Sen. Lorenzo M. Tañada and the Diokno’s have had a long, intergenerational relationship. My grandfather, Ramon Marasigan Diokno, often met Senator Tañada at the halls of justice–on opposing sides, and later, they crafted policy together at the Senate in the late 1940s. My father, Jose W. Diokno, was Senator Tañada’s client, friend, and colleague in the Senate and in the parliament of the streets.
Sen. Tañada’s kinship with dad left an indelible mark on the Diokno’s. In a little publicized letter dad wrote from prison to his lawyer, dad asked Senator Tañada to withdraw his petition for habeas corpus from the Supreme Court. Dad wrote:
This is a painful letter to write.
I know how sedulously and selflessly you have labored on my case in the Supreme Court …
I have no doubts about the merits of my case; and I have nothing but praise for the way you are handling it. No one could ask for a more skillful and devoted lawyer. …
But in spite of your heroic efforts in my behalf, in spite of my faith in the justice of our cause, I must ask you, as I now do, to withdraw my case from the Supreme Court as soon as you can. ..
Thank you for your valiant efforts in my behalf. I know how much it has cost you to defend me; not only in hard work, but in risk to your own safety and freedom and in the loss of clients who become timid when their lawyer dares defy the powers that be. I know that I can never repay you–just as I know that you have never thought of–and would tenaciously resist–any attempt at payment. Rewards enough for you, I know, were the chance to help a friend and the joy of doing battle for the cause of liberty. But you have done much more; just as you taught me, as a fledgling Senator, that we Filipinos must be nationalistic to survive in freedom, so too today, you are teaching us all that the humility of courage can stand up to the arrogance of power.
My prayers, and those of all men who believe in truth, in justice, and in freedom, go with you. God bless you.
And so I stand before you with deep gratitude to the man who dad described as “the one lawyer who has proved beyond doubt his devotion to the cause of justice” and “one of the last of our leaders who give us light in times of darkness, courage in days of despondency, hope in moments of despair.”
Today we need the light, courage and hope that Senator Tañada brought forth, as we face the resurgence of the very issues he fought so hard against: foreign military bases, war criminals, and the demise of justice.
Senator Tanada devoted his talents, time and passion to rid the country of foreign military bases. We were privileged that he witnessed the end of the RP-US Military Bases Agreement, and we are thankful that he no longer witnessed the return of American military facilities through the RP-US Visiting Forces Agreement, the RP-US Mutual Logistics Support Agreement, and the RP-US Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement.
We are angry that our country has not only exchanged one foreign master for another, but that it now hosts the military forces of two powerful foreign countries on our soil. American military presence is still rooted in the country–albeit under subdued and understated terms–but they are still here. And now China has established military bases on our territory. Our reefs have been seized by China, with nary a protest from government; our territories have been transformed into Chinese air and naval bases, complete with ports and runways and communications jamming equipment, visited by military combat aircraft and war vessels equipped with anti-ship cruise missiles and surface-to-air missiles–Chinese military bases that are apparently used for logistics supply and re-supply, prepositioning, sea patrols, and perhaps, in future, Chinese offensive military operations.
A Chinese government official recently admitted the presence of these military facilities and said these were “aimed at protecting China’s sovereignty and security.” And the president has cravenly responded by saying there is nothing he can do. No wonder, the president said, we are now–or will soon be–a province of China.
Senator Tañada relentlessly prosecuted war criminals and, with indefatigable efforts, promoted and defended human rights. Today we have a homegrown petty tyrant, waging war against Filipinos living in poverty. As a result of his “war,” thousands upon thousands were summarily and arbitrarily executed. Scores of Filipinos are killed every single day in a war that knows no boundaries and follows no rules: a war that serves solely the cruel intentions of a despot.
Senator Tañada labored under subservient and cowardly courts that dispensed injustice on an almost regular basis. Recently we saw the Supreme Court contravene the very Constitution it is sworn to defend. Yes, as dad said, we have “the right to expect members of the Highest Court of the land to display a conscience more sensitive, a sense of mental honesty more consistent than that displayed in the market place.” For, as dad wrote, “When convenience overcomes conviction, justice cannot prevail.” (Jose W. Diokno, 1973)
There are more–many more–lessons we can learn from Senator Tañada; not age, nor physical ailment, nor even failure, could stop him from marching, fearlessly and passionately fighting for this people and this country. He was the consummate gentleman of the “old school”–gracious, courteous, decent, ever proper, humble, noble – quite the opposite of today’s crass, uncouth, vulgar and boorish politicians. Senator Tañada’s hearty laughter and genuine smile kept alive our cherished aspirations for freedom, justice and sovereignty.
I cannot but also honor Mrs. Expedita Tañada, who accompanied her husband on an arduous FLAG trip to Kalinga supporting the Kalingas’ opposition to the Chico River Dam project. She walked across a shaky hanging bridge, and endured very basic accommodations: mattresses infested with bedbugs, lack of toilet and bathing facilities, and the sight of her half-naked husband, and his friend, Dad, interacting with the Kalingas. Her presence, no doubt, strengthened Senator Tañada’s resolve.
To my mind, our best tribute to Senator Tañada would be to immediately act–courageously, passionately, boldly, yet with dignity and compassion, never forgetting that we owe it to ourselves, our people and our country to finally set it free.
Thank you, Senator Tañada.