Finally, Pangasinan honors first senator

The following article was published in the January 30, 2008 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

By Gabriel Cardinoza, Inquirer Northern Luzon

URDANETA CITY – To the Urdaneta City government, honoring an illustrious son was never too late. And on his 123rd birth anniversary on Jan. 18, city officials and residents gathered at a park to unveil a memorial for the late Sen. Pedro Ma. Sison, Pangasinan’s first senator.

Mayor Amadeo Perez Jr. said the one-hectare park, now known as the “Balikbayan Park,” would be renamed after Sison. A life-size bronze bust will also be erected there.

This will be the first time that a public place in Pangasinan will be named after the late senator. “Personally, I’m both sad and happy [about the memorial],” said lawyer Luis Sison, the senator’s grandson.

“[I’m] sad because it’s only now that we are coming out with a tribute for our grandfather. I’m happy because Mayor Perez gave us this opportunity to erect a memorial for Senator Sison,” he said.

Like many people in the province, Luis said he did not know much about the life of his grandfather because even in their family, they did not talk much about him. It was only when he read a book written by an uncle, Pedro Ma. Sison Jr., that he learned about the senator’s accomplishments as a public servant.

“I only learned of what he accomplished [from the book] and how his peers regarded him. In fact, [then Senate President Manuel] Quezon himself was a very close friend of Pedro Ma. Sison’s,” Luis said.

Well-known lawyer

He said his grandfather was a practicing lawyer before he joined politics. “He was very well known as a lawyer. He served indigents, those who could not afford to hire lawyers. That’s why he was a pauper,” he said.

The late senator also served in the provincial government as assistant treasurer during the American occupation.

Historian Rosario Mendoza Cortes, in her book “Pangasinan 1901-1986: A Political, Socioeconomic and Cultural History,” said Sison was first elected assemblyman in the 1912 elections, representing Pangasinan’s fourth district that included Urdaneta, his birthplace.

With the passage of the Jones Law in 1916 that created a bicameral, all-Filipino legislature, Sison ran for a Senate seat and won, making him the first senator from Pangasinan. He was reelected in 1919 and served until 1922.

Local historian Restituto Basa said Sison was one of the only two senators then who traveled to Washington D.C. to lobby for early Philippine independence. The Philippines then was an American colony following the defeat of the Spaniards.

Luis said his grandfather was among the first legislators who fought for women’s suffrage in the halls of Congress. It was only in 1937 that Filipino women were allowed to vote.

Sison town

One of the memorable legislations that the late senator sponsored was the merger of the two Spanish townships of Alava and Artacho into what is now known as Sison town (pop: 40,955) in northeastern Pangasinan.

But how the town got its name had conflicting historical accounts. According to Cortes, the town was named after Perfecto Sison, the first Pangasinan governor under the American regime.

The official websites of the provincial government ( and Sison town), however, said that when the resolution was approved by Congress, then American Governor General Leonard Wood “decreed that the fusion be made on May 1, 1918 –and the town was named Sison after its sponsor, Senator Sison.”

But according to Luis, other documents will prove that the town was named after his grandfather. He said former Vice Gov. Nancy Sison, now in her 80s, had executed an affidavit saying Sison town was named after the senator.

“When my grandfather died [on June 12, 1938], one of those who spoke in his funeral was then Pangasinan Gov. Servillano de la Cruz. And he mentioned in his speech that Sison town was named after Sen. Pedro Ma. Sison,” Luis said.

Youngest daughter

Only the late senator’s youngest daughter, Gracia Ayers, attended the Urdaneta celebration on Jan. 18. Her only living brother, Jesus, is now bedridden. The late senator had nine children.

Luis said no one among the senator’s descendants followed in his political footsteps. Three of the senator’s sons, including Sison’s father, Carlos, became lawyers. Among the grandchildren, only Luis became a lawyer.

“I’m the last lawyer in the Sison line and I don’t have a child who is a lawyer. I’m old, I’m already 65, so when I die, there’ll be no lawyer in our lineage,” Luis said.

The late senator was also Mayor Perez’s grandfather. Perez’s grandmother, Doña Trinidad Sison, was the senator’s sister.