Salvador was a World War II veteran, soft-spoken, but unafraid to stand up for what he believed in. He was a teenager when he joined the war against Japan as a freedom fighter. He was a high school graduate who was teaching in elementary when the war broke out.
After the war, he took a job as a policeman, becoming chief of police in his town. His daughter remembers him as a firm but loving father. Once he caught his two young daughters stealing peanuts from an aunt’s garden, arrested them, put them in jail overnight, even as he himself stood guard outside their cell.
In the 1970s he became active in the Foursquare Church in Romblon, later becoming a lay pastor, then pastor.
He was a fan of then senator Benigno Aquino Jr. and a supporter of the Liberal Party, and an outspoken critic of the Marcos regime. When UNIDO party was organized and were holding campaign rallies, he came to attend these rallies and give the invocations as a denunciation of the Marcos dictatorship: “Panahon na ng pagbabago; tapusin na ang diktadura!”
Some members of his church thought he should limit his activities to church and venture opinions only on church matters, but he believed that the truth must be lived out (and died for) in all areas of life.
Pastor Leaño was appointed a watcher for UNIDO during the 1986 snap presidential elections. He voted early and was at his post in Precinct 11 in Brgy. Jun Carlo, San Andres, Romblon. In prior rallies, a known Marcos loyalist, Nemesio Ganan Jr. , had been threatening residents around Precinct 11 not to vote for Cory Aquino. At around 9 that morning, Ganan came with two bodyguards and invited Leaño out to talk and to take some refreshment. Leaño refused, saying he was on duty at the precinct. Ganan returned to the jeep. Then the men with him came and pointing a gun at his back, dragged Leaño into the waiting jeep and went off with him. As he was being pushed inside the jeep, he shouted to someone: “Jun, maski ano man ang mangyari sa akon, ayaw guid pag baya-e ang urna, dal-a guid sa munisipyo!.” (Jun, whatever happens to me, do not leave the ballot box, bring it to the town hall!”)
Not long after, a shot was heard in the distance.
Family and friends looked for him but found him only six days later. His body was stuffed inside a sack and buried in a shallow grave in Brgy. Pili, Looc, a few kilometers away. He had a gunshot wound in the head. In his jacket pocket was found a small New Testament bible which he always carried.
The EDSA people power revolt happened a few weeks later, and Corazon Aquino became president. The family realized that he was one of those who sacrificed their lives to protect the ballot that made Aquino president. Thus daughter Lani says: “We (feel) proud and privileged to be his offspring.”
The trial for the conviction of his killers took several years but the family strove to see justice served. On Feb. 7, 1995, Ganan was finally convicted. In an eloquently written decision, Judge Placido Marquez praised the pastor’s dedication to duty and country with his sacrifice of life so that “ …(our) sacred vote and freedom to choose should never be compromised…”
Judge Marquez also wrote to Ms. Ceres Doyo on 28 Nov 2002: “There was this man – the late Salvador F. Leaño Sr. – whose heroism touched my life many years ago. I never met him but perhaps the Bantayog ng mga Bayani Foundation might find it worthy to honor him at the Bantayog Memorial Center. I respectfully submit his name for the purpose.”