of justice. One worthy of emulation is Eva Estrada Kalaw.

Senator Eva Estrada Kalaw

Yesterday was her centennial birth anniversary. It was on June 16, 1920, or 100 years ago to be exact, when Eva Estrada Kalaw, Filipina senator, assemblywoman and democracy advocate, was born in the town of Murcia (now Concepcion) in Tarlac.

Eva was known for her independent voice and was the first Filipina senator to win a reelection in 1971.

She was acknowledged as one of the few women to enrol in the University of the Philippines during the Commonwealth period, going against the grain of Filipina students trained in the Catholic secondary schools that saw UP as too secular for an educational institution.

In 1944, Eva married Teodoro Kalaw Jr., son of Teodoro and Pura V. Kalaw, who are known advocates of education and women’s rights.

In 1965, Eva ran for the Senate under the Nacionalista Party ticket and clinched a surprising win, as did her other partymates, including Ferdinand Marcos who won as President.

While the two were of the same political party, it would soon be made clear that Eva’s independent voice would drive a wedge between her and Marcos.

In 1966, Marcos, in support of the U.S. intervention in the controversial Vietnam War, urged both chambers of Congress (and Kalaw personally) to grant budget to the Philippine Civic Action Group (PHILCAG), but Kalaw instead supported the call to send medical professionals and engineers instead of soldiers.

In her first term alone as a Senator, Eva was able to author consequential laws:

1. The elevation of Social Welfare Administration to an Executive department (now Department of Social Welfare and Development)
2. The requirement of student and faculty representatives in the ruling bodies of state universities and colleges to amplify student representation
3. The increase and standardization of public school teacher salary to dignify the teaching profession
4. The initiation of the “barrio high schools” in the regions ensuring that education was accessible even to the Filipino youth in the most remote places from the urban centers

We commemorate her legacy and that refreshing independent voice in the halls of the Senate and in our national public square that have garnered the respect not only of the opposing legislators across the aisle but, most importantly, the Filipino people whom she revered and faithfully served.

Due to her opposition, Marcos made sure that other bills authored by her would never make it to the final reading in the Senate.

Soon after, Eva was dropped by then ruling Nacionalista Party for her contrary views. It was then that Kalaw was invited as a guest candidate for the Liberal Party (LP).

On August 21, 1971, she was there in the LP’s meeting-de-avance at Plaza Miranda, when two grenades exploded, wounding the candidates.

Marcos immediately suspended the Writ of Habeas Corpus nationwide. Immediately, caring not for her wounds from the Plaza Miranda bombing, Kalaw delivered a privilege speech in the Senate saying that the suspension of the Writ nationwide was “uncalled for” because the bombing was just in a plaza in Quiapo.

Eva therefore warned that incidents like this would be used as means to declare Martial Law.

From then on, she became more vocal against the growing authoritarian ways of the Marcos administration.

Despite being red-tagged, together with other LP candidates, she was still reelected in the 1971 elections as Senator. Unfortunately her term would be cut short.

With the declaration of Martial Law on September 23, 1972, the padlocking of Congress in late January, and the dubious ratification of the 1973 Constitution (via viva voce at the point of the gun) and acquiescence of a compromised Supreme Court, Eva persistently opposed Marcos, and was imprisoned twice.

She ran and won as Assemblywoman of Manila under Marcos’ Batasang Pambansa and worked her way to gatherthe opposition groups against Marcos.

In the snap elections of 1986, recognizing the voice of the people, Kalaw gave way to Corazon Aquino, who chose Doy Laurel instead of her, as running mate.

Even after the EDSA People Power Revolution in 1986, Eva never wavered in her call for reforms. She joined the opposition against President Cory Aquino to hold her administration to account.

Kalaw even attempted to run as Senator in 1987 and as Vice President in 1992 but lost. But her track record as stateswoman remains legendary to this day.

We commemorate her legacy and that refreshing independent voice in the halls of the Senate and in our national public square that have garnered the respect not only of the opposing legislators across the aisle but, most importantly, the Filipino people whom she revered and faithfully served.

Editor’s note: Photos from the Presidential Museum and Library (2010-2016)

About the Author:

Kristoffer Pasion the resident historian of Team He is a public historian working for the National Historical Commission of the Philippines. He has been serving in government for almost a decade, having worked as cultural officer for the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (2011-2013), and as history researcher for the Official Gazette of the Republic of the Philippines (2013-2016).

He runs the blog Indiohistorian, and does active history writing on social media. He is finishing his masteral studies in History at the University of the Philippines in Diliman, pursuing research on the history of government institutions.

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