Former senator Tessie Aquino-Oreta (center) comes out in defense of colleague Gregorio Honasan in this Senate file photo from 2006. Honasan had been arrested over a supposed plot to topple the Arroyo administration. Others in the photo are senators Vicente Sotto III (left) and Rodolfo Biazon (right).


Maria Teresa “Tessie” Aquino-Oreta, former representative of Malabon-Navotas and senator, passed away Thursday night at the age of 75.

The veteran lawmaker was known as a staunch education advocate, but one small act made a lot of difference for public school teachers.

Aquino-Oreta had found that teachers didn’t know how much was being deducted from their salaries. She prodded the education department to issue payslips, a basic document.

As a result, teachers got their payslips for the first time in August 2000.

“I want to take care of the teacher so that the teacher in turn will take care of our children, so in turn our children will take care of the future of the country,” she was quoted as saying on the Senate website.

Aquino-Oreta’s son, Malabon Mayor Antolin Oreta III, announced the ex-lawmaker’s death on Friday in a Facebook post, accompanied with a childhood photo of himself and his late mother.

“On behalf of my family, it is with great sadness that I announce the passing of my mom at 10:48 p.m. of May 14. Former Senator Tessie Aquino-Oreta was a public servant who devoted her life to the country and her adopted hometown of Malabon. She was a loving grandmother, mother, and wife and a friend to those whose lives she touched. We ask for your prayers for mom. Thank you,” he wrote.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III said he and Information and Communications Technology Secretary Gregorio Honasan II were close to Aquino-Oreta, while his wife, Helen, a relative of the late ex-lawmaker, was “devastated” by the news.

“I will remember her as a strong woman-legislator whose advocacies focused on empowering women and children,” he said in a statement.

Aquino-Oreta was a member of the prominent Aquino political clan of Tarlac, the youngest sister of slain Marcos opposition figure Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino III and Agapito “Butz” Aquino, both of whom were also elected to the Senate.

But Aquino-Oreta did not always align herself politically with the clan, notably during the Estrada impeachment trial in 2001 when she took the side of President Joseph Estrada. The former movie actor was deposed by the EDSA “People Power 2” uprising led by her sister-in-law and Ninoy Aquino’s widow, former president Corazon “Cory” Aquino.

After three terms in the House, Aquino-Oreta won a Senate seat in 1998 under the political coalition that supported Estrada’s victorious presidential bid. Cory Aquino backed a losing candidate, former Manila mayor Alfredo Lim.

In the 2007 Senate elections, Aquino-Oreta sought to get back her seat but had to drop the “Aquino” family name in favor of then Tarlac representative Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III, Ninoy and Cory’s son.

She ran under the administration slate backed by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and lost, while Noynoy Aquino won a Senate seat under the resurgent opposition Liberal Party. Three years later, Noynoy Aquino won the presidency on a tide of public sympathy following the death of his mother Cory and the unpopularity of the Arroyo administration.

Aquino-Oreta was married to businessman Antolin Oreta Jr., with whom she had four children.

She studied literature and history at the Assumption Convent and international studies at Ciudad Ducal in Avila, Spain. She also earned a master’s degree in national security administration from the National Defense College of the Philippines and was a reservist of the Philippine Air Force.

Aquino-Oreta was the first woman to become assistant majority leader of the House, where she authored or co-authored some 280 bills, 79 of which became law. In the Senate, she chaired the education committee and filed 197 bills and resolutions.

Among the laws she had authored are the Philippine Science High School System Act, the Governance of Basic Education Act, the Early Childhood Care and Development Act and the Solo Parent Act. (