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Remembering a poet, writer, freedom fighter

By George M. Hizon
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 03:13:00 09/21/2009

Filed Under: history, Poetry, Inquirer Politics, People, Literature

MANILA, Philippines?In the early hours of Sept. 23, 1972, Ferdinand Marcos placed the country under martial law. Many lost their jobs. Most television and radio networks were closed down. Newspaper companies were padlocked. Thousands of people were imprisoned.

Among those who languished in jail were opposition leaders Benigno ?Ninoy? Aquino Jr. and Francisco ?Soc? Rodrigo. Ninoy?s death in 1983 paved the way for the Edsa People Power Revolution that ousted Marcos in 1986.

No less a hero himself, Soc fought side by side with Ninoy. More than 20 years ago, both men sacrificed life and limb to bring back freedom to our country.

Soc was born on Jan. 29, 1914. He took his elementary education in his birthplace of Bulacan, Bulacan, and his secondary education at the University of the Philippines.

In 1930, his parents transferred him to Ateneo de Manila College, where he obtained a Liberal Arts degree, magna cum laude and valedictorian.

A poet christened Soc

It was probably during his Ateneo days that Soc would harness many of his God-given talents?those of a playwright, a poet and a writer. Some of his most famous works were the Tagalog adaptations of ?Martyr of Golgotha? and ?Cyrano de Bergerac.?

Later, his mentor, Fr. Joseph Mulry, S.J. would give him a moniker?Soc, a shortcut for Socrates, the Greek philosopher. From then on, ?Soc? would always be a part of his name.

In 1937, he married his childhood sweetheart, Remedios ?Meding? Enriquez. Before that, he took up law at UP, garnering high honors in 1938. At the time, he would acquire a new talent?that of an orator and a debater.

Soc?s talent as a writer was put to the test during World War II. Together with Raul Manglapus and Manuel Fruto, they wrote anti-Japanese leaflets and distributed them all over Manila. Fruto was caught and executed.

Manglapus was also caught and tortured, but escaped. Soc evaded capture.

A close call

In his book ?Mga Bakas ng Kahapon,? Soc reflected on what fate he might have suffered had Manglapus and Fruto implicated him while they were being tortured.

Admittedly, he was worried about his family (he had four little children). He had to make a quick decision in January 1945 as to where to move them, Manila or Bulacan, once the Americans started the final battles to defeat the Japanese.

Soc chose Manila, at the basement of Philippine General Hospital. It was not a very good decision, because his family would be caught in the center of the bloody battle which claimed more than 100,000 lives. The hospital was almost leveled to the ground.

Miraculously, all of Soc?s family members survived.

From broadcasting to politics

After the war, Soc became active in various endeavors. In 1946, he opened the Rodrigo Law Office and resumed his law practice. Seven years later, he went into broadcasting.

Together with American correspondent Bob Stewart, Soc ran a 48-hour marathon radio program which covered the 1953 presidential election?won by the popular Ramon Magsaysay. Two years later, he tried another profession?politics.

In 1955, Soc ran for the Senate and won under the Nacionalista Party of Magsaysay. He won a second term in 1961 as a Liberal Party candidate with Diosdado Macapagal. He sought a third term in 1965 but lost in the national elections won by a new president, Ferdinand E. Marcos.

Reelected in 1969 and wanting to remain in office beyond the two-term limit set by the Constitution, Marcos proclaimed martial law on Sept. 23, 1972. The proclamation was dated Sept. 21.

Spreading the faith

Ninoy and Soc were incarcerated, together with Jose W. Diokno, Chino Roces, Teddy Locsin Sr., Max Soliven, Napoleon Rama, Jose Mari Velez, Voltaire Garcia and Ramon Mitra.

It was while in jail that Soc would try to spread the faith to his fellow prisoners as he led the praying of the rosary every night. Ultimately, this would bring Ninoy back into the active profession of his Catholic faith.

Ninoy later wrote him: ?I marveled at your serenity during the months we were together (in prison). I think I have found your secret. You have long ago resigned (yourself) to His will. I now trust strongly in Him and have perfect hope in His mercy.?

Ninoy?s faith helped him endure incarceration six more years.

Soc was released after three months. He was jailed two more times?in 1978, when he wrote Tagalog poems that attacked the dictatorship of Marcos, and in 1982, when he wrote anti-Marcos poems in the We Forum and other publications.

Death of a freedom fighter

In May 1980, Ninoy was allowed by Marcos to go to the United States for a heart bypass. In August 1983, Ninoy came back only to be assassinated at the Manila International Airport.

Soc felt guilty and distraught as he was one of those who had advised Ninoy to come home.

In an article ?Knight in a Good Company? (from the book ?Heroes?), the author narrates: ?That night at Fort Bonifacio morgue, Soc was one of the first people allowed to view the body. Soc touched Ninoy?s cold hand, and after a while, began to weep uncontrollably. Soc wept for Ninoy, for his friend?s family, for a country that had been brought to such a low point?and for his own part in making it come to pass, by advising Ninoy to come home.?

Soc struggled hard to find meaning in all of this.

Writing in crooked lines

Later, Soc told Ninoy?s bereaved mother, Doña Aurora Aquino: ?God writes straight in crooked lines. The men who shot Ninoy?and the men who ordered him shot?they did not kill him. They made him immortal.?

Soc finally found meaning in Ninoy?s death. It would signal the beginning of the end for Marcos and his tyrannical rule.

Soc was not alone in his struggle as thousands of Filipinos joined in the call for Marcos? resignation.

In the next two years, an ailing Marcos was hounded by street protests until he was pressured to call a snap election, which pitted him against the widow of Ninoy, Cory.

The fraud-marred election triggered the Edsa People Power Revolution. Left with a handful of supporters and with no place to go, the dictator fled to Hawaii on Feb. 25, 1986. At long last, freedom was achieved.

A new beginning

After 21 years, the country had a new president.

Soc was among those picked by Cory Aquino to be part of the Constitutional Commission that would draft a new Constitution.

Many of Soc?s children were against him being a member, preferring instead to see him in the Senate one more time.

Soc said to his family: ?Here is a call for me to serve our country now. Tell me: Should I reject this in favor of a service I might be able to render in the uncertain future? Who can be sure that when the election comes I would still be alive? ? If I reject this offer for some future ambition, I do not know if I could be at peace with my conscience.?

Soc joined the commission as he turned his back on politics forever. The new Constitution was ratified by the people in February 1987.

Monument to heroes

Thereafter, Soc retired from public life, preferring to live happily with his beloved Meding, his children and grandchildren.

It was during this time that he would write some of his most beautiful poems.

On Jan. 4, 1998, Soc passed away at age 83. In November that year, his name was inscribed in the Bantayog ng mga Bayani Memorial Hall in Quezon City to honor his role in the long struggle against Marcos.

Soc?s output ran up to about 7,000 poetic pieces.

Paglubog ng araw, pagsipot ng dilim
Ang aking sarili?y aking tatanungin:-
?Nakatupad ka ba sa iyong tungkuling
Ang nagdaang araw ay iyong gamitin
Sa ikatatamo ng wastong mithiin??
Masisiyahan na ang aking damdamin
Pag masasabi kong tapat at taimtim:-
?Ginawa kong lahat ang kaya kong gawin!?
(Editor?s Note: George M. Hizon writes for Ateneo?s Blue Blood Magazine.)

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