By Atty. Harry Roque Jr. | Sep. 25, 2014 at 12:01am
I was too young to be an activist during martial law. I was fortunate though to have been raised in a family whose religious convictions include that of taking a stand for the poor and oppressed. This is why even if I did not venture to the streets to protest the Marcos dictatorship until I was a freshman high school student in UPIS, specifically in the infamous march along Liwasan Bonifacio to protest against the Education Act, I had my political education rather early in life.
Born in 1966, I, as a young child, could only remember being roused from my sleep with the commotion in our ancestral Pasay residence. My Lolo, Hipolito De Leon Lopez, announced that Martial law had been declared by Marcos. Lolo was a lawyer by training, but opted to work, together with “King” Doromal, for an American multinational company and became one of its pioneer Filipino executives. He himself was a founding councilor in Quezon City having been appointed to the post by then President Manuel Quezon. Owing though to an edict issued by of my Lola, who valued the family’s privacy, he was forced to retire early from politics. This is why among others, they moved from Quezon City to Pasay.
Lolo, despite having retired very from politics, was nonetheless still tremendously immersed in it. Lola, on the other hand, was a cousin of a rising star whom every one knew as “Mr. Clean,” Jovito Salonga. It was through this family relations that my political education began.
Lolo’s immediate concern upon declaration of martial law was an uncle, now a protestant Pastor, Uncle Rey, who was then a law student at the UP College of Law. Uncle Rey lived through the first quarter storm in UP and was a true blue activist when martial law was declared. Lolo knew that over and above our relations to Salonga, my uncle, whom he knew was active in the soon-to-be-declared illegal Kabataan Makabayan, was most at risk. Years later, the Protestant Church, through the Reverend Cirilo Rigos, would arrange for Uncle Rey to seek asylum in many monasteries in Europe where he evolved from a student activist to a seafarer’s advocate, which he remains today.
My political education was one of extreme contradiction. While my entire family was anti-Marcos, and not just because of Jovy Salonga, but primarily because Marcos trashed the 1935 Constitution and was engaged in widespread kleptocracy, my Lolo would nonetheless berate my Uncle for his student activism. Lolo himself had his share of cabal activities against the martial law regime, including late night sessions in his farmhouse in Parañaque, with journalists then residing in Fourth Estate subdivision, including its developer, a journalist who was a former diplomat whose first name I cannot now recall, Mr. Rodriguez. They would congregate for many nights reading the banned editions of the mosquito press and would take turns condemning, even cursing the excesses of the conjugal dictatorship. Meanwhile, my Ate and I would lead the siblings and cousins to our own march in the rice paddies chanting “Ninoy!” and other slogans against the dictatorship. But maybe owing to his corporate background, Lolo could not accept my uncle’s activism as if it were enough to condemn the dictatorships in secret meetings. Perhaps, it was fact that my uncle’s activism caused him to drop out of law school. To this date, I do not know if Lolo disliked my uncle’s activism because of the risk that it caused, or because it kept my uncle from becoming a lawyer. Maybe it was both.
There too were the many individuals wanted by the dictatorship, which we gave safe haven in our home in Pasay. While I no longer recall who exactly they were, one nun stands out because she used to play the piano very well. She had two favorites: Bayan ko and If a Picture Paints a Thousand Words. It was this nun, whom I never saw in a hobbit, who would lecture me on the basics: neo-colonialism, neo-feudalism and US imperialism. Looking back, it was she who explained in a manner that a child could understand why the US, because of its security interest in the region, opted to support the Marcos dictatorship. Ironically, this nun would later seek asylum in the heart of the beast: the United States.
Meanwhile, my political education continues, but with a difference. While I continue to espouse the view that only Filipinos can safeguard the Filipino interest, I have moved from sloganeering to legal advocacy. This means that while I continue to go and speak at rallies, particularly against the pork barrel and the DAP, I have gone further and actually used the law as a tool to change society. I guess I now know why my Lolo was so frustrated that my uncle gave up on his law training. Advocacy itself is important to build awareness amongst the people, but lawyers can do more for the cause when and if they use it as a tool to promote the people’s agenda.
Years from now, in the twilight of my life and when I am asked what I have done for society, I can cite jurisprudence and not just the advocacies I engaged in: David vs. Arroyo where the Court ruled that General Order No. 5 as unconstitutional since in the absence of a statutory definition for terrorism, only the President can define what it is which she can use to stifle dissent; Roque vs. de Venecia, where the Court ruled that ordinary citizens have a standing to sue to enforce a public right; Cacho vs. Arroyo, where the Court recognized that abuse of right was a valid cause of action when then FG Mike Arroyo filed 45 libel cases against journalists, Adonis vs. RP where the UN Human Rights Committee ruled that Philippine criminal libel is against freedom of expression, and the latest, Belgica vs. Aquino, where the Court ruled that the Disbursement Acceleration Program is unconstitutional.
Looking back, my political education must be the realization of my Lolo’s aspirations: the use of the legal profession as a tool to promote democracy and to spoil the day for despots.
I do miss my Lolo.