Last week, former senator Eva Estrada Kalaw passed away at the age of 96. She was a leading political opposition leader during the administration of President Ferdinand Marcos.
Eva Estrada was among the few female students of the Commonwealth era who dared enroll in the University of the Philippines, which was then based in Manila. Her enrollment in UP was a daring feat because back then, Catholic high schools for girls discouraged their graduates from enrolling in UP on the mistaken assumption that UP is a godless institution.
Eva Estrada took education. Because she stood out among her classmates, and because she was a headturner, Eva Estrada quickly became a campus figure.
She was a member of the Sigma Delta Phi, an exclusive sorority and the counterpart of the equally exclusive Upsilon Sigma Phi fraternity.
Many UP students were smitten by Eva Estrada, including the statuesque Enrique M. Fernando, the smartest law student in UP. Although Fernando was unable to win Eva Estrada’s heart, he graduated at the top of his class, and became Chief Justice of the Supreme Court in 1979.
It was another UP student, Teodoro Kalaw, Jr., who won Eva Estrada. Kalaw, Jr. was an Upsilonian and his family was wealthy and noted for intellectuals like his father, the famous newsman Teodoro M. Kalaw, and the outspoken UP dean Maximo Kalaw.
They made an ideal couple. Eva Estrada Kalaw was the vocal, outgoing and dynamic type of woman. Teodoro Kalaw was a mild-mannered businessman who preferred a quiet, private life.
After the war, Teodoro Kalaw put up several successful enterprises, while Eva Estrada Kalaw became noted for civic and humanitarian causes.
In time, Eva Estrada Kalaw developed an interest in politics, and joined the Nacionalista Party. With the unwavering support of her husband, Eva was elected to the Senate in 1965—the same year Ferdinand Marcos of the NP won the presidency.
Despite her partisan political affiliation with President Marcos, Senator Kalaw opposed measures espoused by NP senators known to be loyal supporters of the president. Soon, Kalaw became very critical of the Marcos administration both in and outside the Senate.
In 1971, when Senator Kalaw’s term was almost over, she decided to seek reelection again under the NP. Party bigwigs, however, eased her out of the picture. Seeing her as a strategic ally, the opposition Liberal Party asked Kalaw to run for reelection under its wings. Senator Kalaw agreed.
During the LP proclamation rally at Plaza Miranda in Quiapo, Manila held in the evening of August 21, 1971, two grenades were hurled at the crowded stage Senator Kalaw shared with other LP candidates. Kalaw was seriously injured, but survived the bombing. In the end, she was one of six LP senatorial candidates who won in the elections.
Senator Kalaw’s injuries at Plaza Miranda cemented her anti-Marcos stance. She became a staunch anti-administration senator, and even advocated giving a student representative an ex-officio seat in the UP Board of Regents. Together with Senator Salvador “Doy” Laurel, Kalaw protected UP students, who had barricaded the Diliman campus in 1971, from soldiers of the Philippine Constabulary Metropolitan Command or Metrocom who were determined to attack UP.
After the proclamation of martial law in the Philippines in 1972 led to the closure of the Senate, Kalaw was considered an enemy of the state. Undaunted, Kalaw kept the LP alive when other party leaders like Jovito Salonga found refuge in the United States.
In 1980, Kalaw and Doy Laurel organized the Unido party to oppose its pro-Marcos counterpart, the Kilusang Bagong Lipunan. The Unido started from scratch, but under the brave leadership of Laurel and Kalaw, the party won one-third of the seats in the Batasang Pambansa in the May 1984 elections. Kalaw herself won handsomely in Manila, and she became the Joan of Arc of the political opposition.
The Laurel-Kalaw duo chose to fight against a well-entrenched administration, at a time when many ex-politicians preferred to avoid trouble by keeping silent. Laurel and Kalaw were staunch political allies of ex-Senator Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr., who was living in exile in the USA. They could have conveniently joined the Marcos government and held important posts in his administration, but Laurel and Kalaw remained allied with Ninoy Aquino.
After the assassination of Ninoy Aquino in 1983, Salonga returned to the Philippines and seized the LP leadership from Kalaw. As a result, Kalaw strengthened her ties with Laurel and the Unido.
Laurel and Kalaw were expected to be the Unido bets against the KBL tandem of Marcos and Assemblyman Tolentino in the 1986 presidential and vice presidential elections. Unfortunately, Corazon Aquino exploited her status as Ninoy Aquino’s widow and joined the derby.
Eventually, Aquino succeeded in double-talking Laurel and in pushing Kalaw to the sidelines, and in becoming the Unido presidential candidate, with Laurel as her running mate. Aquino used the Unido campaign machinery to install herself in office.
Kalaw still ran for vice president but lost her bid. After 1987, she made an unsuccessful attempt at re-election to the Senate, and in 1988, she lost her bid for city mayor of Manila against Gemiliano “Mel” Lopez.
President Corazon Aquino made the Philippines the brownout capital of the world, and circumvented her promise to institute a genuine agrarian reform program. Her relatives lorded it over the country during her presidency.
Vice President Laurel and Eva Estrada Kalaw reconciled in 1990. Under the NP, they ran for president and vice president, respectively, in the May 1992 elections, but lost. The ungrateful Corazon Aquino, who in 1985 disunited the Unido (which single-handedly fought the Marcos administration), actively campaigned against Laurel and Kalaw.
Laurel and Kalaw retired from the political scene in 1992, victims of the scheming widow of the opposition leader they supported during the trying times of martial law.
Salvador Laurel passed away in January 2004.
Eva Estrada Kalaw has also departed, but her unheralded contribution to Philippine democracy will be difficult to match by today’s female senators. (Victor Avecilla, Manila Standard)