Shahani dies; 87
Even at 5 years old, Leticia Ramos-Shahani, who was born “right smack by the Philippine Sea,” had said she was already aware that fishermen from her province had to go out to fish in the waters of Scarborough Shoal to support themselves and their families.
“When I reflect on the geopolitical implications of the conflict over the South China Sea islands, I cannot help but ask: ‘What will happen to the sea of my childhood, the sea on whose beaches I played and waters I swam, where crabs were harvested to be turned into tasty delicacies after hours of picking through their fat, eaten with steamed rice and vegetables?’” Shahani said at the 2nd Ikeda Lecture on Nov. 4, 2016, at Wee Kim Wee Center of Singapore Management University.
China, which claims most of the South China Sea, has reclaimed islets and built runways on them. It now plans to put up a radar station on Scarborough Shoal, which is 230 kilometers off the coast of Zambales, within the exclusive economic zone of the Philippines.
Most worrisome issue
Shahani, a younger sister of former President Fidel V. Ramos, had described the territorial dispute in the South China Sea as the most worrisome issue for citizens of claimants like the Philippines.
Shahani—senator, outstanding diplomat, educator, feminist, scholar and writer—died on Monday from colon cancer. She was 87.
Shahani was born on Sept. 30, 1929, in Lingayen, Pangasinan, to Narciso Ramos, a diplomat, and Angela Valdez, a teacher. She was married to Indian writer and professor Ranjee Shahani, with whom she had three children—Lila, Ranjit and Chanda.
Tributes flowed from Malacañang, colleagues in the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) and the Senate, and province mates following news of her death.
“She was a profound humanist and her voice will be missed,” presidential spokesperson Ernesto Abella said.
The DFA described her as the epitome of a world-class Filipino, who was passionate about the Philippines.
Sen. Loren Legarda said Shahani fervently pushed for women empowerment.
“From her extensive career in the foreign service to her stint in the Senate, Manang Letty demonstrated how public service should be: sincere, dynamic and exemplary,” Sen. Grace Poe said in a statement.
Detained Sen. Leila de Lima said she had looked up to Shahani “for inspiration, courage and wisdom” and even after her retirement, “she remained a voice of reason and diplomacy.”
Following in the footsteps of her father, a former foreign secretary, Shahani served in the foreign service for 20 years.
She began her five-year tour of duty in 1981 as the first female Philippine ambassador to Australia. She became the secretary general of the World Conference on the UN Decade of Women in Nairobi, Kenya, in 1985, and the UN assistant secretary general for social and humanitarian affairs.
Shahani graduated with a bachelor’s degree in English literature from Wellesley College in Massachusetts and pursued a master’s degree in comparative literature at Columbia University in New York. She finished her doctor of philosophy in comparative literature course with the highest honors.
She became the deputy minister for Philippine affairs after the 1986 Edsa People Power Revolution. In the 1987 congressional elections, she won a seat in the Senate and served two terms.
Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said he would be “forever proud” that during his time as Senate President in the 16th Congress he led the Senate in honoring Shahani’s life and works through Senate Resolution No. 86, “which she personally received from us.”
“While we are saddened by her passing, her legacy will continue to inspire our nation and our people,” Drilon said in a statement.
Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III said “Shahani left an indelible mark in the nation’s political landscape and in our foreign relations.”
The province, where she was born and raised, is mourning her death.
The Pangasinan provincial board passed a resolution expressing its condolences to the Shahani family. —REPORTS FROM GABRIEL CARDINOZA, CHRISTINE O. AVENDAÑO, JOCELYN R. UY AND INQUIRER RESEARCH