One of the country’s illustrious legal minds
was born in Manila on September 19, 1910. Tolentino had an impressive
academic record; he topped his class at Mabini Elementary and graduated
valedictorian from Mapa High School. He garnered the top spot in the UP
entrance examinations and received in said state university the
following degrees: Associate in Arts; Bachelor of Science in Philosophy
and Bachelor of Laws. In his college days he exhibited a penchant for
journalism, leadership and oratory. During his senior year, he was
chosen editor of the Philippine Collegian, the school’s official organ.
Together with Wenceslao Vinzons, he organized and founded the Young
Philippines, a militant youth organization.
After gaining the top spot in the 1934 bar
examinations, he dedicated himself to the practice of law and taught in
several law schools, including graduate studies. He was the author of
several law books that were used throughout the country. Tolentino then
pursued his Master of Laws and Doctor of Civil Law at UST, both with
the most coveted distinction of meritissimus.
His first brush of politics came when he was
invited to sit with the Council of State during President Quezon’s
regime. In 1948 President Manuel Roxas appointed him as member of the
Code Commission. The following year he ran for Manila’s third
congressional district and won.
His was a voice of dissent during the
administration of seven presidents – from Quezon to Marcos, earning him
the title “fiscalizer”. The word had been coined by the media and
accepted generally in the country to mean “to oppose, to criticize, to
check, to dissent” in relation to public policies, views or acts of
people in power. True enough, he opposed bills on the price-control
measure, graduates’ diploma or certificate tax, tax on unmarried
persons and the increase of income tax rate. He was particularly
watchful on the expenditure of public funds. Bent on fighting all forms
of graft and corruption in the government, he authored the Anti-Graft
Bill. The law was approved after a long parliamentary battle.
Heading a special committee reexamining
Philippines-US relations, Tolentino proposed drastic revision of the
joint Military Bases Agreement, which was approved. The Committee also
looked into two other military agreements with the United States.
In 1963 Tolentino was reelected Senator. He
was elected Senate President in 1966. President Marcos through what was
referred to as “gentlemen’s agreement,” divided the two-year term
between him and Gil Puyat. Tolentino, thus, became minority floor
leader in 1967. Tolentino topped the list of winners when he sought
reelection in 1969.
Tolentino’s “fiscalization” reached its peak
during the rule of President Marcos. He protested against the
President’s encroachment on legislative powers by creating
“super-bodies” in the form of commissions by executive orders.
Foreign Minister Carlos Romulo, upon his
resignation, recommended the appointment of assemblyman Tolentino as
his successor. The latter took his oath on June 30, 1984 and
relinquished his post on March 4, 1985.
Tolentino was chosen as the running mate of
President Marcos in the 1986 snap elections and became the Vice
President of the Philippines on February 16, 1986. His, however, was a
short-lived tenure and without actual exercise of power and authority.
Before the scheduled public inauguration of President Marcos, an
upheaval overturned the legitimate government and Corazon Aquino and
Salvador Laurel were installed as President and Vice President of the